Exams are a large part of the college experience. From unit exams to finals, you’ll become well acquainted with sleepless nights and stress. Since exams are a large part of your grade, even one exam can be the difference between passing and failing the entire course. So, what do you do if you fail an exam? How do you minimize the fallout?
Talk to Your Instructor
Talk to your professor about the possibility of retaking the exam. Retaking the exam can reverse the damage done to your grade, and if you receive a higher grade than your first attempt, that can help minimize impact to your GPA. Whether your request will be granted depends on your instructor and your school’s policy.
If you missed the exam and have an excuse, you’ll likely be allowed to make up the missed test. Without an excuse or valid reason to retake (beyond failing), it’s unlikely that you will be allowed to retake.
Ask your instructor if there is any extra credit work you can complete. Extra credit can help your grade, and while it won’t completely make up for your exam, any points can be beneficial.
Take advantage of your professor’s office hours. To improve on the next exam, ask for help from your instructor. Use their office hours to go over any topics you don’t understand, or to discuss how you can improve.
TIP: Want to email your instructor? See Stanford Undergrad’s “How to Email Faculty” for guidelines and examples!
Examine & Correct
Examine your mistakes and consider what went wrong. Did you study too little? Not have a grasp on the concepts? Did you miss it altogether? Determine why you failed and use that knowledge to do better in the future.
Failed an exam you thought you aced? Obtain your copy of the test and look over your wrong answers.
Look into your school’s resources to find options that can help you improve. Counseling and test-taking workshops can lead to vast improvements for students with test anxiety. Workshops and tutors are available for those who want to develop good study habits and time-management skills. Even your professors are valued resources, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of office hours!
Know that studying can be the difference between passing and failing. It’s not just about if you study, but how. To maximize your retention try out new study techniques. Look into study tips, apps, and more. You should also learn more about what learning style works best for you. Once you know what kind of learner you are, you can adjust by changing the way you take notes, study, and take tests. Matching your study methods with your learning style will increase your comprehension and retention.
TIP: Want to improve your study methods? Check out our post, “5 College Study Tips,”or watch “The 9 Best Scientific Study Tips” from AsapSCIENCE for study tips.
Drop / Retake the Course
If you’ve failed an exam, especially a midterm or final, and it has affected your final grade, consider dropping the course. “Dropping” means to have the course’s grade stricken from your record. While your transcript may still show you were enrolled in the class, your GPA will not be affected by the grade.
Withdrawing during the semester will likely leave you with a “W,” or mark of withdrawal, on your transcript in place of a grade. Marks of withdrawal in small numbers are relatively harmless, but too many can cause trouble with transferring schools. Retaking the course will replace the mark of withdrawal.
TIP: Want to drop a course? Learn more about withdrawals on our post, “How Do College Classes Work? How to Add Them, Drop Them, and Endure Them.”
Coping with Failing
Failing an exam doesn’t have to be the end of the world. While it can be a setback, it is as much a lesson as any lecture or project. Think of a failed exam not as a shortcoming, but as a learning experience. Use the opportunity to improve as a student.
If you find you’re struggling to cope with a bad grade, check out your campus’ resources. Colleges offer support groups, counseling, and alternative courses that can be invaluable to students.
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