Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
You Failed A Midterm Now What R1?width=719&height=464&fit=crop&auto=webp
You Failed A Midterm Now What R1?width=398&height=256&fit=crop&auto=webp
HC Design Team
Life > Academics

What To Do If You Fail One Of Your Midterms, According To 2 Professors

Each school year, college students are met with the rude awakening that is midterms season. At the beginning of the semester, you’re returning back to a full-time college schedule and getting accustomed to the lifestyle of classes, clubs, and dorm life once again. Then, bam… midterms have to ruin the vibe. Failing a midterm in college can become a huge source of stress, and the turning point in an academic semester.

I’ve succumbed to failing a few of my midterms (Chemistry 101 was a dark, dark time in my life). So if you’re like freshman-year-me and have just flunked a midterm, know that you’re not alone. 

I’m here to tell you that it’s OK and you’re going to make it through. You may be wondering how, so I’m here to dish the scoop on how to recover from a failed midterm, according to professors and experts in education.

First things first, take some time to calm down. 

I’ll never be able to truly put into words the feelings of fear, disappointment, and overall what-am-I-going-to-do I felt when I received an incredibly low score on my first chemistry midterm. Taking time for myself and really feeling my emotions after learning that terrible news served me extremely well.

Your fight-flight-freeze stress response may quickly take over when you’re met with this difficult obstacle, and that often means reacting in the moment without thinking. Instead, take some time to breathe, and to sincerely calm yourself down. 

One of my favorite ways to deal with stress is through using online meditation apps (like Calm or Headspace) or videos on YouTube specifically for handling stress. Utilizing a guided meditation can allow you to relax and really narrow down what you may be looking forward to working on — in this case, creating an overall sense of calmness.

Review the content of your midterm.

It’s important to narrow down what may have caused you the most trouble during your exam. Dr. Brenda Whitehead, founder of academic resource brand Prof Chat Plus and a former professor at University of Michigan-Dearnborn, Grace College, and University of Notre Dame, emphasizes the importance of analyzing the actual results of the test.

“Go over your midterm exam closely while asking yourself the following questions,” Dr. Whitehead tells Her Campus. “‘Which types of questions did I do well on? Which types did I struggle with? (e.g. Multiple choice, short answer, essay?) Were there some portions of the material that you really knew, and others that you totally bombed? Is there a pattern?’ For example, did you remember the most recent topics better? Did you lose any points because you misread or misunderstood a question?” It’ll be far easier to ask for help once you know what you actually need help with.

Read your syllabus — and then read it again.

I used to believe that a syllabus was just an amazing excuse to indulge in “syllabus week” parties and free time before the real work began, but your professors are not joking around when they emphasize the importance of a syllabus.

Among the pages of your syllabus is the framework for the entire course. Aside from introductions to your professor and details about the course itself, you’ll find a bunch of information that will help you in these rough moments. Browse through your syllabus and check your professors’ rules about extra credit, how many assignments encompass the course, and if you may have an extra shot to redeem yourself after this midterm. That way, when you reach out to your professor, you’re more prepared regarding what you know you can realistically ask for.

Reach out to your professor(s).

The best source of information on how to improve your grade in a class after a failed midterm is by going straight to the source. This is a tactic that East Carolina University graduate teaching assistant Caroline Rochelle also recommends. As a graduate student on her way to obtaining a master’s in strategic communication, Rochelle has insight from both a student and professional standpoint. 

“I would make this my first step because if [a student] needed to withdraw from the class, typically around midterms one is still able to withdraw from a class,” Rochelle tells Her Campus. “The second step I would do is make an appointment with the professor to go over my midterm. I would want to go over the questions that I missed and explain the reasoning behind why I chose those answers and not the correct ones.” Rochelle continues, “These meetings can allow the professor to see where the disconnect is and hopefully lead the student in the right direction for future tests.” Plus, letting your academic professionals know you care about your grade in their course shows them you may have had a fluke with this disappointing midterm grade.

