What to Do After Failing Medical School Exams [7 Best Steps To Reboot]

what to do after failing medical school exams
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Ever failed an exam in medical school?

You are not alone!

Many of us have been there too.

It is almost abnormal to pass through all 4 to 6 years of medical school without failing medical school exams.

Even if you do not fail the professional exam, you should have failed one or more of your continuous assessments that counts in the professional exam.

But here is one thing you must know;

When you can no longer control what is happening, control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is”.

Steve Harvey

Personally, I never failed a professional exam in medical school, but I have failed a good number of my continuous assessments while in medical school.

I know what you might be thinking right now;

That the experience after failing a medical professional exam and failing a continuous assessment is not the same”.

Well, you may be right.

But just like Steve Harvey said; what happened when you are no longer in control is not so important.

However, how you respond to what happened is up to you.

In my case, I received the shock of my life during the continuous assessments for my first medical professional exam.

I had an average of 42% in my first continuous assessment in Embryology.

This was the lowest score I have ever had all through my academic life and even up till my final exams in medical school.

And it was coming from someone who has never gotten a below-average score (less than 50%) in all the exams I have written in my entire life.

But medical school happened to me!

It was then that I learned the seven-staged mental reboot which I use in tackling any form of failure during the rest of my stay in medical school.

And in this post, you will be learning exactly; what to do after failing medical school exams based on my 7-staged mental reboot process of recovering from failing an exam.

It does not matter whether it is a continuous assessment or a professional exam, this process will help you get back on track as soon as possible to recover from the failure and approach your future exams in a much better way.

But before I discuss, the 7-staged mental hack, I would like to review what happens if you fail medical school exams or any of your continuous assessments.

Table of Contents

What Happens If You Fail A Medical School Exam?

When you fail a medical school exam or scored poorly in a continuous assessment, especially one that you have worked so much hard to write, ‘your blood runs cold’, and it will be as though none of your study techniques are working, and you may even have to join medics from the junior classes.

What Happens If You Fail A Medical School Exam?
What Happens If You Fail Medical School Exam?

You will start feeling like a failure in medical school!

And this feeling ranges from mild, moderate to severe, depending on;

Whether it was a continuous assessment or a professional exam you failed.

If it is a continuous assessment, then you still have some hope of doing better and passing the main professional exam.

But if it is the professional exam, then you will feel bad or worse depending on whether you will be re-writing the exam, repeating the class, or failing medical school completely.

Let’s look at the implications of failing exams in medical school for the different classes.

If you failed 1st year of medical school

The first year of medical school usually ends with medical students not being subjected to any professional exam.

The courses are usually the basic sciences; Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Genetics, and the like.

If you failed any of these courses, you will have to pass them before you move on to the next level in medical school.

Failing 2nd year of medical school

Failing 2nd year of medical school usually has one of the worst implications.

The 2nd year of medical school usually ends with the first medical professional exams in places that run a 4-year medical program and it is infamously known as ‘the rate-limiting step’ in medical school.

The major courses in the 2nd year of medical school include; Anatomy, Physiology, and Biochemistry.

This is because it is the exam that determines if you will continue with medical school at that particular time or not.

And it is usually one of the most traumatic due to inexperience in handling failure because most people who end up getting into medical school are usually toppers in their various high schools.

After failing 2nd year of medical school, you may be given a chance to re-sit for the particular exam you failed after a short interval; usually 3 months.

You may also be asked to repeat the class, usually if you failed more than one of your courses in the professional exam.

This means an extra year in medical school.

Or you may be asked to withdraw from medical school completely.

But whichever it is, this 7-staged process will help you to handle the situation better and come out stronger and even better.

Failing 3rd Year of Medical School

Failing 3rd year of medical school just like failing other subsequent exams in medical school comes with 2 major consequences;

  1. Having to spend time and energy re-writing the exam you failed while your colleagues are focused on the next level.
  2. Having to join the junior class in medical school and not graduating with your mates.

If you are in this category, also pay attention to the strategy I shared below on how to overcome failure in medical school.

