Turning a Bad Semester Around Before It’s Over

You can still turn things around during a bad semester

Flickr user David A Ellis

It doesn’t matter what point you’re at, sometimes life gets in the way. When you’re in school – whether it’s junior high, high school, or college – this can have a detrimental effect on your grades. Maybe you had to miss classes because of mono, or a close family member died, or your mental health took a turn for the worse. Or perhaps you didn’t comprehend the material for the first major test in the class, or your extracurriculars took away study time. Whatever the reason for a bad semester, there is still time to turn things around. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Talk to your teacher/professor if you’re having a bad semester.

This is always a good place to start. Go to office hours, meet up after school or during lunch, but find the time to talk to your instructor. It’s always good to begin with saying you understand that you are ultimately responsible for your grades. Explain your situation. Ask what you need to do to improve/pass the class. Talk study strategies, ask questions about the material, and state concerns if you can’t seem to follow what’s going on in lessons. The earlier you do this in the semester, the more likely you are to change your grades. This also leads to the next point.

Ask for extra credit.

The key word here is “ask.” No teacher or professor is required to give a student extra credit work. Be polite, and don’t expect something easy you can do last minute. Extra credit is awarded because of the extra effort that goes into it. It could be a project, a presentation, a report, anything. Like talking with your instructor, it’s best to do this well before the end of the semester. You are more likely to leave a better impression that way.

Reassess your study habits.

It could be something as simple as printing/writing out flashcards for concepts and definitions. It could be making sure you actually sit down and study instead of distracting yourself with your phone or the internet. Maybe you need to tell your friends that you need to focus on schoolwork instead of hanging out. You might not also be studying in a way that works with your specific learning style (check out our article about the different learning styles).

Withdraw from a class.

Sometimes as college students we bite off more than we can chew. One class too many, and suddenly even your easy classes don’t feel as easy. Therefore, it’s sometimes a good idea to assess which class can be dropped – either because it’s not mandatory or because it can be taken the following semester. It can be impressive how just one class changes your course load. You might even return to a normal sleep schedule! (As if. Who sleeps in college?)

This isn’t always a solution, and it shouldn’t be used as such frequently. However, one or two W’s on your transcript shouldn’t harm you, especially if the result is that you pull off a great semester. If you aren’t certain, talk things over with your academic advisor.

Seek tutoring.

If it’s a particular class that you’re struggling with, there’s a good chance that someone can help tutor you in it. At college, this is easy: Most departments have labs where TAs or other students who understand the material are available to help. Students can often earn money as tutors. If you’ve made friends in any of your classes, you have even more options. Many similar options should be available in high school. It might involve you coming in early or staying late to work with your teacher. You might be able to work with another student during study hall. The opportunities are there.

Friends who study together, pass together.

Working with one or two other people can be beneficial. Talking through concepts helps to increase understanding and retention, especially since you should be fact-checking yourselves. Some people learn better by helping others learn, while others learn best in small groups where they feel comfortable asking questions. Even if you aren’t working on the same subject, oftentimes being around someone else makes you more accountable in your study habits.

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