I am not well enough prepared for an oral exam I will have soon. I should probably pass the exam but with a bad grade I wouldn't be happy with. This comes due to some bad time management and some personal problems during the semester. Unfortunately I still decided to take the exam....

Since we have 2 tries I am planning to fail it. Now I am unsure how to do it politely. Is it ok to come by and see how the exam is, but answer bad on purpose or should I sent a mail that I'm not well prepared and apologize and come to the retake date?

I'm grateful for any advice how to handle the situation.

  • 18
    This is probably dependent on your country's or even your university's culture, so you need to clarify that. For example, where I'm from it would be a terrible idea to purposefully fail an exam – you would be prevented from getting more than the minimum passing grade on your second try, no matter how well you do (i.e. even if you got 100% on your second try, on your transcript it would appear as a "C" or whatever the passing grade is); so my own answer would be "don't do it" if you were in this situation, but apparently you are not.
    – user9646
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 15:12
  • 3
    @NajibIdrissi That sounds extremely harsh. I failed my first math calculus exam. I got a lesson, I learned I need to really study at a university and I got an A at the end of the same week. It seems unfortunate to be se harsh, some countries it can ruin someone's chances to get a grad position. I got my masters with distinctions and later a PhD. Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:43
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    Doing your best during the first exam (and taking it) will help you know how better to improve/study before taking it again.
    – mbomb007
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:47
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    @VladimirF So just to make sure I understand, if you failed an exam you would think that getting a chance to make it right and get a passing grade is "extremely harsh"?
    – user9646
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 20:08
  • 1
    @You can put it that way. But if the "passing grade" is actually an uncleanable mark of someone unfit for future education... Even talented students can trip and talented people are resources which only the best universities can waste. Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:10

4 Answers 4


Don't waste other's people time, and be respectful to your professor and to your fellow students as well. Send an email and apologize: the time slot allotted for you can be better used in another ways, e.g. to improve other students' exam schedule.

  • 12
    Be respectful of those who teach you as well.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 15:39
  • 2
    @SolarMike Yes, indeed! ;-) Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 16:14
  • Been there, done that. And it was the right thing to do.
    – Mayou36
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:11
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    Also you should consider that pissing off your committee by deliberately failing an exam is likely to make them much less forgiving on your second try. Also, even if you do well on your second try, the bad first impression you will have made will hurt your reputation and chances for good recommendations and networking which will be much more important than the grade on your qualifying exam.
    – divibisan
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:31

Never Intentionally Fail

You should absolutely never intentionally fail an exam. Always strive to do your best, even if you do not expect to pass. Your (intentional) failure will be indistinguishable from an actual failure, and it would be hard to convince somebody later that you tried to fail. Moreover, intentionally failing will cause some people over you to think you are more ill-prepared than you actually are. If you expect to fail, try to get out of taking it instead.

As @MassimoOrtolano noted, don't waste peoples' time — including your own. Nothing annoys people more than wasting their time.

Improve Your Situation Where Possible

As with all of us, you need to take the initiative to improve yourself in any possible way to allow yourself to succeed. Consider yourself and your situation as levelly as you can and work to improve the things within your control. Get help for the things that are beyond your control, such as health or mental health issues. I've needed to cut out certain parts of my life and introduce new habits in order to be more productive.


Many faculty are understanding of personal issues, to a certain extent. Life happens! You can prevent the faculty from speculating as to why you're failing by actually telling them. They may even offer you some alternatives (take exam at later date, etc.), help support you in some way, or point you to helpful resources. This is in every way better than just intentionally doing poorly and not telling them why.

  • 4
    Intentionally failing won't even show up on many certificates, bad grades do
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:02
  • 1
    @DonQuiKong grades are not the only thing that matter, and one mediocre grade isn't the end of the world.
    – posdef
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:21
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    @posdef unless thats one that counts a lot and brings your average down so you don't get into the masters program or whatever. Never say never
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 19:29
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    What a terrible answer. Good grades matters in a lot of places, easier to get a job afterwards, getting paid more, getting into master's or PhD programs. Maybe you are from some place where failed attempts are recorded on your diploma, I haven't heard about such a thing before, what makes you think that is the case for the asker?
    – poizan42
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 21:16
  • I’m confused by your comments. Isn’t intentionally failing the same as you intentionally getting a very low grade? Why would failing the test not be the same as getting a poor grade? If a failed attempt does not appear on your transcript, please clarify in your question how your institution reports things.
    – jvriesem
    Commented Mar 13, 2018 at 4:29

If you are in a PhD program, the best advice is almost certainly to take the exam and do your best. After you get your degree, no one will know or care how comfortably you passed your exams. Your thesis is all that matters, and if your program thinks you're ready to start working on it, you should listen to them. Do not stay in kindergarten out of perfectionism.

Also, you are taking for granted that you will pass on the second try. But anything can happen: you could get a curveball question, or have an off day for some reason. If you waste one of your two chances, you may regret it later.


It depends, specifically on what level you are in and where you are studying, i.e. what regulations you have to play by. Based on that my answer would be somewhere between no and NO! :)

First of all as others have pointed out already, it's extremely disrespectful to waste people's time. Time is a commodity, and a very precious one at that, especially in academic setting. Many professors and lecturers (indeed even TAs) are juggling their own work, assignments, deadlines and lives outside work on a tight balance. To presume that someone has time to entertain your desire to "come by and see how the exam is"; well, quite frankly that's a flagrant 2 in my eyes.

This comes due to some bad time management and some personal problems during the semester.

sh*t happens, it's no big deal to have a bad grade here and there. I know not everyone share's this opinion, but we are all human and when you are at the uni there are a lot of things going on. It's part of the learning process to mess up things every now and then, expectation of, and desire to get, a flawless track record is what gets people into trouble in many cases.

If I were you, I would just take my chances with the exam and do what I can do. If you get a C/D whatever, so be it. If you fail, you can prepare better for the retake.

If you insist you don't want to take your chances, I'd notify the teacher that I cannot take the test for whatever reason, and ask when/how you can register for the retake. If the teacher calls you on your made-up excuse though, you are gonna have to weasel your way out of it though. Thus I recommend you prepare as much as you can, and give your honest best shot.

  • 2
    It's part of the learning process to mess up things every now and then Totally agree. I had extraordinary marks throughout my studies (and ended up as the top student for my year across the whole school), went for a PhD program, got excellent marks again and then, on the easiest exam, had the shame of my life when I failed it.This was because I got used to be very good and got sloppy with this "simple exam". I will never forget how the various teachers were looking at me (there were a few during the exam) - this excellent student who failed their exam. This is a lesson I will never forget.
    – WoJ
    Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 20:46

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