Coping with bad grades during VCE and IB

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In an ideal world, you’d only get straight 100s and A+s all the time. Unfortunately, that’s not a realistic goal for most of us, especially for VCE (or IB). As the final years of high school draw to a close, it becomes more and more likely you’ll receive a disappointing grade as content gets difficult and competition gets fiercer. 

You might have studied hard for a test only to achieve a subpar grade. You might have felt like you got everything right, but when you receive your test paper, you may realise that this wasn’t the case. This article underlines several strategies to deal with a disappointing grade. 

Processing your bad grades

Avoid being overly self-critical

You’re only human, after all. Launching yourself into a pit of self-hatred and shame will only cripple you in the long run. Instead of blaming your cognitive ability for your less-than-perfect grades, try being critical of your behaviour and study habits. 

Common negative and unproductive self-talk includes thinking such as ‘I just wasn’t born with smart genetics’ or ‘I guess I’m just bad at ___ subject, it’s not my thing’.

Realistically, it’s far more likely that you haven’t put in enough effort and time for the grade you want. Moreover, putting yourself down after one disappointing mark is counter-intuitive and may cause you to lose motivation. 

Determine whether this is a ‘relevant’ mark

For most STEM subjects, SACs are worth a portion of your final grade (around 33%), whereas for language subjects, SACs are usually worth 50%. Given that the SAC grades are distributed over a handful of assessments over the school year, panicking over one bad mark may not be worth it. You always have a chance to redeem yourself during the next SAC or even during the exam. 

This isn’t to discredit the importance of SACs, as they are an indication of how you’ll go during the exam and a great learning opportunity, but in general, high exam marks are preferable over high SAC marks, though ideally you’d get both high SAC marks and exam marks. 

Give yourself time and distract yourself

Have you heard the old adage ‘time heals all’? Well, it’s true! Distract yourself by studying for your subjects or have a good cry over your disappointing grade, and it will soon slip to the back of your mind. Keeping yourself occupied in general will shift the focus from your bad mark towards self-improvement. 

Distance yourself from others who may make you feel bad

There’s probably another person in your class who scored higher than you. Depending on their personality, they may try to flaunt their high score or even make you feel worse by lamenting how their 98% ‘wasn’t high enough’. 

If you usually feel worse about your grade after talking to certain individuals, give yourself some space from them until the buzz about SAC marks has died down. Remember, all marks are confidential and you are under no obligation to share your marks with anyone else!

Improving for next time

Identify your weaknesses (with a teacher)

Once you receive your exam paper, don’t throw it away after looking at the grade. It’s easy to want to tear up (or burn!) your test sheet after seeing your score and forget all about it. Though this approach may seem tempting, your exam sheet with your mistakes is possibly the single most useful piece of feedback you’ll ever get. 

It’s always a good idea to arrange a time with your teacher to go over your mistakes in depth. Teachers will be able to explain your errors most efficiently and help you prevent them from occurring again. 

Fill in your gaps

Purchasing a separate notebook for use as an ‘error log’ is an excellent idea if you want to keep track of all your mistakes in one place. This enables you to always look back at your previous assessments and cements your knowledge in weak areas of concern.

Your error log may contain four sections :

1. The question that you got wrong

Write down the question in detail. This will prime your understanding of the question and give you a refresher before you correct it.

2. The approach you used to solve the question

How did you try to solve the incorrect question during the exam? 

3. Why your approach was incorrect

Maybe you didn’t read the question correctly. Maybe you made a calculation error. Or maybe you just simply did not know how to solve it. Whatever the case, write it down for review. 

4. The correct method of solving the question

Obtain solutions from your teacher to complete this section. You’ll want this section to be the most detailed. Ensure you understand the solutions thoroughly before writing them down. 

Become flexible and efficient

Adaptability and flexibility are crucial to your development. You might be used to solving a maths problem using a method you thought of yourself, which is worth celebrating as it demonstrates your creative thinking. However, ‘your’ way of solving the problem may be long-winded and unnecessarily complicated, and someone else may be able to teach you a quicker and more efficient way. 

Instead of insisting on your way of doing things, it’s better to remain open-minded to other options. Your flexibility matters a lot during VCE and IB, more than you may think. By staying open to the easiest and quickest way of doing things, you save yourself valuable time and increase your accuracy. 

Use the bad grade as fuel

You might not have done well in this exam, but the past is in the past. YOU create your future, and you have plenty of time between the less-than-perfect exam and the next one to improve your skill set and land a better score. If you channel your anger and sadness into motivation for your studies, you may become much more productive and driven to succeed next time. 


Though receiving a bad grade can be initially disheartening and greatly demotivating, a change in mindset can rectify your concerns. Try going through the approaches listed in this article, and though it may be difficult, remember that mistakes will ultimately help you improve!

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  • Sara is a student studying at Melbourne University and an aspiring doctor. Her passion for writing and reading developed when she was young through her diary entries and blogging. Now, she continues to love both creative and factual writing, and works as an English tutor and freelance writer.

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