Did I Fail my Exams Because of my Mindset?
Article by Amanpreet Bhabra - LearnEd tutor.

This blog post is written for those who currently feel they are struggling to stay above water with their education and I hope to show you, through my own experience, that it's never too late to get yourself back on track to achieving your goals!

"Define your dreams broadly enough that you can find new ways to pursue them when your first and second plans fail." (Duckworth, 2017)
I grew up in the UK and completed my education over there. After finishing college in 2011, aged 18, I knew I wanted to go to university to get a degree which would therefore allow me to get a decent job in a career of my choice. It was all pretty straightforward in my brain, or so I thought.

Fast forward 5 years to 2016 and the outcome of my studies is evident from the title of this blog post, however the reasons behind my failure has only become apparent to me now, 3 (and a bit) years on, and to explain what I realised I'll take you back to when I was in high school.

In class I was always that kid who had their hand up answering questions, I was always wanting to go up the whiteboard and I was never shy at giving an answer, even if it was wrong.

Despite all that, when it came to year 9 exams, nearly all my teachers said one thing, I was struggling to write on paper the answers I would correctly give verbally. Hearing this was a definite set-back for me and since then I had always had the mind-set that 'I'm not good at written exams" or writing in general. Luckily for me there weren't too many words in maths exams, and perhaps this is the reason I have such a love for the subject.

This brings me to my first mistake, or maybe my teacher's first mistake; being told that I have a weakness without being given and advice on how I can improve. I believe that this lead to me developing what is called a "fixed mind-set".

Having a "fixed mind-set" means that you "believe that you are either smart or you are not. When students with a fixed mind-set fail or make a mistake they believe that they are just not smart and give up" (Boaler, 2013). This is exactly the mind-set I had, up until very recently, about my writing ability. For the last 8 years or so I have told myself that "I'm just no good a writing", but it seemed so silly to think that. So, I asked myself, "Why can't I improve on my writing skills? What is stopping me?" And the honest answer is nothing, except my mind-set!

Looking back, it is clear to me that it is exactly this mind-set that lead me to not doing as well as I could have at university. I had gotten to a point where I believed there was nothing more I could do, slowly the work started piling on and my grades were gradually slipping. Worst of all was that I felt too scared to ask for any help or seek input from lecturers or my peers, in fear of being judged. I had no "grit" (Duckworth, 2016) to carry on with what I was doing, to the best of my ability. Scraping 40% (pass) was all I could hope for at this stage.
"A growth mindset isn't just about effort. Perhaps the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort. Certainly, effort is key for students' achievement, but it's not the only thing. Students need to try new strategies and seek input from others when they're stuck. They need this repertoire of approaches - not just sheer effort - to learn and improve."
But it's funny how the world works. Before changing degree, for a third time, I was in a shop at the airport on my way to Australia, when I came across a book that really stood out to me, "Grit: The power of Passion and Perseverance" by Angela Duckworth. I read the blurb and it resonated with me so much that I knew I had to read more.

For those of you who unfamiliar with the term 'Grit'; it is very a simple yet very powerful concept. Angela Duckworth coined the term and defined it as "passion and perseverance for very long-term goals" (Duckworth, 2013)

So, what can we actually do to be grittier?

From my recent experiences, the advice that I have been given and the research I have done, I have come up with these few techniques we can implement to help us get back on track and stay there:

- Setting small manageable tasks - doing this will enable us to see our progress along our journey which in turn, will keep us more motivated to reach our end goals.

- Adopting a positive and growth mind-set - when you start to believe that there is always room for improvement and that failure is not the end, then, and only then, will you slowly start developing more grit.

- Practice, Practice, Practice! – you've most likely heard the saying "practice makes perfect" now whilst I don't agree with that I do believe that practice makes permanent.

- Pursue what YOU enjoy – when you engage in a field that you have an interest in, you are more likely to keep at it even when the going gets tough.

- Find like-minded people – having a support group of friends and peers can make all the difference in times when you are de-motivated.

My final outcome: I implemented these techniques into my own life; I never gave up on my long-term goal, and although I did change route a few times, I still achieved my end goal. I not only completed my bachelor's degree, with honours, but last year I finished my Post Graduate as well.

Believing and having a positive growth mindset is not always easy and at the end of the day we are all human. But knowing that you are trying your best, which will vary day to day, and working towards your long-term goals using the above techniques till aid you significantly in achieving them.

Boaler, J., 2013. Ability and Mathematics: the mindset revolution that is reshaping education. Forum, 55(1), pp. 143-152.

Duckworth, A., 2013. Grit: the power of passion and perseverance | Angela Lee Duckworth. Unknown: TED Talks, YouTube.

Duckworth, A., 2016. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. 1st Edition ed. London: Penguin Random House UK.

Duckworth, A., 2017. Twitter. [Online]
Available at: https://twitter.com/angeladuckw/status/863520100443455488