planners, wallowers, & how to deal with flunking a test

failing any test sucks. it really does.


I've gotten everything from the top grade in class to literally flunking a test, so trust me - I've been there. it's a rotten feeling. and even though you've heard a million times that your worth isn't in your grades, that you can overcome this hurdle, and a bunch of worst-case scenarios that are somehow magically supposed to make you feel better, sometimes the best thing to do is just take a second. cry. have a meltdown. give yourself permission to actually process the emotions that come with a bad grade.


in my experience, there are two methods law students use to "process" poor scores: planners and wallowers. a planner barely even looks at the grade before they're already making study schedules for the next test, launching themselves into taking 4 times more notes than they were before the bad grade, and probably have already cancelled their netflix subscription to eliminate distractions in an attempt to prove to themselves that they CAN and WILL do better next time.


a wallower does the opposite - they spend hours either staring or thinking about staring at that low number on the paper. they can't break free of thoughts that include messages like: "I'm worthless", "I should drop out", "how could I be so stupid?", "why did I think I could succeed here?", etc. the wallower, well . . . wallows, because they consider the grade a direct reflection of their accomplishments and the fact that they didn't measure up.


both wallowers and planners miss the big picture. bad grades suck, but they aren't the end of the world. the planner embraces the forward-thinking aspect of failure, and views it as an opportunity to do better. the wallower embraces the negative emotions surrounding flunking, and gives herself adequate time to identify and sit with them. these two could learn from each other. the planner needs to sit down and take the time to think about how the score makes them FEEL, or else they'll never be able to accept the grade. the wallower needs the strength to pull themselves out of the emotional rut and move on to propel themselves into the future.


I'm a planner. I don't enjoy dwelling on my failures, because when I make the space and give myself the time to do that, I usually end up a crying sobbing mess for a solid few hours. which, I probably don't need to point out, isn't all that awesome.


the trick is to combine the two methods.

  1. take the day of receiving the grade to just sit with it. think about how you're feeling, why you're feeling that way, and throw yourself a pity party for a bit. do it knowing that you get ONE DAY to experience all of those self-deprecating, depressing thoughts, and not with the intention of staying there. cry to your mom, your boyfriend, your roommates, whoever. complain about the professor, the material, the test, whatever you need to get off your chest. shout into a pillow for a few minutes. eat an entire gallon of ice cream. order the expensive sushi you like or chick fil a because you need something happening today that doesn't suck.

  2. wake up the morning after Bad Grade Day™ and take a long, deep breath. stretch. and then, get up. make a list of the things you can do to improve, starting with talking to your professor, reading through your test and noting what you did well, and what you need to work on. catch up on your readings. make your own outline instead of relying on someone else's. think big goals first, and then break them down into manageable chunks - beginning with 3 concrete steps you can take THAT day. making the big goal list can be one of the concrete steps. taking a run to get out your leftover frustration from yesterday can be one of the steps. putting gas in your tank so you can drive to a coffee shop tomorrow to study can be one of the steps.

  3. tackle your list, one task at a time.

you will overcome this hurdle. that's all it is - a hurdle. but hurdle-jumping is an olympic sport for some people, and it can be for you too.