Failing medical school finals

At this point, you already know that nothing will stop you from graduating as a doctor if you remain focused.

But the trauma of failing medical school finals comes from seeing your mates being inducted into the medical council before you.

However, if you are focused, you will understand that it still makes not much difference as you would soon join them in a few months.

And after then, all your experience and failures in medical school will no longer matter.

What will matter then is your personality and your ability to relieve the burden of illness in patients.

So now let’s look at what to do if you fail medical school.

What to Do After Failing Medical School Exams

Medical school subjects and textbooks
what to do after failing medical school exams

Failing a medical school class can be so demoralizing.

Much more is if you are certain to have put in your best effort while preparing for the exam.

But in this 7-staged mental reboot formula, you will learn how to overcome failure in medical school and the best way to stop beating yourself up and get back up stronger and better.

In this formula, I will be discussing some of them using practical exams from myself and some of my colleagues based on their personal experiences after failing medical school exams.

How to Overcome Failure in Medical School [The 7-Staged Mental Reboot Formula]:

  1. Confirm that you actually failed
  2. Find out which part of the exam contributed most to the failure
  3. Do a mental check to find out why you failed that part
  4. Decide if you would like to try again
  5. Develop a counter-plan to overcome why you failed
  6. Analyze what other areas of weaknesses you have in the course
  7. Commence implementation of your action plans

Confirm that you actually failed

I had a friend during my 2nd medical professional exam class.

Then we sat for two main professional courses; Pathology and Pharmacology.

Despite being so confident in his performance in Pharmacology, this friend of mine ended up failing Pharmacology when the result for the exams was released.

Of course, he never believed it!

If he had failed Pathology, he wouldn’t have been surprised.

But it was the one course he had so much confidence in; Pharmacology.

He took the bold move to confirm that the result and score were his own; and behold, the result sheet signed by the Head of Department, bearing his name confirmed that he actually failed the course.

But he was still obstinate!

He just never believed he failed Pharmacology!

So he took it an extra mile and applied for the retrieval and re-marking of his scripts.

Lo and behold, it was discovered that the score for a whole section of the theory was missing from the total score in percentage.

And when this was corrected, he ended up passing Pharmacology.

Another friend of mine, though in another medical school told me a story of how he re-wrote the Obstetrics and Gynecology professional exam even though he should have passed in the first attempt.

In his own case, one of his test scores was not recorded during the main exam, and the test had 10 marks.

But this time, his script was declared missing even though he sat for the test.

So nothing could be done about it.

Also, I heard a case of a medical school where the results for their final professional exam had to be released twice due to some errors recorded in some of the scores of the continuous assessment for the medical students who sat for the exam.

So to some extent, failing medical school exams could be due to errors.

These are errors that may have occurred at one or more phases of computing your results.

So the first thing you should attempt to do after failing exams in medical school is to confirm that the result belongs to you, and also to confirm your score in the said exam.

Now, this is not usually an easy task in many medical schools.

Also, having the guts to go and confirm your result instead of just believing it as it was released is another problem.

And if you are as confident in yourself as my friend was in Pharmacology, why not apply for a re-mark?

Based on experience, the act of confirming results has saved a lot of people from the stress of having to rewrite an exam they supposedly failed while in medical school.

Find out which part of the exam contributed most to the failure

After you must have confirmed that you actually failed the exam, the next thing to do is to find out which part of the exam contributed most to your failure.

Now, this could be done while you are checking to confirm your results from your faculty or department.

Now, this helps you to find out your weakest point during the exam as you will be using this to work on the remainder of the 7-steps.

Do a mental check to find out why you failed that part

This is where you do the most important part of the work.

And this involves doing a mental check starting from your first lecture, through every phase of the exams till the result was released.

In most cases, the fear of failing medical school exams is the major reason why people end up failing medical school exams.

And if it is really the fear, one thing you must do to start eliminating that fear when preparing to rewrite the exam is to constantly remind yourself that you need this course in order to save lives as a doctor.

See the course as a part of your career journey of saving human lives, without which you will not be able to be a good doctor, and you will gain more confidence while facing the course again.

