You failed and/or have pushed some exams in university and now they are piling up so that you can’t see a way out of your misery? Let me help you out!

My view might be biased as I studied in Germany, but I know that a lot of fellow students had a problem with examination anxiety, failing classes, and ended up pushing their exams from one term to the next (you usually have several attempts to pass an exam at German universities). Instead for getting rid of one exam after another, it tended to become an un-climbable mountain. I have to admit – I was not spared by this experience. At the beginning of my biology bachelor I was overwhelmed by how different the university exams were to school exams, I had to get used to the concept of university in general, I was commuting 4h a day and working 20h per week, and I changed universities due to relocation after two terms. The syllabi of the universities did not fit good and I had failed my first attempt at the chemistry exam because I underestimated how much I would need to do for it. And BOOM! I started pushing my exams. Some because I didn’t have enough time to prepare, some because I was scared of them, and some because I knew I could get a better grade if I only had more time. But I managed my way out of it, finished my biology bachelor and started and finished a master’s program, and never went back to pushing exams again. Here is how:

1. Get an overview on the exams that you have pushed so far

Here we are. You are determined to exit the vicious circle. You want to finally get rid of those exams on your list that have been bugging you the whole time. Schedule a day on which you will tackle this task and start off with a list of all exams (oral, written, etc.) that you have not completed so far.

2. Find out why you have pushed the exams

You didn’t have enough time to prepare? Why? Did you want a better grade than you would have gotten if you had taken the exam immediately? Do you get nervous when you think of examinations? Are you afraid to blackout? Write down the reason for pushing the exam next to every single exam on the list.

What can you do to not face the same problem the next time you attempt to take the exam? Is a good grade (that you don’t even know if you would achieve it) worth it to push the exam until the end of your degree and stress out about it every single term? Will you have more time to prepare then?

If you failed an exam (or several), would it make sense to get tutoring? Or meet up with students in the same situation to motivate each other to push through? You could even share a tutor together to save money.

In case of examination anxiety: Do not fear and contact the student health counselling/psychological counselling of your university. They are there to help you! They are specialized in the matter. University can be an overwhelming place to be. The transitioning phase from a teen to an adult is often emotionally challenging. A lot of students have to work besides university. And life is happening, too. It is ok to struggle. And it is ok to reach out for help! In some cases the student health counselling can even extend the time you have for writing an exam. Also, when it comes to written assignments like lab-reports and you think you cannot meet the deadline: explain your situation to your profs before you are late. Most of them understand and often offer deadline extension!

Of course it is totally understandable if you have been sick or the circumstances in your life have been troublesome.

3. Make a list of all the exams that separate you from finishing your degree

And I mean ALL of them. The ones that you have been pushing and all upcoming ones until the end of your studies. How much work do you still need to do? How much time will that consume?

4. Make a realistic schedule of your exams

Prepare an empty schedule of the upcoming terms until the end of your degree. Lets say you have four terms left. Put all upcoming exams in the schedule and see how many examinations and assignments there will be per term. Then, add the exams that you have been pushing to those terms. The workload per term should exceed your capacities. It is important to be realistic here, so consider if you need time to work besides your studies!

5. Accept that your degree might take longer

If you see that your workload will be too much per term, consider entangling your schedule and add one or two terms to your studies. Keeping your sanity is definitely worth more than overloading yourself, unless you are very confident that you will manage to push through. In the end, no one will care that it took you a bit longer to finish your degree. It doesn’t make you a lesser person.

6. Follow your schedule and avoid pushing again!

That’s definitely the hardest part, I know. But now it is important to stick to your schedule. Plan ahead and start studying in time. Maybe already prepare the subjects that you have pushed (but already had lectures for) before the next term starts, so you have the study material ready to go. If you have to work a lot to support your living, try to find a job that fits your schedule best. Reduce hours and/or find a job with a better pay. Consider student loans and apply to stipends. I understand that that’s not possible for everyone though!

Take every upcoming exam and give your best. Don’t push it again. If you fail, that’s okay. But at least you have tried and that’s amazing! You can be proud nonetheless. And you will manage next time!

Take home message

Believe in yourself! Accept that not all of your grades might be a 100%. Accept that you might take longer for your degree. That’s ok. Get the help that you need. In the end you will be very damn proud of yourself! I surely will be!


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