Jan 30, 2018
Every tutor is invested in seeing their students succeed. Sometimes, despite all the best prep in the world, a student fails. It’s a doomsday scenario every student and tutor needs to prepare for, particularly when dealing with struggling students.
A failed exam or assignment isn’t the end of the world, though it can seem just as much to the student on the receiving end of a bad mark. Here are some ways that tutors can help relieve the sting of failure, and give students the support they need to persevere.
(If the test in question is the SAT or ACT, and failure is likely, students can also take prompt action to cancel their scores.)
Except for those in denial, failure is a natural part of life. Failing an important exam, or having experienced a string of bad marks, can seem insurmountable to students. As an adult and educational professional, tutors are instrumental in helping their students understand that failure isn’t a chronic condition, and, what’s more, failure can be a learning opportunity.
So, before you even address what went wrong or the student’s needs going forward, play the role of counsellor and sympathetic ear. Encourage the student to put the test or assignment in perspective, and reassure them that you and others involved in their learning – their parents and teachers – want to see them succeed.
And make efforts to include parents (and, if possible, teachers) in the conversation. Parents are tutors’ best allies in immediately addressing your concerns and their children’s needs, and can connect the student to helpful resources in and out of school.
Determining what to do after a student fails requires reflecting on what went wrong in the first place.
Some issues need urgent attention. Does your student have (or you suspect may have) a learning disability, including common ones like dyslexia and dysgraphia? If so, ensure that their parents are aware so professional help can be sought, either at school or privately.
Mental health is another serious factor affecting many students, and major tests and assignments are known triggers for depression and anxiety. Make sure your students are aware of the available resources for mental health-related issues. If it’s a matter of “test anxiety,” practice techniques of managing crunch-time stress. Maintaining a healthy diet is also key to good performance in life and school.
Perhaps it’s just a matter of bad luck, or some other factor particular to your student or their circumstances, in which case evaluating what went wrong, and knowing what to do next, might be more straightforward. Some students also just learn differently, and it can take trial-and-error to determine how to improve their academic performance.
Look through the failed test or assignment yourself, and again with the student. Keep an eye out for any feedback left by the teacher and keep your own notes as well. See if you can identify any general or specific patterns where the student is struggling with the material or answering.
Reviewing the material first by yourself and then with the student allows you insight into how the student relates to the material. Are they comfortable with the material or the subject-matter? If not, consider ways you might address any weaknesses and help the student understand what went wrong.
It’s important that your student remembers their academic strengths, not just their weak points. You can start by looking through the failed test or assignment and highlighting their strengths to the student. Did they write well but fail to understand what was being asked of them? Or was it that they understood the material in parts but failed to convey that?
From fostering an effective learning environment to encouraging a “growth mindset”, tutors will find that emphasizing a students’ strengths – something as simple as their curiosity and determination, to subjects and areas of learning where they might excel – not only helps the student in the long run. It’s also a great way to make your tutoring skills more effective in connecting with your clients and their needs.
Trial-and-error might fly when it comes to taking an early practice exam, but preparing for the real thing requires a serious strategy based on flexibility and innovation in the learning process.
Instead of rote learning, tutors can draw from other professionals, like those in special education, and employ different thinking—learning approaches, like games or techniques to visualize and comprehend difficult material. Students might benefit from any range of techniques: working with memory, incorporating reflective practices like journaling and periods of silence into the students’ routines, and developing social-emotional and executive functioning skills to cope with the demands at school.
That’s all it boils down to in the end. Tutors are major figures in students’ academic lives, and failure can have deeply personal consequences as well as at school. Work diligently to see a student through to the other side of failure, and both you and your student will have benefitted from the experience.