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Damage control: What to do after doing badly on your midterms

By Parker Nann, 2nd-year Commerce student

“When you take risks you learn that there will be times when you succeed and there will be times when you fail, and both are equally important.” – Ellen DeGeneres

How could it all go so wrong? If midterm season has destroyed your GPA, obliterated your morale, or heightened the possibility of failing some of your courses, this guide may help you recover your grades and confidence.

Stop and take a deep breath. Remember that your grades don’t reflect your worth as a person. Losing sleep over the uncertainty and many ‘what if’ questions swirling around in your head will not aid your predicament, but it’s possible to regain a sense of control over your academic life this term. Try the following five strategies to help you do some damage control.

Examine your syllabi

Get a calendar and your course syllabi and write down every mark-bearing item (assignments, quizzes, exams etc.) for the remainder of each course. It will be useful to include the grading weight of each item so you can more effectively allocate time to larger items. Adding grading weights will also help you identify which courses (based on your current standing) are especially in need of improvement.

At this point, you cannot afford any surprise deadlines, so having a road map of the remaining semester will prevent you from missing any of your academic commitments.

Talk to your professors and a learning strategist

Getting help is essential to your recovery. Something obviously isn’t working, and applying the same strategy for future evaluations probably won’t yield better results. Make an appointment with your professors and a learning strategist to discuss ways in which you can improve your grades given the remaining assessments.

Bring any papers, exams, or assignments that gave you trouble and ask to go over them with your professors — chances are, they will be able to diagnose gaps in your knowledge or tell you to shift the focus of your studying. Just remember that the professors won’t (and can’t) do the work for you. You need to do some reflection as well to identify the things that you could have done better to prepare.

You can also book an individual appointment with a professional learning strategist to talk about the academic skills and strategies you might apply the next time you face midterm season.

Look ahead

There is an idea in economics that states that ‘sunk’ costs (costs that have already occurred and cannot be recovered) should not influence our decision making of today. The same is true for your grades. Don’t dwell on the past. Instead, focus on how you are going to deal with this situation for the rest of the term. Believing that you can do it is the most important mindset to facilitate your recovery.

Prioritize the rest of the term

The first rule of getting things done is figuring out what you actually have to do. Get a blank sheet of paper and write down everything (not just academics!) that you need to do for the next two weeks.

Once you feel confident that you have captured your giant to-do list, give each item a priority: A for important and needs to get done, B for somewhat important and should get done, and C for unimportant but nice to do. Start doing the As and add B and C priority items only if you have time. Voila! You have just prioritized your life and should now be feeling ever so slightly more in control of what you have to do.

Writing things down really helps alleviate the mental gymnastics of remembering. As with any situation, your health and wellbeing take priority over anything else on your list. Eating well, sleeping well, and exercising well have A++ priority. If you don’t have enough time to complete all the A++ and A activities, some C activities might just have to go.

Understand your options

If you have determined that you can’t pass the course or if continuing the course won’t help you achieve your goals, sit down with an academic advisor in your faculty to discuss your options. For Fall 2015, the last date to drop a course without an academic penalty (“incomplete” on your transcript) is November 6th. After you make the decision in consultation with an advisor, don’t dwell! Move on and focus on your remaining courses.

Eventually, you may look back on this experience and think to yourself, “I survived!”

Photo courtesy of Jo Naylor under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.