Captain, We’re Taking on Water: Saving Your GPA from a Bad Grade

I’ve seen quite a few posts lately in which students are panicking about their GPAs because they got a bad test score. You want to know a secret? You do not have to get an “A” on every test and assignment in order to achieve a 4.0 GPA. My first college test grade was a “D.” What a way to start college, right? When I saw that awful score, I felt like a ship taking on massive amounts of water. My dream of having a perfect GPA was going to be sleeping with the fishes. Thankfully, I bailed the boat and earned an “A” for that class. Indeed, it’s absolutely possible to save your overall grade from a poor test score or bad assignment grade. Here’s how to do it.

You can bail that water out of your academic boat. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
You can bail that water out of your academic boat.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

1. Allow for a little time to panic, and then get a hold of yourself. It’s okay to panic after seeing the bad grade. It’s okay to wallow a bit. It’s okay to be mad. What’s not okay is for you to let panicking take up more time than it should. If you do, you’re more likely to want to give up, and that’s just not an option. Channel that anger and anxiety into determination. This grade will not keep you down. You will not roll over and let “fate” decide. You are in control. You can fix this.

2. Go over the test/assignment with a fine-toothed comb. The key to fixing most anything is to identify the issues. Do this, and you’ll have a plan for righting your academic ship. Make sure that you understand every little thing that you got wrong so that you don’t make the same errors should those problems show up on the midterm, final, and/or next big assignment. This may mean that you write out the correct answer to the question seven times in order to burn it into your brain. This may mean that you read over those sections of your textbook and notes several more times to see where you went wrong and what you need to do to get it right. The point here is that by identifying the problem, you have a shot at fixing it and raising your grade.

3. Talk to the instructor. If you still don’t understand why you got something wrong, then ask your instructor. I would suggest asking her in person as opposed to through e-mail. During the course of the conversation, you may discover other terms or concepts that you are hazy on, and, since you have the professor in front of you, you might as well get those concepts cleared up too. Also, sometimes an answer in an e-mail doesn’t make sense for one reason or another. For instance, there’s just no easy way to explain the quadratic formula in an e-mail. I know that it can be scary to talk to a professor, but this will be good practice for you with regard to interacting with people in positions of authority. Moreover, talking face-to-face will help your professor realize that you are indeed trying, because showing up to a professor’s office hours takes more effort than only sending an e-mail.

4. Add up your points to make sure that the teacher scored you correctly. It may sound like an empty promise that you’ll find points that the instructor forgot to add into your score, but it happens. I had one very nice math teacher forget to add ten points to my score. Imagine my relief when I discovered his mistake and my score went from a 78% to an 88%. When this happens, quickly and calmly go to the professor and explain where the error(s) was/were made. The sooner you do this, the better.

5. Keep track of the grades for all of the class’s homework, essays, tests, etc. so that you know what scores you need to get on future assignments and exams. You need to know what you’re up against. To know the enemy is to see a road map to defeating him. Find out what your road map is and the exact percentages you need on the next tests, essays, homework, etc. in order to save your grade.

Your academic road map may be complicated, but you can still figure it out and navigate its sometimes twisted and confusing routes. Photo By: Elizabeth Preston
Your academic road map may be complicated, but you can still figure it out and navigate its sometimes twisted and confusing routes.
Photo By: Elizabeth Preston

6. If there is any chance for you to redo the assignment and turn it in for a higher grade, then do so. I’m amazed at the stories I hear from my teacher friends about students getting the chance to revise an essay and turn it back in for a possibly better grade and yet don’t. Life doesn’t give you many redos. So, when you get that rare redo, take it and don’t wait until the last week of the semester to do so.