What to say to your professor after failing your midterm

If you’re stuck on what to say, here’s an easy and quick template you can use to reach out to a professor after failing your midterm:

Hi [professor’s name],

My name is [your name], and I’m enrolled in your [course name and section] course for the [semester/quarter title]. I wanted to personally reach out to see if we could discuss the grade I received for my recent midterm.

I studied the course material in depth by [explaining study techniques and precautions taken before taking the midterm]. However, I seemed to have misinterpreted the material, reflecting on my grade for the midterm. 

I would love to schedule a one-on-one meeting with you, separate from your [office hours/study review sessions/etc.]. Please let me know your availability for the upcoming week, and I would be happy to accommodate your schedule to meet with you.

I sincerely want to make sure that I do not receive another failing grade on any of my other assignments in this course. If there is anything [extra credit/assignments/dropped grades] that differs from what is included in the course syllabus, please let me know, as I would be happy to complete this for the course.

I am looking forward to speaking with you soon. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,

[Your name]

Reconfigure a study approach that works for you.

It’s important to take a step back and consider what you can control academically moving forward. Maybe your study techniques just didn’t perform as they usually do, which is totally alright and can be easily fixed. Rochelle specifically encourages “[looking] into a tutor at the tutoring center. Reviewing each week’s notes with a tutor at the tutoring center or possibly another peer in the class at the end of each week” can be extremely helpful.

It’s important to make use of all resources for future reference, even your peers. Reach out to other students in your class, or others who may have taken it before you, and plan a study sesh to see how they prepare themselves for the class. Taking a look into how they prepped for their midterm may introduce you to an all-new set of ways to grasp the course material.

Finally, make sure to experiment with your study strategy. Take an innovative approach to see if this helps with your overall grasp on the course. One tactic that has always served me right is reviewing old assignments and making Quizlets with their contents, because the platform has so many ways to review material.

Evaluate your options moving forward.

After taking time to speak with your professor, Rochelle says to make an appointment with your academic advisor or TA. “These people are here to help you, especially when you are struggling in your classes,” she says. Your advisors and TAs can provide guidance, and they may have encountered students running into the same problem in the past. 

I’ve often found that my grades are heavily influenced by factors outside of test grades. Do you have a few upcoming projects that could swiftly improve your overall standing in the class? Or, do you still have a bunch of discussion forums to complete that can also bump up your grade? 

This is one tactic that East Carolina University communications professor Dr. Cindy Elmore recommends considering after a failed midterm.  “My strategy is aimed more at warning students earlier than the midterm what’s at stake for them, and in having enough assignments so that not so much is riding on a single test,” Dr. Elmore says.

If it seems like you may not be able to rework your final grade in the course after a failed midterm, it may be time to talk with your academic advisor about potentially withdrawing from the course. As Rochelle points out, “I think that if the failed midterm occurs before the withdrawal date and the student is not going to be able to pass the class with the needed grade for the department or [specifically for] the student’s major, then it is in the best interest of the student to withdrawal from the class. I would rather a student have a withdrawal and take the class at another time than have an F on their transcript.” 

Of course, withdrawing from a course is not any student’s first choice, but it’s important to review if you need a specific grade for your major or department. Time and time again, my academic professionals have always urged the weight of a withdrawal versus a failed grade on a transcript. This was a hard decision I made when I withdrew from Chemistry 101, and I can say that it exponentially improved my academic performance and overall ability to succeed in my other courses for that semester. 

Rochelle puts it best: “Sometimes life throws us challenges we were not expecting,” she says, “and sometimes our priorities have to shift, and that’s OK.” A withdrawal from a class should not be your first resort, but if it’s the best decision for you at this moment in time, don’t beat yourself up about it.

Regardless of your choice, you’re definitely not the only student who’s ever failed a midterm — and plenty of students who have still graduated on time. So don’t panic, use the resources at your disposal, and know that you can (and will) bounce back.

McKinley Franklin is a writer, student, and Leo in love with all things pop culture. When she's not writing for Her Campus, you can catch her reading, cooking, or catching up on her latest reality TV obsession.