The end of the semester is often fraught with stress and anticipation for students. Will they be able to handle all the stress of the last few weeks and study for finals? Will they be able to improve their grades–or maintain good grades they do have–so they can finish strong?

It is not just the students who worry. I have it on very good authority (ahem!) that some parents get concerned that a class that is going “okay” may not be “okay” by the end of the semester. And what parent really wants to talk about why there is a D on a transcript during the holidays?

While such a conversation may be unavoidable for some families at times, it is better to start talking now, while there is still time to improve.

Each semester, I provide a workshop at my university titled “Improving My Grades: Practical Strategies that Make a Difference!”  At the very least, the strategies that I share with students during this workshop create a wonderful framework for how to deal with any setback or challenge in life. When used with the setback of a low or failing grade, it can help your student develop a few important skills: self-awareness, self-advocacy, and problem-solving.

Here is what I ask students to do when they earn a low or failing grade on an assignment.

1. What Did You Do?

This sounds like an obvious question–maybe with an obvious answer–but it is a great starting place for determining the issue and subsequently finding solutions. This question helps your student build that skill that is so important in life: awareness of self.  Here are some ideas for how a student may answer this question. Maybe they

  • did not follow directions;
  • rushed through the test/assignment;
  • got confused by the question/prompt;
  • left sections blank/left out information;
  • did not know the information;
  • was not confident and second-guessed their answers.

Talking through these options is critical to resolving the issue and making improvements.

2. What Can You Do Differently (Next Time)?

This second question helps your student create an actionable plan to make improvements that can result in a higher grade. Some options for their different tactics include the following:

  • Getting clarification of the assignment. What kind of test? How many questions? What kind of paper? What are the requirements?
  • Ensuring you have not missed any content. Did you read all the assignments? Did you attend every class? Did you get notes?
  • Using effective study strategies. Did you give yourself time to study? Did you employ effective study strategies during that time?

3. What Else Do You Need to Know?

This last question is important for helping the student uncover any potential land mines that have to do with course requirements. Your student may need to talk to the professor or an advisor if they have trouble answering the questions that are part of this final process.

  • What effect does your low grade have on your final grade? How is your grade calculated? What other grades are still in play?
  • Will you be able to do what it takes to raise your grade? What resources do you need to make that happen? Can you make the time to spend more effort and focus?
  • What effect would a low overall grade have on your term GPA? Will it affect your financial aid?
  • What other effects would a low overall grade have? Will it keep you from taking subsequent courses, getting into a special program (e.g., Nursing), or keep you from completing my degree?

While your student may not need to go through all of these questions and considerations every time they earn a low or failing grade, they can still benefit from the process as a process because it develops planning and problem-solving skills that are important life skills.


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