Rising from setbacks

Published August 26, 2023
Illustration by Sumbul
Illustration by Sumbul

As the new academic year kicks off, many of you are likely filled with excitement at the prospect of a new class, new books and a fresh syllabus. It’s time to embrace and enjoy the change in the air. However, amidst this season of anticipation and renewal, there’s a group of individuals who find themselves embarking on a new academic year once again, though with a different purpose. These are the students who, due to setbacks in their exams, are about to repeat a grade.

Experiencing failure in exams and having to repeat a grade while your friends move forward is not an uncommon occurrence. While it’s something we definitely don’t wish for, it’s a situation that some of us find ourselves in at some point in life; these are called academic setbacks. The reasons could vary, from not preparing well to being sick on a particular day. For a student, it can become a challenging and emotionally difficult situation, as one may feel a mix of emotions, including frustration, disappointment and embarrassment. I can say all this with confidence because I have been through this once in my life, and how I faced the situation and how I bravely fought my emotions and passed that painful time is something I want to share with my young friends today.

I remember the day the results were announced, the day that marked my failure. It felt like the earth had shaken under my feet, a cold and bitter realisation that I hadn’t made it this time, so I will be attending the same grade, but with classmates who were once my juniors. My friends were jubilant at their result, but one of them felt pity for me because she was my best friend. She was moving on to a new class and a new grade, but without me. That feeling of being left behind, of watching others progress while I stumbled, was a pang of jealousy mixed with shame.

So when the next academic year started, I was depressed, I was shaken. I had no choice but to face the harsh reality. On the first day of the new academic year, with a heavy heart I walked through the corridors of my school. Something felt different this time. The backpack on my shoulders seemed heavier, not physically, but emotionally. I was about to enter a class filled with faces that I had known for years, as they were my juniors but this time they were my classmates.

The days that followed were extremely difficult. Seeing my previous friends bustling with excitement about their new syllabus, new teachers and new experiences, while I dealt with subjects I thought I had already conquered, was tough. I was studying the same books that I had studied one whole year.

I wrestled with a whirlwind of emotions. There was embarrassment, wondering what my friends thought of me now that I was a year behind. I felt everyone talked behind my back; and if someone looked at me, it felt like they were mocking me for being a failure. There was frustration inside me as I questioned myself, asking why I hadn’t worked harder the first time. And there was sadness, a piercing ache that I wasn’t where I had hoped to be.

But during this whole time, something changed in me. As I attended classes with juniors who were now my classmates, I slowly found a renewed determination. I realised that the only way to make this situation bearable was to boost my energy and work toward my growth. Therefore, instead of dwelling on the past, I engrossed myself in my studies, determined to excel this time in all the tests, homework, classwork and assignments.

Gradually, with the help of my elder siblings, I began to develop study strategies I hadn’t used before, seeking guidance from teachers and discussing the mistakes I did earlier. As I spent more time with my new classmates and made many new friends among them, I realised the understanding and perspective of the same topics actually widen my horizon of learning and understanding this time.

Illustration by Faraz Ahmed
Illustration by Faraz Ahmed

Slowly, but surely, jealousy transformed into admiration; I now began to look up to my former classmates for their academic achievements and how I had to remain strong in the face of challenges. The whole experience taught me to discover my own strengths and capabilities.

The year that had once seemed like a huge mountain too difficult to climb, turned into an opportunity for self-discovery. I learned the importance of hard work and how to learn from mistakes and achieve one’s dreams despite challenges. So I passed my class with excellent grades; and as I finally stepped into the next grade, I carried with me not just textbooks and notebooks, but a newfound sense of determination and the firm belief that setbacks do not define me.

Looking back, that year of repeating a grade taught me more than any classroom lesson could. It taught me to value progress over perfection, and that life’s journey is filled with twists and turns, and what truly matters is how we navigate them, learn from them, and emerge stronger than before.

A few key things to keep in mind

Changing routine is the key

Maintaining healthy study habits define your progress. And this is where I brought a major change in my life. I started giving more attention to the smallest details of the lecture, lessons and explanations, and even questioned my own understanding.

I maintained my study routine, every day, after having lunch and taking a nap. I would get up and make tea for the whole family and take one for me and dedicate at least two hours to studies, whether there was homework or not, I would always revise and go through the topics we studied in the day.

And believe me, that changed me. It wasn’t just a small adjustment — it completely turned my life around for the better.

It’s not the end

Failing exams or repeating a grade might feel like a major setback, but it’s not the end of the world. Many successful individuals have faced academic challenges and setbacks at some point in their lives. So do not give up, rise up and work harder than you ever did before.

Everyone’s journey is different

Remember that everyone’s educational journey is unique. People progress at different rates, and what matters most is your personal growth and learning, rather than comparing yourself to others.

Always seek support

Reach out to the elders in your family, to your teachers or school councillors, for guidance and support. They can provide valuable insights into your academic performance and offer strategies to help you improve.

Self-reflection is important

Take some time to reflect on why you might not have performed as well as you hoped. Are there any specific subjects that need more attention, or are there any specific study habits that need improvement?

Show persistence and have realistic goals

Instead of focusing solely on your friends’ progress, set your own goals based on your abilities and strengths. Overcoming challenges requires you to be persistent and determined. Keep putting in effort and seek improvement and over time, you’ll likely see positive results.

Use it as a learning opportunity

Failing an exam or repeating a grade can be a chance to learn and grow. Use this time to enhance your skills, develop better study habits, and gain a deeper understanding of the subjects. Focus on self-improvement and learning from your mistakes.

Published in Dawn, Young World, August 26th, 2023

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