7. Do all of the extra credit that your teacher offers. After I received that “D,” I made sure to show up to every extra credit opportunity and do every extra credit assignment. Did that mean that I added more work to my academic plate and that it was a pain in the butt? Yes. Did that mean that I was experimented on by psychology graduate students and still have a twitch from one of those experiments? Perhaps. But all of that extra work and time helped save my grade. *twitch* *twitch*

8. Dedicate more time to the class’s homework, assignments, and overall studying. This troublesome class has shot up to being your number one academic priority. This may translate to you dedicating a little less time to one class and more to this one. It may also mean that your free time is diminished a bit in order to devote more time to studying for this class. The amount of time that you’ve allotted thus far doesn’t seem to be enough (or else you probably wouldn’t be in this situation), so your best shot is to increase the time and effort that you devote to this irksome class. It’s a pain, but righting a near-sinking ship is a time-consuming process. As if your schedule wasn’t busy enough, right?

9. Go to any study sessions that your professor or the teaching assistant (TA) offers. Most of the time, these sessions are extremely helpful. You get to ask questions about topics you’re fuzzy on, and you get to keep asking questions until you’re absolutely certain that you understand those concepts. You may have to share that time with other students, but this can be beneficial. Many times other students will be unclear on the same subjects you are, and they may even ask questions that you didn’t think to ask but whose answers you need to know for the next test. Also, TAs sometimes let slip what concepts won’t be on a test in order to save time and be efficient during the study session.

10. Do assignments early and get your teacher’s feedback on them before the due date. Most of the time professors want you to do well in their classes. Thus, they’re often willing to take a look at your homework and essays before they’re due so that they can give you feedback on them and you can correct any errors that they see. If it’s an essay, try to finish it at least one week before the due date (two weeks is preferred, but let’s be realistic here). Ask your professor after class if she would be willing to look over your essay and give you feedback on it. Nine times out of ten, the professor will say “yes” and tell you to e-mail it to her or ask that you come during her office hours. If they don’t offer these options to you, then offer the options to them. It will show that you’re flexible and that you’re willing to get help any way possible. The professor will be particularly impressed if you give two or three issues that you’re worried about and that you want the instructor to focus on. If it’s homework that you’re working on, then finish it about two class times before it’s due, go to the professor’s office hours before the deadline (not hours before the deadline, but a day or so), and find the problems that you’re most concerned about. Why do I keep pushing you to identify areas that could be problematic? It’s because a professor will respond better to you pointing out your own possible flaws than to you simply handing her the homework or essay and saying, “Hey, look at this and tell me what’s wrong with it.” Simply put, the first way shows effort, and professors oftentimes respect a student when he/she shows effort.

11. Ask a classmate for help. Sometimes, your classmates are the best ones to go to. Granted, these need to be people who are doing well in the class. Your fellow students are in the same class with you, so they understand what the professor wants and they may be able to help you identify and correct whatever is wrong. Besides, this will help you to make friends.

12. Get help from your college’s tutoring center or writing center, or ask your folks for help. Your professor and classmates are great resources, but sometimes you could use a little outside support. Your parents are a great resource because they know you, they love you, and they want you to do well.  If your parents aren’t an option, then make an appointment with your college’s tutoring center or writing center to get additional assistance. It can never hurt to see what they have to say, and you’d be surprised how many teachers are impressed when their students put in the effort to go to the writing center or the tutoring center. There’s no shame in seeking extra help, and your tuition pays for it anyway. If you choose to do this, make sure to schedule your appointment soon, because both entities’ schedules often fill up quickly and there are no guarantees that they’ll be able to see you if you’re a walk-in client.

If you get a bad grade on a major assignment or test, understand that you’re not doomed and that the grade doesn’t render you a failure at life. You got a bad grade, and you can fix the situation. Remember, you don’t have to get an “A” on everything to get an “A” in the class. Just because you get a bad grade on a major assignment or test does not necessarily mean that you’re a ship that can’t be salvaged. If you follow the steps that I listed, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll get that “A,” but it’s your best shot.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Have any questions about this blog post, or have questions that you want answered about some other aspect of college and obtaining an awesome GPA? Do you think that I might have missed something? Write it in the comments below, and I’ll give it a go. 🙂


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