How to face that next test after a failure

I was just reading in the newspaper how Puerto Rico’s Mónica Puig lost the third round to Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships today.  But only a few months ago, our Mónica beat Kerber at the Río Olympics to get Puerto Rico’s first Olympic gold medal ever (¡WEPA!)

Why is this important for learning?

Because Kerber wasn’t just playing a tennis match; she was playing a tennis match against our Mónica, who whupped her at the Olympics and got us our FIRST OLYMPIC GOLD MEDAL EVER !!!

Okay, I’ll calm down now.

What this all means is, Kerber had to walk onto a tennis court and either let a past failure get to her or move on.

She moved on.

During her post-match interview, she had a few words that are valuable for any learner who must face a task after failure. According to the El Nuevo Día website, she said:  “No estaba pensado en al final de Río . . . Esta noche fue un nuevo juego, un nuevo reto y estaba enfocada en el día a día y no en el pasado.”

Translated, this says, “I wasn’t thinking of the final in Río . . . Tonight was a new game, a new challenge, and I was focused on the day to day, not on the past.”

After we flunk, an “I suck, and I will never get this” attitude can easily take over, especially when we sit down to another test or other sort of academic rematch. Remember, like Kerber, that each test and each assignment is a new challenge. Stay focused on what is in front of you, not on what is in in the past. (And certainly not on what is in the future, because next time, Kerber, our Mónica will beat you!)

But how do you stay focused on what’s in front of you? How do you stop from going over and over that past failure like a broken record? Here are some tips:

  1. After failure, grab some Nutella. You don’t literally have to grab Nutella. But take a short break. Do something to relax and to get your mind off your bad results. Maybe your version of plowing through Nutella is taking a walk or watching a movie. Or maybe your version of plowing through Nutella is plowing through Nutella. Just make sure to do something enjoyable.
  2. Then get back to the drawing board. Preferably the same day or the very next morning, get back to work. Doing step 1 (Nutella) for too long isn’t relaxing, it’s wallowing. Grab your textbook and dig into the next chapter. Open your syllabus and figure out what your next assignment is. Write a rough draft of your essay. Whatever work you need to do next, get cracking.
  3. Write down each day what you are doing to improve. Before going to bed, quickly take stock of what you did that day to get better. Did you practice conjugating the subjunctive? Write it down. Did you meet with your teacher to clarify some doubts? Write it down. Did you finally crack integrals because you found a great video to help you on YouTube? You know the drill. Write it down.
  4. Use your improvements to pull yourself back to the present. Taking action will help you keep your mind the present, but the moment you sit down for the proverbial rematch (test day, for example), doubts are likely to strike. This is where you list from step 3 comes in. When you get nervous or hear yourself saying things like, “I suck,” ask yourself, “Why am I able to whup this thing?” Then list some of the reasons that you have kept track of. This will bolster your confidence with real evidence that you have taken the steps you need to improve.
  5. Remember past successes. We don’t spend too much time daydreaming about bygone days, but it can help to remember once in a while how we did well on something in the past. Go ahead and jot down a few successes now, and use them to boost your confidence. But, and this is key, step 5 is only useful if you are taking real steps to move forward. If all you do is remember that award you got in Kinder for keeping your cubby clean, it won’t do you much good.

Maybe you failed recently and are feeling poopy about it. If so, start with step 1 right now (or as soon as you can). But don’t stay there. Get back to work.

We know that is what Mónica is doing, so you’d better watch your back, Kerber.



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About the Author

Elise Loyacano Perl
Elise Loyacano Perl is the Puerto Rican author of The Little Guide to not Being Dumb: How to Stop Making Excuses and Actually Learn. Click here to see her funny YouTube show called The Brain Drain. Elise holds a joint BA/MA in French literature from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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