Your stomach sinks until it feels like it’s on the floor. That midterm grade you were waiting for? It’s posted, but it’s not even close to what you were expecting. It’s bad. Really bad. Now what?
1. Take a breath
Clare Ard, an advisor with Arts and Science, talks to students in this situation every single semester. “It’s natural to feel a bit raw after getting a grade that’s lower than you thought it would be,” she says. “And it’s okay to wait a day or two to let those first feelings go, but the worst thing you can do is to withdraw emotionally, try to ignore what happened and think that it will just go away.”
So what should you do when it feels like your academic career is plummeting toward certain failure? Clare says that being realistic is key.
2. It’s reality check time
“Think about what happened—and be honest,” she suggests. Ask yourself: Is this an academic issue? Were you doing what you needed to do to be where you want to be? Have you been going to classes, keeping up on your readings and doing the assignments and practice questions? Were you truly prepared? Or is there something in particular you didn’t understand?
If you answered yes to any of the above, then it’s probably time to talk to your prof—see tip three. If you answered no to all of them, the issue might go beyond academics and into life balance. Check out tip six.
3. Talk to your prof
This is probably the last thing you feel like doing when you’re not on the A-list, but talking to your faculty member and reviewing the exam or assignment is a good idea.
“Most people cringe when I suggest this—they often feel reluctant or embarrassed and think, ‘I’m a terrible student. Why would my prof want to talk to me?’ but that’s what they’re there for. This may feel like a very intimate and personal problem to you, but for them, it’s really not. They see hundreds of students a year, and you’re certainly not the first or only student who is having trouble.”
Remember those office hours on the syllabus? Talk to your prof, find out what you need to work on and make a plan.
4. Make a plan
If what you did last time didn’t give you the results you wanted, this is the time to try something new. Clare says many people’s least favourite task—budgeting—just might help you boost your grades.
“It’s easy to procrastinate, so making a time budget—a plan for what you need to do when—can make a big difference,” she says. “If you know you have a lab or assignment due on Friday, map out your time and what you need to do each day to get it done. And planning to do everything Thursday night isn’t actually a plan. My advice is to study little and study often. It’s easier to set aside a half-hour chunk every day than it is to study all day Saturday.”
There are also lots of resources on campus that can help you bolster your marks. Here are a few Clare suggests:
Practice questions: Some faculty members offer practice questions—a chance to work on the same type of question that’s on the exam, but not for marks. It might seem like extra work, but knowing you can ace the type of question you’re going to see on the next exam can be a great way to see where you went wrong, and give you a confidence boost.
Study groups: Many classes form study groups at the beginning of the semester, and some disciplines have informal meetings or networks where you can connect with other people in your program.
5. Do the math
Take some time to think about where you want to be and the mark you’ve earned so far. “A bad grade can make you feel like a puddle of dirt, but if your first midterm is worth 25 per cent of your final grade, you still have 75 per cent of your course to bring that mark up.”
If cracking down and making big changes means you can use the remaining 75 per cent left to bring your final grade up to a B, will you be okay with that and will that meet your needs? “If there’s no way it will, then that’s fine. Just assess and face it head-on so you can make informed decisions about whether you want to keep or drop the course,” says Clare. “The drop deadline is December 4, so you have until then to make your final decision.”
6. Something’s got to give
If the issue you’re having is more about juggling than studying, you may have to look at scaling back.
“Look at your priorities and think hard about what’s most important to you. You may need to reduce your working hours, extracurricular activities, family commitments or course load,” says Clare.
Deciding what’s best for you means putting all of your priorities on the table and looking at what is most important.
"If you need to finish your program in a certain timeframe, then you might need to work less. If you need to work to pay your expenses, or if your family is your priority, that’s fine. Maybe you need to take one less course each semester—if taking four courses a term is going to make a happier, healthier, more successful you, then only take four. It’s okay. And you can always look at Spring or Summer courses if you feel like you need to make up for lost time.”
“Too often we have preconceived ideas of what we should be and how we should be doing, and we don’t accept that we all have different strengths and weaknesses,” says Clare. “You’re not the same as your friends or the other students in your class, and you may need to try different things until you find what works best for you.”
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This story is part of Changing Minds: Creating a healthy campus – an initiative that makes mental health a priority. The program connects training opportunities, support services, resources and stories from real people across the MacEwan University community.
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