With Results Day on everybody’s mind, OU graduate Jess Barrett, 29, knows all too well how it feels to not get the results you’d hoped for. Despite failing two of her exams, Jess has since gone on to succeed, graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) this April.
“Failing felt like a punch in the face”
“I remember very clearly the first time I failed an exam – it was my first module,” explains Jess. “It was Maths and I don’t know why, but I thought I could just rock up without having done any studying and it would be ok. I was a bit annoyed when I found out I’d failed, but I wasn’t entirely surprised. I redid the test a couple of months later and it was absolutely fine.”
But it was the second time Jess didn’t pass that hit her hardest: “The second time that I failed an exam, I took it so personally. I had tried so hard. I revised using past papers and joined every tutorial. I thought I’d done enough. And when I found out I hadn’t, I was very, very upset.
Close to calling it a day, Jess spoke to the Student Support team who helped her to understand her options: “The team were very understanding. They explained it wouldn’t be as much money as I thought it was going to be and what my next steps would be in terms of resitting.
“When you put everything into something, it does feel like a punch in the face. It feels like physical pain at the time, but you have to just have a moment where you are beyond disappointed and then you work out what you’re going to do.”
“Don’t make yourself an island”
Determined to never fail again, Jess utilised the support and help available at the OU. She shares, “I realised that one of the best things for me was doing the past exam papers. I also heavily used the student forums. We were all in a group chat for our pathway and would go through the tough questions together, working out what we thought the answer would be.”
Jess says that to begin with, she didn’t utilise her tutors as much as she could have, fearing that she’d be asking something ‘too specific’ relating to her work. She says, “When I was given the tutor for my resit, I didn’t let that fear get in the way. I’d ask very, very specific questions and if my tutor didn’t know the answers, she’d always help to find out. Questions are always worth asking – don’t make yourself an island.
“For all of my following modules, this became how I approached them, and I never had an issue again.”
“Remember why you started”
Jess shares that one of her motivations to keep going was the fact that there were very few women on her course. She says, “There were just three of us and I felt like we needed to get through it together and show other girls and women what was possible. My employer also knew that I was studying so I that was a huge motivator to keep going.”
For anyone who may be disheartened this Results Day, Jess says you’ve got to let yourself go through the emotions but don’t give up.
“You are going to be sad. So let yourself have a miserable 5 or 10 minutes. Then start to think practically about your next steps and remind yourself why you started. You’ll never have a black mark against your name because you’ve failed. You can still do well and succeed, even with having to re-sit a module or an exam.”
Jess also recognises that Covid-19 has been a bump in the road for so many learners, adding to the pressures of everyday life.
“There was a point during Covid, where I was doing the final module of the degree. I was pregnant, my daughter was eight months old, I was working full time at home in lockdown and the nurseries were shut. I had to give myself a break. Everyone has been under a lot more pressure than normal so it’s important to cut yourself some slack and give credit where credit is due.
“I won’t pretend to be the best, most organised person because I’m really not! I would recommend stealing little 15 minutes here or there. If you do have a supportive employer, communicate with them, and try and book some study leave. My company had a HR policy for those studying and this really helped around exam time.”
“This is just the start”
Jess proudly graduated in April 2022 sharing, “I couldn’t believe we were all together in a theatre after so long – it was so nice to celebrate together, and we had a party afterwards on the beach.” She’s also been able to put her studies into practice and is currently working in communications for an engineering firm.
“I now see engineering as a lot more than just the science. It’s about problem solving and having the opportunity to be the solution, which I love. I don’t know what the future holds but I’m sure that this is only just the start.”