Background: Preventing medical students entering cycles of underperformance following assessment is a priority due to the consequences for the student, faculty, and wider society. The benefits from feedback may be inadequately accessed by students in difficulty due to the emotional response evoked by examination failure. This study aims to explore medical students’ experiences of receiving feedback after summative assessment failure and investigate the role of emotions on motivation for learning after underperformance, to better support remediation and preparation for future assessments. Methods: This study used interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to explore the experiences of four medical students who failed summative assessments. Additionally, a content analysis was conducted using Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) to investigate the characteristics and use of language to describe their emotional response. Results: Anger, fear, anxiety, and sadness were emotions frequently experienced after examination failure. These emotions led to feelings of mistrust of the medical school and subsequent distrust in the university’s assessment processes, impacting on the desire to engage with feedback. There was dissonance between the students' perceptions of what feedback should provide and what benefit feedback provided after summative assessments. The linguistic inquiry further confirmed an initial (and sometimes long lived) negative affective state after experiencing failure, and a barrier to engagement with remediation when not effectively managed. Conclusions: A range of emotions, directed at themselves and the medical school are experienced by students following exam failure. These emotions lead to a range of negative feelings and responses that affect how students make sense of and move on from the failure experience. There is a need for educators to better understand and support students to manage, reflect and contextualise their emotional responses, minimise external attribution and to enable focus on remediation and learning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number930
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Early online date8 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2023


  • Emotion
  • Feedback
  • Remediation
  • Undergraduate medicine
  • Summative exam failure
  • Learning
  • Students, Medical/psychology
  • Humans
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate
  • Educational Measurement
  • Emotions


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