First year is a delicate time for students. Many have little idea what to expect of university, and their sense of identity as tertiary students is fragile. A diagnostic assessment early in first semester may reassure students that they have chosen the right path. However, some academics, particularly in engineering, argue that this early assessment should be very demanding – so tough, in fact, that some students fail-in order to alert students to the hard work required to pass the course. This study uses a mixed methods design (weekly surveys and in-depth interviews) to explore the effects of a purposefully tough early assessment on first year engineering students at an Australian university. We find that, across the cohort, the high failure rate was not associated with a significant slump or spike in motivation. Although some students were initially dismayed by their results, most went on to address their study with resilience, and appreciated the “kick up the bum”, as they described it.