Bouncing back after bad midterm results

University is challenging and for most students examinations are by far the most difficult and daunting tasks. Having been through my fair share of exams (as both a student and as a lecturer), I understand first-hand how disappointing it can be when you don’t perform as well as you thought you would. However it’s important to remember that learning is a process and the great thing about university is that there is always an opportunity to do better, whether it be in the remainder of your course’s assignments, in your other courses or even in the next academic year. In this blog post I discuss a few tips which can help students can bounce back from bad grades and hopefully improve their academic performance:

  1. Ask for feedback

One of the easiest ways to improve your performance on exams is to ask your lecturer/teaching assistant for feedback whenever you get your paper back. It’s amazing how few students approach the lecturer when this is the one person who can explain exactly why you performed poorly. Asking them for some quick feedback will help you identify your shortcomings and give you clear guidance that will definitely prove beneficial in the future. Also trust me when I say lecturers do not mind giving feedback– we like to see our students do well and want to help you grow.

  1. Figure out what you are doing wrong

While it’s tempting to just toss a bad paper in a drawer and forget about it – it does you a disservice. In grading papers, lecturers usually leave comments letting you know what mistakes costs you marks – you need to study these comments so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes in the future. Even If there aren’t any comments, you should still re-read the paper and try to determine where you went wrong, using your class notes and text books as references. I really believe that this process will help you recognise your weaknesses with regards to your knowledge of the course content, your writing style and  even your comprehension of exam questions.


  1. Try new methods

If you’re consistently under-performing in your exams you need to explore new ways of studying and preparing for exams, simply because your usual methods are not working. There are so many proven study tricks that you can try e.g. speaking out loud instead of just reading, creating mnemonics to help you remember, making cue card notes to carry with you; using flow charts or diagrams; participating in group study sessions etc. As tedious as it sounds, you just need to keep trying methods until you find the one that works for you. (For more tips, check out our blog on ‘How to prepare for an exam’).

  1. Reach out to your classmates

While this can seem intimidating, reaching out to classmates who have done well is an easy way to find out what your examiners are looking for when grading papers. If your friends have done well, you can ask to see their papers to get an idea about the quality of work that needs to be produced in order to get good grades. Or, you can simply just ask them for advice about their study methods, how they write their essays, what resources they access on campus etc. This works because in one simple conversation you can get keys tips from the people who are taking your course and excelling at it.


  1. Make use of university resources

Another under-utilised resource that most students forget about are the student services offered by your university. No matter what your problems are I guarantee that you are not the first student to face them and that there are personnel on campus who are trained to help you. Whether it be general concentration issues, anxiety while sitting exams, the crippling effects of imposter syndrome, or financial/personal stresses that cause distractions, there are student advisors, academic advisors, financial advisors and counsellors that can help you sort through your problems so that you have a better chance of excelling at university. Pro tip: Find them and make use of their services.

  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself

Finally, do not beat yourself up over bad grades, it really is just a part of university life – a right of passage if you will 🙂 . Having been in university for almost a decade, I can tell you that at every level you get knocked down at some point – it’s completely inevitable and part of the process. So just remember to always do the best you can and vow to do even better next time.

I hope these tips have been useful and do let me know if you have any other tips that have worked for you!

Best of luck in your exams!

Dr Gabi

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