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What a Failure at the Exam Taught People About Hard Work

Does hard work always guarantee that one will achieve success in anything that one is doing? I, like many other Americans, was raised with the belief that, indeed, hard work was the only way one can become successful in life. I did not believe that every single prosperous individual got where he or she was solely by virtue of talent, nor did I expect success to happen overnight. Therefore, I worked hard at school, at home, and college because I was sure that it would get me to a better life one day. I studied long hours, choosing to read another couple of pages instead of going to sleep late at night. I preferred to spend a few more hours on my assignments rather than going out with my friends. For a long time, my hard work paid off as I received high grades and mastered the subjects. However, one day my attitude changed forever: I failed the law exam. From this mistake, I learned a lesson that, without proper time management and priority setting, hard work is a path to failure.

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This happened several years ago: I was studying a law module, expecting to get a degree in law in the future. Law was not my passion, but I thought that it was a good profession to pursue to have a comfortable life. I was well-prepared for the oncoming exam; I dedicated myself to the subject throughout the course and not only on the night before the exam. I read all the assigned books and learned all the relevant legislation. I was prepared on all fronts: my mind, my body, my pen – everything was on alert right before the exam. I even checked my horoscope, and it predicted success. I was sure that my hard work would be rewarded.

On the day of the exam, I came to the room, sat, and received the paper with the questions. They were not the questions, the answers to which one could find in the law textbook. Instead, these were legal cases requiring the student to demonstrate critical thinking and address the flaws in the legal system. The first one was easy and boring; the second one was harder but still boring; the third presented a challenge to me, and I flushed with excitement, anticipating how I would answer to it.

So, I began with the third question, full of ideas and guided by extensive knowledge I had gained before. Half an hour later, the teacher said, “You have 30 minutes to complete the papers. No delay is acceptable.” I was startled because I was sure she meant that only 30 minutes since the beginning of the exam had passed. I looked at my watch and got paralyzed: one hour and a half, not 30 minutes, had passed since I received the questions. For the next half an hour, I felt as if I were on fire. In 10 minutes, I finished the third question, and the last 20 minutes were spent on the other two questions. I knew the answers, and I spat them out on the paper in agitation. I was sure I succeeded because my hard work could not have been in vain.

When the results were announced, I was stupefied: instead of the expected 80%, I got a 30% grade. My face that day was more terrible than an erupting volcano. I looked at my completed papers and saw lines written in handwriting so uneven that even I, being the author of those lines, could not make out a word. When I discuss this incident with my mother, she encouragingly tells me that I worked hard and did the best I could (Krueger). However, I know now that I did not; if only I had planned my time wisely and had not been so self-assured, I would succeed. Hard work is important for success, but without setting the right priorities and rationally allocating time between them, hard work may turn into dust.

From then on, I vowed that I would focus on the efficiency of my work instead of blindly working long hours until my eyes were sore and my mind was clouded. I began to learn time management and allocated less time and effort to various activities than I had done before. Although my academic achievement fell, it was still sufficient for me to remain in the better half of the students. When I tell my friend about this change, he does not believe that I can stay almost as successful as before, devoting to my work and study only a third of the previously spent time (Kernan). So, my experience has taught me that wisely planning my time and effort is as significant for success as hard work.

In conclusion, working hard is considered the main predictor of success. However, my experience of exam failure despite my preparedness shows that hard work is not enough. One should learn how to manage time and always be mindful of one’s goals. In addition, careful planning of efforts is also crucial to achieving personal and professional aims to avoid early exhaustion and burnout. Success has nothing to do with perfectionism because when people attempt to do something perfectly, they spend extra time and effort, which could have been invested in something more useful or pleasant. Thus, to be successful, a person should work hard, carefully manage time and wisely allocate physical and mental resources.

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Kernan, John. Personal interview. 2021.

Krueger, Linda. Personal interview. 2021.

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