Common reasons why people fail medical school exams include:

  • Fear of failing medical school
  • Falling sick during the exam
  • Not sitting for the exam
  • Misplacing or interchanging your answers
  • Not writing your exam identification numbers on your scripts
  • Not reading or understanding the instructions
  • Not finishing before time
  • Deficiency in knowledge or not knowing the answers at all
  • Neglecting your medical school assignments
  • Not attending lectures
  • Not solving past question papers
  • Psychosocial issues like family and relationships
  • Your limiting beliefs

If you are able to pin down the causes, then chances are that you will likely perform better if you try again as you now know what areas to work on while preparing to re-take the exam.

But it is a very big issue if you are unable to figure out exactly why you failed that particular exam since you do not even have a clue on what to work on.

So the mental check should be thorough and not leave the slightest negative thought or happenings during the exams untouched.

Decide if you would like to try again

Once you have successfully pinned down the cause(s) of the failure in the exam, then you have to answer the next very important question;

“Would you like to try again?”

Now the answer o this question depends on the cause of the failure.

If the cause is a permanent one that will keep affecting your performance in the exam no matter what you do, then the answer is likely going to be a No!

You may want to give the medical school a break.

However, if it is something you can fix within a few weeks to a few months, then you will likely decide to give it another try immediately.

This leads us to the next step.

Which is; developing a counter plan to tackle the reasons behind the failure.

Develop a counter-plan to overcome why you failed

how to overcome failure in medical school
how to overcome failure in medical school

The counter plans may vary depending on your reasons for failure.

Below are some of the things you may do if your reason for failing is any of the following.

Fear of failing medical school:

The fear of failing medical school is one of the commonest reasons why people keep failing medical school exams, especially first-generation medical students.

To counter this fear, remind yourself that every coming exam is preparing you to be a better doctor who will save countless lives in the future.

And that failing the exam does not mean that you have failed in life, but that you need to be more careful next time as you are dealing with human lives.

In my own case, I do speak the following words to myself before every professional exam in medical school;

If I have not learned the basic things I need to save lives in this particular section,  I will gladly fail the exam than kill my patients due to lack of knowledge, but if I have acquired all the necessary learning for this phase of medical exams, then I don’t mind passing and passing well”.

Now this will be a very difficult thing to say for many because no one likes identifying with failure.

But to my surprise, once I utter these words, I get supercharged to work harder and I face all my exams with confidence bearing in mind that it is a test of my preparedness to save lives.

So I do my best to prove that I am worthy of being called a doctor during any of those exams.

Falling sick during your medical school exam:

If you fall sick during your exams, then it is not completely your fault that you failed.

What you should do is to first be grateful to God for life, recover fully and face your exams again.

If it is a preventable illness, then I advise you to take prophylaxis before your exams.

In my case, I usually take malaria prophylaxis 1 to 2 weeks before my exams, as it is the major illness I suffer as I live in a rainforest zone.

Not sitting for the medical school exam

If you did not sit for the exam at all, then you have not failed yet.

Just ensure that you have permission to take the exams whenever you can from the appropriate authorities.

Also, try to solve the problem that held you back from taking the exam.

Misplacing or interchanging your answers:

This is a very common error that occurs during written exams.

The only solution is to be more careful and make sure you cross-check your scripts before submitting them.

When it is just too much that you may be unable to completely correct it before the exam ends, ensure you alert your examiners to see if they could buy you some more time.

Not writing your exam identification numbers on your scripts:

A lot of people have failed medical school exams as a result of their own carelessness.

They write exams and forget to write their names on their answer scripts.

To prevent this, always cross-check your scripts before submitting them at the end of every exam.

Never be in a hurry to submit your scripts no matter how simple an exam is.

Always utilize every second left to go through your scripts, find errors and fix them.

Not reading or understanding the instructions

Always spend some time to understand what a particular question is actually testing you for.

Obeying all the instructions is also part of the exam.

Not finishing before time:

Not being able to answer all the questions in an exam within a stipulated time is another reason why people keep failing medical school exams.

