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Yikes! You just got back that history test you spent all last week cramming for, and your grade is NOT what you expected – not even close. How’s a pre-collegiette supposed to keep her parents from freaking, prevent her grades from tanking for the semester, and manage all the other stresses in her life? Try managing your next grade freak-out with these three easy steps guaranteed to help you deal with and move on from any grade shocker.


First, don’t panic. Stop and think about what you’ve just received.

It’s super, super hard, but in order to handle a grade you’re not so happy with, it’s important to step away from the situation for a while. “When I get a bad grade, I quickly look at the grade and then put the assignment away. Reading through the red marks on my paper only makes me feel worse, so I save that for later when I recover from that heart-dropping feeling of seeing my grade,” says Julia, who recently graduated from HP Baldwin High School. Anywhere from ten minutes to a day or two works as a cooling off period depending on how you feel about handling the situation. Emotions in check? Go for it. Still steaming? Probably better to wait at least a period or two. (Of course, the exception to this comes when then end of the semester is looming and you need to deal with things ASAP to make sure grades are correct on a transcript or report card.)

Once you’ve given the grade (and the person who gave it to you) some time and space, it also helps to put the grade in context so you can decide how you’ll move forward. As much as it might suck to admit to yourself, think about whether or not you just possibly might have gotten a grade you truly did deserve. Did you work as hard as you know you should’ve? If you’re comfortable, check with your friends and see what they thought of the assignment or final grades. Do their results seem comparable to what you ended up with? Hannah Gibbs, a alum of Strawberry Crest High School, uses her friends as a good barometer when she receives an unexpected result. “When I get a bad grade on a test, I usually talk to my other classmates about it,” she says. “If they didn’t do as badly as I did, I kind of then end up feeling bad. When it’s at this point, I review what I did wrong and if there’s an opportunity to fix it I do, but if there’s not I don’t let it bug me. I move on and leave it alone.” It can be painful, but it sometimes helps to double-check and make sure what you expected is actually reasonable or feasible.

It’s also important to put the assignment, test, or paper into context. If it’s just a minor quiz, it might not be worth getting too upset or worried over it. If it’s early in the semester or you’ve got bigger opportunities coming up, it also may not merit too much of your time or attention. Even if you plan to protest or pursue a grade change, it can still be helpful to put it in a larger context. Presenting your arguments in a bigger context could help strengthen some of your claims.


Second, come up with an action plan.

If you’ve decided to do something about a grade you’re unhappy with, you’ve got at least a few options at your disposal. Think about your options, and decide which one makes the most sense for the situation you’re in.

First, you can always approach your teacher and see if they’d be willing to take a second look at your work and potentially re-think your grade. The key with this strategy is to approach a teacher politely, calmly, and respectfully, and state your case as logically as possible. Explain what you found surprising or didn’t expect about the grade you’re contesting, and give them an idea of what it is you want the teacher to do for you. Walking in and demanding they change your grade won’t get you anywhere. Explaining how you studied hard, giving them examples of different things you did like make flash cards or study with other classmates, and asking for partial credit on certain questions is more productive. This is also a good time to clarify why you lost points on something if you’re still confused, or (nicely!) point out any mistakes you think were made when calculating a final grade.

If asking for a re-examination of your grade doesn’t go anywhere, you can also go to your teacher and ask for feedback or advice on how to do better next time. Again, a more specific request will get you closer to what you’re looking for. A general “Why was this counted as wrong?” probably won’t result in very helpful feedback, while a question like “How could I structure my response better for more credit?” will get you something you can actually work with. “I try and find out what I did wrong and how I can improve for next time. It won’t make the grade I got better, but it will definitely help in the future!” says Hannah Polinski, a recent graduate of Lakeshore Catholic High School.

Finally, you can always look for extra credit opportunities to make up for lost points. If you feel like there’s nothing you can change to improve the grade or your teacher just isn’t budging, ask about extra work you can complete, or if there are ways you can go above and beyond on future assignments. Make it clear to your teacher that you want to do better next time, and are eager to find a way to prove it to him or her. Some might even acknowledge your effort to come and speak with them about the grade, and give you a boost just for that. “I scheduled time to talk to my teacher about it to see why [she gave me my grade]. Because I took the time and effort to discuss my paper with her, she ended up giving me a few extra points!” shares Lauren Ammar, a graduate of Portage Central High School. Most teachers will appreciate your eagerness to turn things around, and will be more than happy to provide you with a few suggestions.


Third, put that plan into action, and follow through!

The most important thing you can do after working up the courage to talk your teacher into giving you a second chance is to prove you really do deserve it. Take what they say to heart, and actually DO something about it. A teacher will only grant you a second chance so many times. Don’t try their patience, and don’t make them regret their decision. Re-do that paper, turn in the extra credit, or show you took the suggestions from a teacher seriously on the next assignment. It’s the best way to make yourself feel better next time grades come out.

It’s always a good idea to keep your parents clued in to what you’re going through too. First, it will help prevent grade shockers at the end of a quarter or semester. Let them know what happened with the grade, and explain what you plan to do about it. Hopefully, they’ll be super impressed with how mature their daughter’s becoming (can you say major brownie points?!) and can turn into your best ally if you’re stuck dealing with a super tough teacher that’s being especially difficult.

Finally, be ready to move on. Even if the end result still isn’t what you’d hoped for after you’ve talked to the teacher and tried to work through things, realize that one assignment isn’t going to determine your future. Learn from mistakes or slip-ups you may have made that resulted in a less-than-ideal result, and apply it to the next thing that comes your way. What you’ll remember about junior or senior year 10 – 20 years from now isn’t going to be that one time you got a C or D on a history exam. You’ll remember your senior prom, crazy nights out with friends, and everything else that truly makes high school a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Sydney is a junior double majoring in Media and Cultural Studies and Political Science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., a short trip away from Minneapolis, her hometown. When Sydney is not producing content for a variety of platforms, she enjoys hanging out with friends, watching movies, reading, and indulging in a smoothie or tea from Caribou Coffee, the MN-based version of Starbucks.
As the Senior Designer, Kelsey is responsible for the conceptualization and design of solutions that support and strengthen Her Campus on all levels. While managing junior designers, Kelsey manages and oversees the creative needs of Her Campus’s 260+ chapters nationwide and abroad. Passionate about campaign ideation and finding innovative design solutions for brands, Kelsey works closely with the client services team to develop integrated marketing and native advertising campaigns for Her Campus clients such as Macy’s, UGG, Merck, Amtrak, Intel, TRESemmé and more. A 2012 college graduate, Kelsey passionately pursued English Literature, Creative Writing and Studio Art at Skidmore College. Born in and native to Massachusetts, Kelsey supplements creative jewelry design and metal smithing with a passion for fitness and Boston Bruins hockey. Follow her on Twitter: @kelsey_thornFollow her on Instagram: @kelsey_thorn