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Assessment failure

March 24, 2008

This is every trainer’s nightmare. The student performed well during training but under the additional pressure of assessment conditions, they were found wanting and have been sent back for further tuition. This has a big impact on confidence and your plan must address this to turn the student around quickly. You need to get the student back under training as soon as possible and start your preparation for the re-assessment.

The world hasn’t ended

They student may consider giving up at this stage and will be looking for reasons why or why not they should. They may also be angry, feel let down or have issues regarding their confidence in the training team. Often, a second assessment is the final chance for the student to prove their ability which adds to the pressure on the student

This is where the trainer needs to act quickly and take the lead in the recovery program. Although they may not see at this moment in time, the student is in a much stronger position than the were before failing the assessment. These are the reasons why:

  • They have experienced assessment conditions
  • Any lessons learned will be strengthened by emotion (assessment conditions)
  • The assessors standards are known
  • The student’s shortfalls are documented
  • Competencies already assessed as ‘meeting agreed standards’ will not need to be assessed again

The action plan

The trainer’s actions leading up to the assessment will be the major factor in the student’s success or failure during the reassessment. The ‘failure action plan’ or ‘actions after failure model’ is a seven step process for the trainer to prepare the student for re-assessment.

  1. Review
  2. Reconsider
  3. Re-plan
  4. Re-assure
  5. Revitalise
  6. Resume
  7. Reassess

Review: meet with the assessor, identify the areas assessed as not competent and compare with your assessment own evaluations. Were they competent by your standards? Has the student degraded? Where the competencies actually covered in the training?

You will need to take stock of what resources you have available. In some workplaces the student becomes priority one whilst in others you may actually have less resources available. What are the available resources? How will that affect your training strategies.

You will need to review all of your training documentation, even on the successful competencies as you will need to identify the techniques that worked and the ones that didn’t work.

Reconsider: This may mean a change of trainers or the addition of a second or third. At the very least, elicit the expertise of as many other trainers that you can for ideas. Also have a very hard look at your training strategies. Was the focus on procedure rather than example, theory rather than practice or fixing rather than developing?

Re-plan: This means the complete development process, starting from step one and looking at every identified student shortcoming. You will need to review resources and objectives and determine how the task intends to be achieved. Develop the training plan, but don’t let the student see it straight away because they should be given an opportunity to develop their own. At this stage of the training they should have some self assessment tools up their sleeve.

Re-assure: This is the meeting with the student following the assessment failure. You may need to reassure the student and address some confidence (in themselves or the training team) or regressive emotional issues. You will then need to develop a plan or strategy with the student, letting them contribute as much as possible. It is essential that the student has ownership of this process because we will need every available motivational tool that we can get.

Revitalise: Not only in terms of enthusiasm, but also in terms of training strategies. Revisit each of the models and if you aren’t pre-briefing and debriefing every session, start doing so immediately. The same with goal setting, setting remedial action or activities and planning. Publish the plan and even if it needs immediate changing, it is worth the effort.

Resume: Return to training at the earliest opportunity. Get back on the horse and look for every available training opportunity. Student enthusiasm is a must and any delay, especially if the reassessment is soon, will make it harder on you both. After the student has been found wanting in some areas, they will begin to question others and their will be an initial period of adjustment that must be overcome.

Reassess: Assess each of the lacking competencies every session. Clearly identify standards and if none exist, create them – the assessor has standards, discuss formalising these, even if only for the purpose of assisting this particular student. Measure the progress – Even minimal progress is still progress.

Also discuss with the assessor the possibility of a progressive assessment. A progressive assessment (regular short periodic sessions, rather than a consecutive period) can give a better representation of student performance if pressure is an issue.


It is hard not to take an assessment personally. Both the trainer and student will feel a measure of responsibility for the results but this is not the time to begin questioning your worth to the organisation. You need to take positive action and assume control of the training. Focus on how you can achieve the objectives and the small steps in between. Most of all, learn from the experience and enlist the help of your co-workers, many of which will have been in exactly the same situation as you are now.

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