Failed An Exam? Here’s Five Things To Consider

It’s all too easy to sit comfortable inside a cocoon of knowledge without trying to break into new territory. Change, such as working towards a new certification, is both difficult and requires an investment of energy and determination. With that said, failure is a key part of anything truly worth doing – even taking exams for certifications. The important part is dealing with failure and using it as a learning tool to improve your skills, knowledge, and abilities.

As most of my readers know, I’ve taken a large number of exams over the past several years because I am a self labeled Certification Junkie. I really enjoy learning and find exams to be a good way to focus my energy into a constructive outlet. However, just as you might imagine, I have definitely met with failure on multiple occasions. Here’s my take on the five things to consider:

#1 Shake It Off

another-castleIt’s always rough to spend a lot of time studying and practicing for an exam, then spending hours answering questions, just to be met with a “the princess is in another castle” type failure message. You’ve put a lot of hard work into the process and perhaps let yourself down or have others invested in you (financially or otherwise). The first thing to do is shake it off. Realize that you’re human, everyone fails an exam at some point, and it isn’t the end of the world.

#2 Analyze the Exam

Once you’ve come to grips with the end results, it’s time to figure out what went wrong. Most exams have a score recap at the end that give you some idea on your performance. Focus on the areas that need additional effort to reach your desired or necessary scores. Then, try to think of questions in those categories from your exam.

  • Did you have to struggle to answer the questions?
  • Did the questions completely catch you by surprise?

Additionally, match the poor performing sections up to the exam’s blueprint / topics and determine which objectives need more study time. Sometimes an exam just bites you in the arm because it tested on something old / outdated, so you’ll need to align your studies to the point in time in which the exam was written (such as an older version of software / hardware).

#3 Get Back In The Ring

boxerNow that you have an idea of what sections or objectives need work, come up with a plan of attack.

  • How can you best tackle these weaker areas?
  • Do you need more time to study them or practice them?

While the exam is fresh in your mind, come up with a new study plan and lay it out in your schedule. This is also a good time to acquire more research materials, such as books or study guides, if you feel it would help fill those gaps.

#4 Be Honest With Yourself and Friends

It’s OK to fail an exam. It’s also OK to let your friends or colleagues know that you did. If they give you a hard time about it, chances are you’re not studying with the right crowd. Good friends will be supportive of your failure and encourage you to the goal. Surround yourself with positive people to maximize on your ability to execute and be successful. Here’s a great example (read the comments, too).

Also, remember that anyone who has taken a reasonable amount of exams will have at least one failure under their belt and will understand what it feels like.

#5 Try Again

Once you’ve analyzed the exam and have a new study plan in place, go ahead and schedule the exam again. Make sure that it’s far enough out there to fulfill the re-take policy for the exam. This is typically 7 days, but can be up to 30 days. I find it extremely helpful to have a real date picked out and scheduled, with money invested in the re-take, to make sure that you are back in “serious business” mode.

If you need to push the date for your exam, most test centers will accommodate if you give them 24 hours notice. This will happen if you have a life event pop up, or are just honestly not ready for the exam in the time you allotted yourself. In that case, push the exam back a little bit to give yourself some breathing room to finish studying. I recall one exam that I pushed back 4 times because life just kept getting in the way 🙂


Exams can be a challenging and rewarding way to push your skills to their limit and cross over into new technologies. They can also be a real pain in the butt and force you to learn things that have little real world value. I take them all with a grain of salt and try to see the good in what I’m learning. We each have our reasons for taking them: some are going for a new job and want that certification on their resume, others are doing them for partner status, and I’m sure quite a few of us are doing them for the challenge of it!

Good luck to those who are taking an exam, and if you’d like to share your thoughts on failing an exam below, I’m sure someone else would gain some insight from your experience.