Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

I’m going to fail

One of my students left the room this morning, then called me a couple of minutes later. She was in the toilets crying her eyes out because she believes she is going to fail the FCE exam. She is one of eleven students who I currently teach full-time (25 hours a week) ready for the exam on December 10th. They have had three weeks of classes so far. Before coming to Newcastle she had already spent six months working in a hotel on the Isle of Wight.

Last week we did a mock exam and she didn’t pass any of the sections, although she came  close in a few of them. As a whole, the class didn’t do that well, but it was to give them a feel for the format of the exam and to motivate some of the lazier ones to do more work outside class. She is doing well and has already improved a lot, but feels depressed because the other students are doing a bit better than she is. She keeps comparing herself to them.

I’ve told her that she’s improving, that if I thought she would fail the exam I would have asked her to change classes, that she should stop comparing herself to other students because she is not them, that she is a good speaker and that I know she is working hard at home, so she will pass.

Any suggestions on what else I can do?


Update – January 2012

In the end, this student passed her exam and was actually only one mark off getting a B grade . She worked very hard and it paid off in the end!


Comments on: "I’m going to fail" (11)

  1. They have to get a grip! Sorry, but if they go into an exam thinking ‘I’m going to fail’ they’ll be right.



  2. I don’t know the structure of the tests you are preparing for but I schedule extra mock exams for wobbly-insecure students. Mine is all written components so it isn’t hard to do – I don’t know if that would work for you. The mock exams chart progress – all my students them but some more than others. Maybe you can give her a home mock test. I know you have speaking – perhaps your student can record herself?

    In any case, beware of just saying “I am SURE you will pass” – we guide and support but must beware of promises!


  3. Hi,
    when this happens, and for me it happens every june every year, I try to make the student understand where she’s at now and where she began. I try to make her see herself as a person who has achieved a lot. I also ask her to consider whether this is the right time to take an exam, maybe she’s trying to juggle too may things at the same time? Maybe she is putting too much pressure on herself? This kind of cheap psychology works more often than you would expect. I guess it’s because they see themselves in a different light, not so much as a test taker as an individual who has overcome other barriers in life. (I’m quoting a lady who cried every time she came to see me n my tutor hours)
    Good luck!


  4. Kate Kidney said:

    She is going to fail since she puts her all effort into fighting the stress…try to change her mind from result oriented to the process oriented. Underline the fact that since she is a good learner of English, the process of learning will never stop for her… Why does she need to pass the exam? Who pays the course? Will she be sacked if she doesn’t pass it? Will anyone be bad to her? Will she disappoint a dear person? Tell her that her chances are in her hands. It is her who will sit the exam and noone else can fight on her behalf! Say you believe that she will do her best. /Assure her if she doesn’t pass now, she will with higher marks next time./
    Good luck, best regards from Brno, tell us, please about the (happy) end!
    Kate Kidney :o)


  5. Hi there! it’s a hard situation for both the student and the teacher, but it happens. I suppose going through the exam together would be a first step, I would sit down with her analysing her performance and then let her consider other aspects: Did she know what she had to do? Did she have too high expections? Did she have a bad day maybe?

    We can guide the students to work outside class very specific things, I mean identifying weaknesses first and then concentrate on them. Let’s say she’s not very good at the listening part, then she should reinforce extra practice on that; because you said she’s working hard at home but maybe she’s not working in the right direction. I always tell my students to be patient and kind with themselves 🙂

    I reckon you’re doing the right thing by offering them mock exams, I do the same so they become aware of reality as soon as possible, and you still have plenty of time until December! so neither you nor your student should felt let down by this. Good Luck!!! and let us know how you’re doing ’cause we all teachers experience the same situation.



  6. I have students who are going to fail as well, they know they will but they aren’t giving it up. The problem with your student may be personal and have more to do with a history of failures than to failing FCE specifically. My suggestion is: talk to her in private, offer extra practice, talk her into creating a study schedule. In the school where I work, all students in any level are required to complete written assignments for homework every week. Those who do improve considerably, those who don’t, well, it goes without saying. She has to identify which is her problem area and work harder on it. My students find it impossible to work out the listening. They tend to listen to lots of American English and scarce British English then, when it’s time for FCE, they have a really hard time listening! What I’ve been doing is this: using BBC English and audio files for extra listening practice. It’s been working well for me. I’d love to share more ideas if you’re willing. Contact me.

    Good luck and lots of love. 😉


  7. What works for me in situations like these is “GETTING PHYSICAL”! Here’s what I mean:
    I ask Ss to bend over and touch their toes with their fingers (supposing they won’t be able to do so, of course!). Then I ask them if it would be possible for them to reach their toes with their fingers if they worked out regularly and all. So I make a comparison between this and learning English; for some people it takes less time than for others to be able to touch their toes, but that doesn’t mean some people just can’t do it – they just need to work a bit harder, or be a bit more patient. 😉
    Usually works for my Ss. Hope it works for yours, too. =)


  8. Thanks so much for everyone’s ideas! It’s amazing how many different ways exist to deal with something like this. She’s much better today, and it turns out this is because of my blog post. I didn’t know that one of my students is following me on Twitter. She read the post and a group of them have now clubbed together to help her. I’m so lucky to have such supportive students!


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