After a bad midterm exam: College tips to improve academics

Always keep in mind that it's never too late to succeed.

Always keep in mind that it’s never too late to succeed.

Bad midterms are not the end of the world. Student success doesn’t hinge on one test. There are ways for college students to improve study habits and get a better grade on your subsequent tests and final exam. Did you suffer from a lousy midterm exam? Worried your academics aren’t up to par? Here are some tips for college students to study better and improve your overall grade in the class.

Don’t get discouraged

Grace Fleming wrote in “Improving Bad Grades: Change Your Habits and Improve Your Grades” for’s Homework/Study Tips: “It is easy to get the blues when you receive low scores on a big test or a homework assignment, but you can’t let poor performance get you down. There is always time to make things better. … Just don’t get down on yourself!”

If there are more assignments and a final exam, you still have time to bring up your final grade. An improved grade on your final can actually bring your average up, and the teacher will notice your effort. Here are some tips to improve your grade:

Determine why your midterm grade was low. Did you not understand the material? Did you study the wrong material? Did you not get enough sleep before the test? Did you wait too long to start studying? Don’t save all your studying for the night before your next test. If you’re having trouble with the material, ask your teacher for advice and extra help.

In “How to get good grades,” published by the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, the writer advised, “Attend every class: If you want good grades in college, you must attend every class, not almost every class. The importance of regular class attendance cannot be overemphasized. When you miss classes, you miss lectures, notes, discussions, explanations, and assignments. Do not think that missing a class won’t make a difference. You cannot make up what you miss.”

Pay attention in class. Take good notes. Listen to the lectures and follow along. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in class. It shows you’re paying attention. Other students are likely stuck on the same material and are glad you were brave enough to ask the professor for more information. Sometimes professors give bonus points for good attendance and for class participation.

Find more time to study. In the weeks before your big test make the change to skip a few extracurricular activities, watch less TV, go out with the guys less, etc., so you can focus on studying. Join a study group to discuss the difficult aspects of the material. Hearing a fellow student explain it will make it easier to remember.

Know your professors. In “10 tips for getting good (or better) grades,” professor Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. advised on Quintessential Careers: “Every professor has a different personality and system for running his/her classes, so it makes sense as early in the semester as possible to learn what the professor wants. … Understand course expectations. Most professors give out a class syllabus during the first week of classes – and it is your responsibility to know deadlines and all the requirements for the course. … Rather than viewing the professor as some figurehead at the front of the class who decides your fate in some abstract way, get to know your professor as a person. Visit him or her during office hours, or stay after class.”

Study every day. Like an actor reads through his lines over and over to memorize them, you need to study your material over and over so you can remember it for the test. Identify key words to help you remember. Or create mnemonics, which are acronyms for a list of items. For example: the four stages of mitosis are PMAT – Prophase, metaphase, anaphase, telophase.

Ask for extra credit. If you don’t ask for extra credit opportunities, you might not know they exist. The worst your professor can say is no; if you can do an extra credit project, you can improve your grade.

Change course. There’s no shame in realizing that the courses for your chosen major are just not right for you. Talk to your counselor to see if you should change your major. For example, if you want to be a doctor but are struggling with your classes, maybe other professions in medicine or healthcare are more suited to you, such as nursing, medical technician, dental hygienist, radiation therapist, paramedic, etc.

How do you plan to turn a bad midterm grade into a super final grade? Share your tips in the comments.

3 replies
  1. mary lane says:

    I am taking classes online. I do not understand how, or why, an instructor would give an exam on five(5) chapters and give the student 1 hour and 10 minutes to complete the exam…all of this is online.
    I do not understand why you’re instructed to ‘study key terms’ and so many of the questions has nothing to do with ‘key terms’!!! Puzzled!!!!

  2. salinas says:

    I am very stressed I have been working so hard, sometimes I spend nights at the library but i still getting Ds and Cs. I have try everything, tutorials, i read the books, i have communication with my professors and i never skip class


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