What To Do When You’re Failing a Class

Midterm exams have come and gone, and you’re breathing a sigh of relief. That is, you were relieved until you got your exam back and saw your score. Finding out that you’re failing a class is disheartening, but it doesn’t mean that it’s Game Over. Take HC’s advice on how to improve your grade and pull your GPA up by its bootstraps.

Determine Why You’re Failing

Identifying why you’re failing a course is a crucial first step in turning that D into a better grade.

The course material or the instructor could be difficult or hard to understand. If you’re feeling stressed or dealing with other issues in your life (as many of us are), the demands of a class can also increase your anxiety and fall second to the other events going on in your life. “Bad grades are usually indicators of larger problems such as displeasure with your major, insecurity, poor time management and even anxiety and depression,” says AnnaLee, HC Campus Correspondent for the University of Notre Dame.

Take time to write down what you think could be your reasons for failing a course. This list will help you determine what to do next.

Develop a Plan of Action

Your plan of action will vary according to your reasons for struggling in a class; however, you can still consider other options that are available to you. Be flexible as you approach this problem.

If you’re dealing with anxiety and depression, for example, your first step would be to speak to a mental health counselor on campus. According to a 2012 survey conducted by the American College Health Association National College Health Assessment, you’re not alone: Approximately 20 percent of students surveyed experienced sadness, depression and loneliness within a 12-month period. While speaking to a counselor will not directly influence your grade, it can help you relieve any stress and anxiety contributing to poor performance in your courses. Most college campuses provide free counseling services in their health centers.

We’ve compiled a list of possible options to help you through this mid-semester crisis.

Draw From a List of Options

1. Ask for extra credit.

“I am an extra-credit kinda gal,” says Ivelisse from James Madison University. “Even if the professor doesn’t mention any extra credit opportunities, I will still ask.” She suggests asking them in private and during office hours. You’re letting them know that you care about your grade and the course, and most professors want you to do well.

Talking to your professors is often your first line of defense in saving your GPA from certain doom. “Communication and collaboration with your instructors is probably the number one characteristic of successful students,” says Nancy Sauline, the assistant director of student academic services at Hiram College.

Professors will often be required to present the extra credit option to the entire class in an effort to be fair; however, Ivelisse says that you might be able to get a head start by approaching the professor first.

While taking on extra credit assignments won’t guarantee you an A, it will bump your grade up and show the professor that you are dedicated to the course and want to do well. There are several things to keep in mind when approaching your professor:

  • Respect office hours and your professor’s time. Talk to your professor after class and schedule a one-on-one meeting. If the professor has time to talk right away, thank the professor for his or her time.
  • Be professional. If you decide to email your professor, start with a greeting, use proper spelling and grammar and close with your name. Remember to email via your school’s email and have a clear subject line so that your professor knows what to expect in the message. Always thank your professor for his or her time.
  • Come prepared. This is part of being professional. When you meet with your professor, know what you want to say. “Let the professor know that you’re aware of what’s on the syllabus and what’s expected of you,” Sauline says. “You’re doing the work but you’re having a grade goal that you’re not meeting. Be specific. If you have a D, say that you want a C or a B, and the professor can help you figure out what you need to do to get there.”
  • Recognize that your professor can’t automatically grant you an A. While it would be nice, professors can only help you to understand the material better and offer options to help you if you’re struggling. The rest is up to you. If you’re given the option of an extra credit assignment, it’s your responsibility to complete and turn in the extra assignment as required.