Dealing with failure

Definition of failure

An administrative sanction resulting from the application of Programme regulations governing exams and failure.

  • there is a difference between a single or final failure, with different consequences. In case of single failure you may sit the exam again, whereas in case of final (or double) failure, in most cases the student has to leave EPFL.
  • there is also a difference between failure and withdrawal: failure is by definition beyond the individual’s control, whereas withdrawal is most often self-determined, with the student deciding not to sit the exam.

Exam failure: what next?

Failing an exam is an ordeal which often makes students feel helpless. However, if you take the time to analyse the reasons for your failure, you might draw constructive conclusions enabling you to avoid making the same mistakes again.

This site offers a tool to manage failure so as to make your analysis as rational and structured as possible.  It is a guide to develop your thought process and make you ask yourself key questions to develop your future strategy. The process includes:

To whom is this site dedicated?

To all students from all years who ask themselves the following questions:

  • I’m not sure I’ll succeed, I am afraid of failing, what will I do if I fail?
  • I have failed; is it worth sitting the exams again?
  • I am failing this year, what strategy should I adopt?
  • I cannot continue in my Programme – what else can I do?

In the prospect of helping you take action: to all students about to sit exams at the end of term, particularly those in their 1st year – inasmuch as failure is more frequent early on in the curriculum – who ask themselves what to do in case of possible or actual failure on a 1st or 2nd attempt.

With avoiding failure in mind: to all students not currently sitting exams or experiencing failure, so that they know that such a tool exists whatever happens in future exams.


The content of this site was designed for the Student Affairs by sociologist Françoise Galley, Senior Lecturer at the Observatoire EPFL Science, Politique et Société research centre.

The concept and a major part of the content were drawn from the PhD dissertation on the subject of failure :”Réalisation d’un outil informatif et de bilan personnel face à l’échec universitaire: La brochure: Un échec! Comment rebondir ?” (Not available any more). Catherine Mivelaz (2000) / Lausanne University, Social & Political Science, Institute of Psychology