Yikes, This College Class is Tough!

Indiana University

Even for strong students there comes a time for many when they take a college course where they struggle to get good grades. For some students this happens in a dual enrollment course taken during high school and for others it happens after full-time enrollment in college. It may be obvious from the first day of course that the course content or the professor’s grading system or teaching style will be challenging. Or it may come as a big shock once the first grades come back and they are much lower than expected.

Unfortunately, the natural tendency of a lot of students when they are failing a class is to just freeze up or shut down. Feeling uncomfortable and scared they do the exact opposite of what they should. Sometimes students just assume that first failed test or low grade was a one-time thing, or they blame the professor and figure it is hopeless. Some even stop going to class and just try to avoid thinking about what is happening.

Avoiding the problem won’t solve it. Instead try the following strategies to get your grades back on track:

Take action as soon as possible
Do not wait for the next test and assume it will get better. The earlier you act in the semester the greater range of options you have to resolve a poor grade. Waiting until right before the final is too late. Don’t hide from the problem.

Speak with your professor
Professors tend to be very busy before and after class so office hours are a better time to get individual help. If you are not available during your professor’s office hours, ask to schedule an appointment at another time.  Know that your instructors are there to help you. If you don’t ask for help they can’t help you.

Get back to basics
Always go to class, take good notes, read your textbook before class, review your notes after class, and make studying for this course a top priority. There are no shortcuts and there is no substitute for putting in adequate study time. If you are struggling in one class it may be necessary to shift priorities for a bit to get back on track. That may mean cutting back on work or social activities.

Check your syllabus and make GPA calculations
As you plan to bring up your grade it is important to understand exactly what you’ve got to work with. What percentage of your grade is still in play? Make sure you understand how much each assignment or test is worth. Take the time to calculate different scenarios for your final grade and try to be realistic. If you are failing and the final is cumulative most likely you aren’t going to be able to get an A on the final.

Getting tutoring isn’t a sign you are a failure. Rather it is a sign you are a good student who is making use of your resources.

Use campus resources
Take advantage of tutoring offered on campus. Most colleges make tutoring for subjects such as math and science readily available for free. Tutoring is often provided by undergraduate students who have been trained as peer tutors. Many universities also have math and writing centers staffed by strong students. Getting tutoring isn’t a sign you are a failure. Rather it is a sign you are a good student who is making use of your resources. Often just a small amount of individual instruction can make a huge difference for a struggling student.

Power in numbers
Find a study buddy or form a study group. Students can help each other understand material and having someone to study with can provide some feeling of accountability.

Hit the web
Look online for resources and videos to explain key concepts. This can be particularly helpful for introductory math and science courses. Khan Academy is a fantastic resource for math including calculus.

Change status
Talk with an adviser about your options for withdrawing or dropping a class or switching to a pass-fail status. The options for these changes vary widely from one college to the next. You will need to research and find out the individual policies and deadlines of your college. Find out the deadlines and forms you will need to fill out in order to change status. Before you make the decision to change status make sure you understand the implications of this decision for merit scholarships, financial aid and for your GPA. It is a good idea to make inquiries early in the semester. Knowing the policies will give you a better idea what options you have if you need them.

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