Low Grades? Here’s What You Should You Do

In my almost 30 years of teaching I am sorry to say that almost every class (especially the large classes I have taught) has had at least one student who failed the course or did really poorly. This is a real drag because it is almost always the case that this student could have avoided failing if he or she had taken some important early action.

Before getting to what action you should take if you are doing poorly, let me first say that as a faculty member there is only so much I can do to move a student forward in my classes. Thus, how you do in a class is mostly up to you. For example, if you decide (for whatever reason) not to study you are likely not going to do well. Or if you think that you can blow off class, the chances of catching up and getting on top of class material is slim. I will add that you can always take a chance and see what happens if you do not study or stop going to class, but I find it hard to believe that you really want to play these odds.

bubblesheet-986935_1280With the above in mind, what should you do if you find that you are really struggling in a class? Here are several pieces of advice:

1) Be realistic about your situation. It is critical that you understand that there is a problem, and that it needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. The option of waiting is typically not going to work for you. Too often I have had students who are doing poorly, and think that things will just turn around on the next exam. In most cases, things do not turn around and these students continue to fall further behind.

2) Determine the cause of your poor performance. There are a number of factors that may be leading to your difficulty in a class. I feel it is best to initially sit down on your own and assess what might be the problem. For example, are you doing poorly because you simply do not study enough? Remember, the unwritten rule of most faculty members is that you are expected to put in 3 hours of work for every 1 credit hour you are taking. Yes, that means 9 hours outside of class for a 3 credit-hour class! Other factors impacting your performance might include your (a) not going to class; (b) not understanding the material; (c) having too many obligations (number of courses, employment, relationships, family, activities); and (d) having mental health issues (e.g., depression, anxiety).

3) Determine if there are changes you can make on your own to improve your class situation. It would be nice and simple if you determine that you are not studying enough for a class, because then you might just have to study more. This is easier said than done, but at least you can work on a study schedule that can get you back on track (for tips on setting up a study schedule go to: https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/). Likewise, if you are not going to class, go to class!

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4) For some issues you will need help from others (aside from the instructor). This help can come in many forms. For example, if you are having trouble understanding the material, you could meet with other students to go over class notes. You might also want to get a tutor. At some schools tutors may be free and centrally located, but you might have to do a little searching to find a tutor who can help you out. In my experience, tutors are great and can often be a game changer as far as your performance in class. Another person who may be able to help you out is a graduate teaching assistant, if your class has one of these. You might also talk to your academic advisor to see if they can offer you some guidance, especially with regard to directing you toward certain resources (academic and otherwise) on campus. Finally, if you are having mental health concerns you will need to seek out a mental health clinic on campus to get professional help.

5) No matter what, you should talk to your Instructor. In my opinion, it is extremely important to touch base with your Instructor about your situation. Regardless of what you are thinking it is likely the case that your Instructor will be in your corner, and they ill do whatever they can to help you do better in the course. This might include going over material or giving you advice on how to study. The key is that if you say nothing, your Instructor (who will ultimately give you a grade) will be in the dark about your situation. Keep in mind, however, that you should avoid thinking that your Instructor is going to offer you extra credit or discard certain low grades—this is probably unlikely.

6) Consider dropping the course. Even if you do all of the above, you might still need to drop the course. You may be in a situation where the benefits of dropping the course (e.g., more time to devote to other classes) far exceed the cost of staying in the course (e.g., a failing grade). Check out my blog post about dropping a course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/?s=drop+course).

I hope this information helps you think about your situation when things are not going so well. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

Dealing With Grades After Finals

Congratulations on finishing the semester! Of course, I hope things went well and that you are satisfied with all of your grades. However, I know that there are going to be some of you who are not happy. I mean, not happy at all.

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As I see it, there are usually 4 types of unhappy students at the end of the semester. Student 1 is unhappy as the result of not performing as well as they expected. These are the students who expected to earn an A, but they got a C. Moreover, they realize that their performance did not warrant an A–their C actually reflects what they should have received.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 1: I am sorry to say that if you are like Student 1 there is not much you can do. Your grade reflects your performance. If you did not perform well, either because you thought the class was too hard or you did not put in enough effort, I do not see any way your grade is going to be changed. My best advice is to consider repeating the course (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/03/21/is-repeating-a-course-a-good-idea-definitely/).

Student 2 is unhappy because they believe that their grade was incorrectly calculated based on the criteria presented in the syllabus. Remember, the importance of your syllabus. Not only does it make clear all of the rules of the class, but also it should specify exactly how grades are determined. If your syllabus says each exam is worth 25%, then each exam is worth 25%. Neither you nor your Instructor can change the rules at the end of the semester. If you calculate your grade and you see that Exam 1 was weighted 20% and Exam 3 was weighted only 10%, you have every right to be unhappy.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 2: If your grade was calculated incorrectly you should take action. This means:

1) Contact the Instructor immediately. Do not wait until you get back from break. The sooner you deal with this, the better. I’ll add that when I hear from a student right away I know this student is really concerned about their grade.

2) If possible, contact the Instructor face to face. Of course, this may be impossible if you get your final grade after you have left campus.

3) Get all your facts together and be prepared to present a convincing case. Make sure you double-check your calculations to be sure that there was a mistake. It would probably do you well to have another person look over the calculations to be sure you did them correctly. When you actually communicate with your Instructor I feel you should be ready to go through your calculations in a very systematic fashion to show them where mistakes were made.

