How to tell your parents you failed your exams

A comprehensive and helpful guide on breaking the dreadful news to the folks at home

During your college years, you face many daunting, even terrifying challenges. There are those activities in which you have little to no previous experience, such as doing laundry or trying to boil an egg. Other intimidating moments include trying not to panic when you dodge the fare on the Luas when those dastardly inspectors hop on at the next stop or praying in vain that your housemates bought milk, only to discover a sad, empty carton in the fridge the next morning. However, there is an unspoken agreement within the College community that one of the most unpleasant, dreadful, and miserable tasks is having to tell your parents that you have failed your exams.

Previously, this may not have been a relevant exercise, as school reports and parent-teacher meetings would do the dirty work for you. Back then, age was on your side and the rationale was that your childhood and teenage years were, by design, the chance to act immature. In fact, looking back, it can be said that school wasn’t so bad, as possibly all you had to do was endure a thorough dressing-down from your parents, before insincerely promising that you will work harder next time.

“Your parents will probably be too relieved that you are safe to care.”

The notion that you are now mature enough to take responsibility for your actions is somewhat laughable; this is the same person that believes essays only need to be started 12 hours before the submission deadline. Once you receive that dreaded notification that the results are in, you are past the point of no return. All you can do now is heed the advice of an experienced underachiever on how to break the news to your loving parents that one or more of your exam results have fallen on the wrong side of the passing grade.

Of course, you can always simply not tell them, or worse still, lie. After all, it is not as if they can find out the truth without you. However, the burden of a guilty conscience may become overwhelming, particularly when members of your extended family tell you how proud they are that you are doing so well. Often, the undeserved praise from well-wishers may push you over the edge, resulting in an unexpected drunken meltdown at your cousin’s First Communion. Furthermore, lies generally need to be supported by further lies, and if you continue down this dangerous path, before long you will be telling people that you have accepted a professorship at Guangzhou University. Simply put, honesty is the best policy in this case.

Now that you have decided to come clean, there is still the small matter of the medium; in other words, how you plan to break the news to your oblivious parents. One possible method is to lead with something far worse (and probably false), before dialling it back a notch and telling them the truth. For instance, if you say you have been knocked down by a careless bus driver, then assure them that you are fine, but manage to slip in that you failed that Russian Area Studies paper at the same time, your parents will probably be too relieved that you are safe to care.

This method allows you to soften the blow of the bad news by demonstrating how much worse things could be. Alternatively, you could wait until there is some form of good news before revealing your results, in an attempt to veil the negative with the positive. Ideally, this news should be large enough to outweigh the grim tidings. However, one should exercise caution when attempting this method, as it is coupled with the inevitability that your parents will bring up the exam results at a future date.

“Alternatively, you could wait until there is some form of good news before revealing your results, in an attempt to veil the negative with the positive.”

Another potential approach will require you to harness your inner Nicolas Cage and tell your parents about the results with a fiery, melodramatic fury. To pull this off, you need to be totally self-deprecating, almost to the point of violent rage. Key elements of this method include cursing yourself for all the time you wasted on nights out or three-hour lunch breaks, employing a poor study technique and not having the discipline to sit down and get some work done. The purpose of this style is to prove that you are so frustrated and disappointed with yourself that there is really no need for your parents to add to your misery by chewing you out as well. Bonus points if your parents suggest some form of counselling for you to regain control over your erratic emotions.

A third, and perhaps ill-advised strategy, is to turn the whole ordeal into a sort of guessing game, where your parents have to decipher what exactly has you so perturbed. This could be a game of hangman, an orienteering adventure, or even Chinese Whispers. The point is to get creative! You may be able to frustrate your parents to such an extent that they no longer care about the news in question. Conversely, they could end up enjoying themselves so much that by the time they find out the truth, they will just be happy that they had fun doing it. Again, this method is not guaranteed to produce the desired effect, so be conscious of that.

Ultimately, the best way is to just be frank and straightforward. Failing an exam is by no means the end of the world. As a wise man once said: “These are just practice tests, the important ones are in August.” Your compassionate and reasonable parents will be fair in how they react to your less-than-ideal set of results. Furthermore, you have been to this dance before; you should be experienced in being told off by your mother and father and therefore have nothing to fear. If not, however, you can get plane tickets to Greenland at a fairly reasonable price these days!

Cameron Hill

Cameron Hill was the Sports Editor of Trinity News for Michaelmas 2018. He is a Senior Fresh English Literature and French student.