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Dealing with Failed Exams

In the course of your university studies, you might find yourself receiving a failing grade. The following pages will describe the consequences this might have and show you how to handle the situation.

General legal consequences

There are various consequences to a failing grade depending on the type of performance evaluation. In the course of your university studies, you will take primary examinations (“Prüfungsleistungen”) and secondary examinations (“Prüfungsnebenleistungen”). You can find out more about the type of examination from the relevant module description. You can also find this information by logging into PULS and referring to “My Modules”.

Secondary examination

A failed secondary examination (“Prüfungsnebenleistung”:prerequisite for the completion of a whole module or for participation in the module examination) may, under certain circumstances, keep you from making further progress in your degree program. It does not, however, have any consequences on your ability to complete your studies as a whole. You can retake secondary examinations as often as you would like. You can usually retake them by re-registering for the course associated with this examination as per the module description. In some cases, an opportunity to retake the examination before the end of the respective semester will be offered by the staff member in charge.

Primary examination

A failed primary examination (“Prüfungsleistung”: examinations that count towards the overall grade for the degree program) leads to a reduction in the number of attempts you have left to successfully complete the examination. For each module examination, you have a total of three attempts to pass the examination. For your final thesis, you have two attempts. Your transcript of records (under „My Achievements“ in PULS) will include information on the number of attempts you currently have left.

A failed examination that was not your final attempt can be retaken at a later time. To participate in the retake examination, you will have to register for and be admitted to the examination. Failed attempts will be visible in your transcript of records, but will not count towards the overall grade for the module and will not appear on your degree certificate.

If you fail to pass a module on your third attempt,you will no longer have the option of retaking the examination (with the exception of non-binding examinations) and the module examination will be considered as irrevocably failed, section 11(7) BAMA-O/BAMALA-O.

  • If a student irrevocably fails to pass a module examination in a mandatory module, the whole degree program or subject will also be considered irrevocably failed in accordance with section 12(2) of the BAMA-O/BAMALA-O).
  • If you irrevocably fail to pass a module examination in an elective module, it does not mean that you will have immediately failed the whole degree program or subject.
    • You can choose another elective module which you had not yet taken in the respective elective field; section 12(2) BAMA-O/BAMALA-O.
    • If you irrevocably fail to pass the module examination in this second elective module as well, then everything depends on whether or not there is another different elective module to choose within the elective field. If that is the case, then yet another elective module can be chosen within the respective elective field of the degree program/subject. If you irrevocably fail to pass the module examination in this third elective module, then the entire degree program is considered irrevocably failed.
    • The examination for the entire degree program/subject is also considered irrevocably failed if, after failing an elective module, there are no other elective modules to take.
    • To sum up: if you fail an elective module in an elective field and can still choose at least two other modules that you have not yet taken, you will not have irrevocably failed your degree program until you have irrevocably failed to pass a total of three elective modules in the elective field. In case of less than two other elective modules, this legal consequence will take effect as soon as you fail to pass all available elective modules in the respective elective field.

If you irrevocably fail to pass a final thesis in the second attempt, then the whole degree program will also be considered irrevocably failed in accordance with section 12(2) of the BAMA-O/BAMALA-O.

If you irrevocably failed to pass, you will first be able to see this in PULS under “My Modules” and in your transcript of records (“EN” stands for “endgültig nicht bestanden”, i.e. irrevocably failed). At a later time, you will also receive a written notification officially confirming the failing grade. Another legal consequence of irrevocably failing to pass is your dismissal from the university (exmatriculation), taking place one month after you were served with the official written notification.

Please consider making an appointment with the Central Student Advisory Service, ideally before your third attempt at an examination, to discuss all your options in the matter.

Possible scenarios for not counting a failing grade as an examination attempt or changing the grade

Non-binding examinations

Ability to take an examination

Reconsideration procedure

Second evaluation


Self-assessment, prevention, and support options

  • A failed examination provides you with important information: You now know a bit more about what to expect and how the examination is structured. To make the most of this information, be sure to get some feedback: review your failed exam or discuss it with the examiner. You will only be able to adapt your learning strategy and prepare for the next attempt in a targeted way if you find out what it was that kept you from passing (e.g. comprehension, application, time management). The examiner might even be able to give you useful hints on how to better prepare for the exam. Create a learning schedule that fits the situation.
  • Take your time to decide when you should retake the exam. Don’t rush it! Be sure not to register for the retake examination before you had enough time to prepare for it. Use your second attempt wisely so as to avoid the high-pressure situation of having to take a “last attempt” examination.
  • Consider using available practice examinations or exams from previous years to prepare for the real thing. Taking advantage of tutorial courses, learning group offers, or private tutoring can help you understand complex aspects of the examination even better. Be sure to use various learning methods.
  • You can find resources to support you during exam preparation here: Central Student Advisory Service - Offers for students and teaching staff.
  • Resources for stress reduction from the Feel Good Campus.
  • If you have exam anxiety or doubts about your choice of degree program, please discuss these matters with one of our advisors.
  • Avoid failing an exam simply by forgetting to attend; always double check if you have registered for any examinations. Should you wish not to or be unable to take an examination, find out if you can withdraw from the examination (within the withdrawal period or due to circumstances beyond your control [e.g. illness]). You can see the number of attempts you have made at passing the  examination in your transcript of records.
  • Please also check your eligibility for what we call Individual Equality Measures if you have a chronic illness or disability; or if you assume care responsibilities for your family and dependents. Modifications to the modalities of the examination may be an option in these cases.
  • It is also very important to observe the rules of conduct for academic work; avoid giving any impression of plagiarism or academic misconduct.

Alternatives to your university studies – Changing degree programs or subjects

Find out, in advance or in the case of a failing grade, whether you can transfer to another degree program or to another institution of higher education in which the failed exam or module is not a fixed part of the curriculum. The Central Student Advisory Service will be at your disposal to help you with this.


University of Potsdam | Division of Student Affairs

Central Student Advisory Service


Campus Am Neuen Palais
Building 8, Rooms 0.12 - 0.16