4) MOST IMPORTANT! Be civil. No matter how you contact your Instructor, do so in a way where you are courteous, polite and respectful. You will get nowhere with your Instructor (except asked to end the conversation!) if you raise your voice, do not give your Instructor a chance to speak, or use foul language. Be calm, and let the facts guide the conversation. Let me add that you might think that you cannot be rude in an email—think again. I am amazed by the rudeness I see in an emails sent to me.

Student 3 is unhappy because they feel that certain graded components (e.g., assignments, reaction papers, exams) that comprised their overall grade were graded too low.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 3: Same as for Student 2, except you will need to have some way of presenting a case for why you were graded unfairly. This can be quite difficult, especially with graded components that are more subjective (e.g., an essay exam). I feel you have every right to ask your Instructor to justify your grade by making clear exactly why a certain amount of points were deducted. What might help your case is if your Instructor gave out a grading rubric that you can use to justify why you thought you should not have lost certain points.

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Student 4 is unhappy because they feel that somehow their grade does not reflect their performance and effort in the class. This is the student who just missed out on the next highest grade. A “silver medalist” like this is caught between wishing they had tried just a bit more in the class and hoping that their Instructor might offer them the few points they need to obtain a higher grade.

SOLUTION FOR STUDENT 4: If you are Student 4 this is a really tricky situation that must be approached very strategically. As above, contact the Instructor immediately, try to meet with the Instructor face to face, and be civil. Keep in mind that you should not be “begging” for a grade. Based on my own 29 years of experience and my discussions with faculty colleagues, this type of behavior simply will not work; if anything, begging will lead an Instructor to stop the discussion and make clear that there is no chance of additional points. My view is that if this is you, be prepared have some case to make. For example, you might have grades that show a steady increase through the semester, thereby showing a greater mastery of the material. I will caution you that if you state that your grade must be raised because you will lose a scholarship or be put on probation is typically not going to sway a lot of faculty.

I hope it is not you who is unhappy after the semester. But, as I described above, if it is you remember that there are ways to increase your chances of ending up with a better grade. Good luck!

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

 

Special Guest Writer–Ellie Cahill: Wear Your Letters, Earn Your Grades: Balancing Greek Life and Academics

So you’ve made it. You moved in, said goodbye to your parents, joined an incredible Greek organization, and now you’ve survived your first few weeks of classes. While these first few weeks of school were new and exciting, reality will set in. You’re going to have homework, exams, chapter meetings, philanthropy events, social events, and not to mention meetings for other student organizations you want to be involved in. The number one fear we always hear from new freshman is that they are not sure if they can balance the obligations of Greek Life and their academics. What you don’t always realize, is that the number one priority of Greek Organizations is academics. We are all here to be college students first and members of our organizations second. These organizations exist to not only provide a sense of belonging here on campus, but to help you thrive in all aspects of your life. While managing all your obligations is difficult, here is some advice to help you learn important time management skills:

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1) Buy a planner! You can literally get one anywhere such as Target and Staples. I recommend finding one that has monthly calendars at the beginning and then breaks down into weekly agendas. In the monthly calendars, I like to write down major events like exams, important assignments, class projects, social functions, athletic games, philanthropy events, etc. This way I can see when all of my main events are happening in relation to one another. It is so important to know when you might have exams and important Greek events during the same week so you can plan your study time in advance. I then use the weekly agenda to write down all of my homework, such as notes or worksheets, and all of my minor weekly meetings. This allows me to understand what all I need to get done each day while also keeping in mind what I need done by the end of each week. Understanding what you need to get done and the time frame you have to do it, is essential to being successful. While it’s important to write all of this down, it is even more important that you actually use your planner every single day. Do not let it become just another notebook that takes up space in your backpack!

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2) Decide what is mandatory and what is optional. To quote my mom, “you have to do your have to dos, before you do your want to dos.” Look at all of your obligations each month and determine which are absolutely mandatory and what are things that you simply just want to do for fun. For example, weekly chapter meeting is mandatory, class is mandatory, your chapter’s philanthropy event is mandatory. Those are all of your “have to dos.” Going to a social event, grabbing lunch with a friend, or going to an athletic game are all of your “want to dos.” Realize that sometimes you are not going to be able to do it all. If there’s a social on a Thursday, but you have an exam on Friday morning, then you are going to have to miss out on the social. Saying no to the “want to dos” that conflict with those “have to dos” is totally ok. For every event you miss, there will always be another one.

3) Ask for help. One of the best parts of being in a Greek organization is that you are bound to have class with members of your chapter. Make study groups with them! It is a great way to meet and get to know other members in your chapter while still studying for your classes. Plus, you’ll never have to pull an all-nighter alone! Another great benefit with being in such a large organization is that there are older members who have been there and done that before you. There is bound to be at least one member (if not more) who has the same major or has taken the same classes as you. Use them! They are always willing to show you which classes and professors to take or how to take notes and study for the class.

4) Most importantly, use your chapter’s Academics Chair. This is usually a member who has high academic achievement and wants to help guide others to reach their own academic achievement. Their entire position is to help you be a better student! If you are struggling in a class, they will help you seek help whether that’s from someone in the chapter or from an on-campus tutoring place. If you are nervous to get help on campus, they will probably go with you! You are surrounded by opportunity to be academically successful, take advantage of it!

Your chapter wants you to be successful in all areas of your life, but especially in your academics. Chapters love to brag and boast about all of the incredible achievements in your life. Whether that’s getting an A on the exam you thought you failed or getting into the program you dreamed of, they love seeing you accomplish your goals and will help with anything in order to get you there. Yes, it will be hard, but college is hard for everyone. It isn’t supposed to be easy. Luckily in your chapter, you will be surrounded by people who will be there to help you through the hard times in order to make them easier and to celebrate with you during the good times to acknowledge how hard you worked.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.