No matter how hard you study, how long you prepare, and how ready you feel on test day, things are not always guaranteed to go as planned. Maybe you didn't perform as well as you wanted on the SAT, or maybe your SAT prep meant you didn't have as much time to study for Physics, or maybe everything seemed perfect but your top choice college still didn’t accept you. Disappointment happens to everyone, and while we may feel like the world comes crashing down when we fail, you may be surprised at how much you learn and grow from each challenging experience.
A "growth mindset" is an attitude that embraces hard work, grit, and determination as the keys to intelligence and capability. Unlike a "fixed mindset", which thinks that people must be born smart and successful, a growth mindset believes that failure and disappointment are critical steps on the way to knowledge and achievement. We at Khan Academy firmly believe that the brain is a muscle that just gets stronger every time it is tested. If you're not failing, you're not learning!
During this stressful time in your high school career, we encourage you to reflect on how much you've grown and learned over the past few years, including times you've failed. Next time you find yourself disappointed, think about what you'll take away from the experience and what you can do differently if you have a chance for a do-over. You might be surprised at how well things turn out! Learn more about growth mindset here, and read on for some stories from students who are using their growth mindsets to turn disappointments into successes.
Academic disappointment
“I scored a 2 [out of 7] on my first IB Physics test. The teacher had warned us previously that physics was difficult and that we would need to work hard. Up until the test, I didn't really take my notes seriously. I didn't write everything down and largely disregarded the textbook. After the [disappointing] test, I began to take notes on everything - every time I read an article or observed a phenomenon, I would write it down so I could remember it later. This really came in handy when I was studying for the next test, and I am now sitting comfortably at a level 6. Writing everything down showed me that there's a lot of interesting things out there that I never knew about and really fueled my love for knowledge. Now, I love everything I learn, and I learn everything I love. It's a great relationship, and it reflects in my marks as well.” - Eric
“The first time I had taken the SAT was a big letdown for me. My score wasn't close to what I was hoping for, and I wasn't sure whether it was something that I was cut out for conquering. In hindsight, it was probably a mixture of cockiness combined with the physically and mentally draining testing process that I was completely unprepared for. On top of that, I had taken the test in June, so the idea of summertime freedom was more enticing that studying for a 4 hour long test. Nevertheless, I knew that if I didn't get my scores up, the opportunity to go to my first choice school would pass me by, and there was no way I could get that opportunity back once I let it slip. I used that failure to motivate me to work harder and face the mistakes that I had made the first time around. As cliche as it is, pressure will make diamonds out of coal. The second time I took the SAT, I got the score that I needed.” - Heeju
“My grade ten English exam didn't turn out as well as I thought it would. Despite my efforts to prepare, when I got to write the exam, I wasn't able to formulate my thoughts properly and I didn't express myself clearly. After that experience, I have put a lot more effort into improving my English, and have slowly gained the ability to think and write quickly on the spot. Additionally, after the experience, I decided to put more emphasis on my analysis skills, and it has paid off not only in English, but in all the other parts of my life as well.” - Rushi
“I remember one time for my math class we had a quiz. I studied a lot for the quiz as it was the first exam of the year. I totally aced the quiz and began to get cocky. I quickly let myself believe that the test following the quiz would just be as easy since I did so well on the quiz, so I didn't need to study that hard. However, since I did not prepare well for the test, I totally bombed the test! I was so disappointed in myself as I watched my math grade drastically drop. However, from this failure I learned that success comes with hard work. Everyone has failures and that is totally fine. What is important to learn from a disappointing experience is to learn from your mistakes to improve yourself for the better! ” - Pavi
“We had a unit about a year ago in history where I couldn't focus at all. I was very stressed and tired so I barely listened to the lectures and took very bad and confusing notes. I left all the studying until the last minute and on the night before the test, I realized that I didn't know any more about the topic than I did before the unit started. During the test, the essay was the worst part. I was writing about the government structure from one country and talked about the leaders from another, combining the two and proving that I could not even understand the basics of what we had learned. That test grade legitimately was the worst I have ever received in my life. For the rest of the year I got enough sleep and concentrated in every class, making sure I never walked out of the classroom with a single question unanswered. I ended up getting very good test scores in that course for the rest of the semester, getting the best grade in that course, and realized that the history we were learning was actually pretty fascinating.” - Elyse
“There's a timeworn saying that failure eventually leads to success, and depending on your definition of success, this saying can actually come true. Being challenged, disappointed, or even failing can be a big wake-up call that something you are doing isn't working out and you should try to change the way you're doing it. When I entered high school, I wasn't used to straight-out failing a test. As it turned out, the first test I took did not go so well and I was confused how such a bad outcome could have happened. What had I done wrong? I soon realized that the way I had prepared for the test hadn't been the best way to approach the material for me. When I was confused about a concept, I read the textbook rather than verbalizing my confusion to the teacher and hearing a direct explanation. The amount of time that I spent studying wasn't enough to solidify concepts, and what I studied was not organized in any manner, so I didn't have a clear idea what was expected to be on the test. If these types of problems seem familiar, then you know that the outcome won't be what you hope for. I had to reevaluate my study strategies so they could adapt to the class and the material. When confused, it was important that I sought out direct help rather than relying on just resources like textbooks and notes. Finding that balance between being resourceful on your own and admitting you need help from somebody else can be really important for success in the classroom. In general, you will face challenges and successes in pretty much anything you do. The important thing is to a) not give up, b) learn from what went wrong. Use the challenges as stepping stones for finding the right path to success. Success is however you define it, so define what you want and then use what you learned to make you a better learner.” - Emily
Personal disappointment
“One time I was doing research over the summer and I hit a snag that could have potentially ended my project. Long story short, I used my panic from potentially not having a research project to frantically search for other solutions and ended up discovering something that worked. I think the biggest thing I learned was how to use failure constructively to search for better ideas.” - Aneesh
“For me, the transition from middle school to high school was quite hard. I wasn't used to the work load and the new teaching styles I faced. Math in particular was difficult for me. I was in a class full of new people who intimidated me. I found it difficult for me to talk to other students and the teacher. As expected, my grade for that class was not the greatest, but it was worth it because of the valuable lessons I learned from the experience. I learned that I should always reach out to people to ask for help; it makes the learning experience more fun and allows you to learn more about the topics you are studying. I also learned that getting a one bad grade in a class doesn't matter that much. If you expect yourself to get a perfect score on every single test, it can put unnecessary extra pressure on yourself. By making mistakes, you can learn from them and get a deeper understanding of the material you learned in class.”- Tiffany
“I did not receive acceptance into my school's leadership class last year. However, this disappointment was a lesson in how I should branch out of my school's leadership sector as well a lesson in how to deal with disappointment. Currently, I work on my city's youth leadership group and can proudly say that my disappointment in one area was a blessing in another. All in all, take every failure and look as it not as a failure but as an opportunity for bigger and brighter fortune.” - Ruby
“In 8th grade we all took the Specialized High School test and when we got our results I found out that I had missed the cutoff by 35 points. Brooklyn Tech was my dream school. I of course was devastated but I pulled through by telling myself that I can do this no matter what and I don't NEED Brooklyn Tech to achieve my destined greatness.” - Robert