By Dr. Robert Gordon
Program Director, Reverse Logistics Management at American Public University
It happens to everyone at some time in an academic career. You feel that you have a class under control. Yet after a marathon study and review session before the midterm, the grade that comes back is far from what you expected.
Many students at this point will panic and not know what to do next. They feel that all their efforts were ineffective.
But this is the time when you should not panic. Instead, you need to develop a plan, get help, talk to your professor and study, study, study.
Take Stock of the Situation and Focus on Future Success
Although panicking is a natural reaction, students who do poorly on midterms must fight that feeling of being overwhelmed. That will only cause you to lose time and focus.
You need to take stock of your situation and reflect on how much time you spent studying. From there, you need to develop a plan that will get you back in the hunt for a good grade.
Time Management Is Critical to Doubling Study Time
If you flunked a midterm exam, you should accept the fact that whatever you did to get ready for the exam wasn’t enough. You need to scrutinize your schedule to double the recommended studying time.
Many students lament that they did not study enough after receiving a bad grade, but having a pity party will not help. Some students use the self-justifying myth that it is possible to study too much. However, such a plateau is highly unlikely.
Time management is critical at this point because you want to believe that you do not have enough time in the day to finish all your work. You have to find more time to dedicate to your class to make up the lost ground.
The poor grade should be a wake-up call that whatever you did in the past was not sufficient to gain a mastery of the course material.
Focusing on Remaining Coursework is Not a Solution
After failing a midterm exam, many students in such a situation will choose to focus only on the new material. Some adopt the attitude of “If I study the remaining material harder, I can get a good grade on the final and pass the class.” The problem with that type of thinking is that mastery of what remains in the course syllabus will not result in a top grade on the final.
To earn that top grade on the final exam, you must master all the course material. The poor grade on the midterm shows a lack of understanding of half the course. Conceptually jumping to advanced topics without understanding the fundamentals will make your success more difficult.
The challenge becomes catching up without falling further behind. You must start right away to avoid losing more time.
Study What Went Wrong on the Midterm Exam
The first step should be to review the midterm and the material it covered until you understand all the concepts presented on that test. This process is difficult because it means facing that poor grade again and having to admit that your preparation for the test was insufficient.
Create a Time Management Plan to Successfully Tackle Your Course
The prospect of creating a time management plan scares most students because the reality can be quite daunting. After all, if you cannot achieve success in half the class, how will you be able to achieve success in the entire class in only half the time?
You need to create a time management plan that maps out and outlines reading time, study time and practice time. Spending at least twice the time to study your course materials should be your starting point. Also, expect the possibility that you may require even more time to learn the material.
Set aside time specifically for reading the course materials and take notes on the texts. Study time is for reviewing classroom notes, performing practice exercises and answering chapter questions. During your practice time, answer sample test questions similar to those on the midterm.
Seek Outside Help from Friends, Classmates and Instructors
Next, seek help from a tutor or study with a classmate who did well on the midterm. Help could also mean speaking to other students who have taken the class and ask them how they were successful.
Sometimes social groups or libraries keep old tests on file. The important point here is to find all the help you can and to maximize your study time. If a teaching assistant is available, contact the TA to discuss the course materials and get an explanation of the most difficult concepts.
Also, ask if there is a study guide for the final or if there will be a review session. If so, come prepared to ask complex questions to show engagement and to find out the major concepts of the course.
Another important thing to do is to speak to the professor. Ask what could be done to improve your grade. Ask about the possibility of extra credit; the worst that can happen is the professor says no. But sometimes they say yes.
Go Over Your Midterm Exam with the Course Instructor
Speak to the professor about the missed questions (or lost points) on the midterm exam. Many times, the instructor has an ideal answer in mind and wants something specific. If those specifics were not addressed in your answers, that can explain the low grade. Show interest in the topic, and that will encourage other people to help.
Above all, keep studying because the best way to become successful is to study more.
College coursework is hard work, and not everyone has a degree for a reason. Be prepared to work hard and focus. It may seem hard today, but success in the form of a degree will make all the hard work pay off.
About the Author
Dr. Robert Gordon has 25 years of professional experience in supply chain and human resources. Robert has earned a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership, an MBA and a B.A. in History. He has authored over 100 published articles, including five books covering a variety of business topics.