To prevent this from happening to you, you can use the same strategy I use;

I attempt to place myself in exam conditions by solving the latest past questions on similar exams and seeing if I can be able to finish them within a specified time.

This will help you to develop a mental outline in your head for solving similar questions in case they are repeated in your upcoming exams.

Deficiency in knowledge or not knowing the answers at all

The only way to solve this problem is by reading hard enough and making effort to cover all the topics in your scheme of work.

Also, by practicing enough past questions, you will be able to train your mind to tackle any question in your medical exams no matter the angle they come from.

Neglecting your medical school assignments

In medical school, your assignments rarely count as part of your main exams.

But failing medical school exams just because of one assignment you did not do can be very hurting.

So just cover all possible ground by attending your medical school lectures.

Not attending lectures

The most important preparatory phase for your medical school exams is your medical school block lectures.

Lecturers in medical school always give out clues to what areas you should focus more on while reading for your professional exams.

These clues alone are enough to get you an above-average score in your medical exams and will prevent you from failing your medical school exams.

Not solving past question papers

The structure of medical school exams is almost always the same each year.

So your best to pass your medical school exam is to study more past question papers, especially those of very recent years.

They will give you clues to what could come out in your upcoming exams.

Psychosocial issues like family and relationships

Failing medical school exams is not just caused by the internal factor (the person involved).

It can also be a result of certain external factors like your family, friends, and relationships.

Any problem that affects any of these persons during your exams indirectly affects you too.

And could result in you failing medical school exams.

Always try as much as possible to resolve any issues you may have with people you share close bonds with before your medical school exams.

If it is an issue you cannot solve on your own, then you may have to develop a stoic mindset till your exams are over.

As one of my mentors would say;

Steer clear of new relationships, and do not break up your old relationships during your medical school exams”.

Prof. Ekenze

And the reason is obvious;

Anything contrary would cause psychosocial imbalances for you and could lead to failing your upcoming medical school exams.

Your limiting beliefs

Your limiting beliefs are those thoughts and beliefs that you uphold very strongly that is preventing you from reaching your full potential in life.

Some of the limiting beliefs that make many people to fail medical school exams include:

  • The course is hard
  • I cannot do this
  • The school wants us to fail
  • They want to fail ‘x%’ and so on.

You should replace these limiting believes with thoughts of abundance and you will find yourself building more confidence in your ability to pass your exams.

Some thoughts of abundance include:

  • This course is demanding, but I am equal to the task
  • I can do this
  • The school wants ‘x%’ to pass, and I will be among them

Analyze what other areas of weaknesses you have in the course

Remember that we have pointed out the reasons that could have contributed mostly to you failing in medical school.

Now, remember that there are some other areas in the course which you could have done extremely better in, which might have made up for your areas of core weaknesses.

And if you had done better in these areas, you may not have ended up failing the medical school exam.

So you will also include these areas in your plans for a better result while preparing to re-write the exam.

Commence implementation of your action plans

failing exams in medical school
what to do after failing exams in medical school

The final step is to develop an effective time table that will help you pass the exam this time.

This timetable should cover for your lifestyle and your academics.

And the first step in developing this timetable is;

“To cut off all distractions and unnecessary activities that takes your time”.

These could include:

  • Your hobbies
  • Relationships and friends (Leave your relationships for a while especially those that contribute nothing to your wellbeing, and stick to the ones whom you cannot do without like your family and loved ones).
  • Social media
  • Games
  • Drinking alcohol and addictive drugs
  • Night clubs and parties, etc.

Just reserve your dopamine till you have finally succeeded in passing your medical school exams, then release it in whatever manner you wish.

Final Words!

Failing medical school exams is not that easy to handle just like this post explains.

Sometimes, your immediate emotions after failing may end up taking precedence over your thoughts and actions.

And you may do yourself serious harm.

But being logical and following the 7-steps approach to reboot after failing exams in medical is your best way to come back bigger, better and stronger.

I do not wish that you fail in medical School!

I really wish you never have the need for these advices, but being prepared for failure is as important as planning for what follows next after an outstanding success.

I wish you the best in your medical school journey!

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