Updated: Apr 29
Waiting to receive a grade on a report card or progress report (or even a big test or essay) can be nerve-wracking. After spending so much time preparing and working hard, you probably just want to know how you did so that you can be done with the whole ordeal. That’s why, once you do get your grade back, you might be tempted to take one look and move on to worrying about everything else in your life.
However, successful students will treat every grade – good or bad – as an essential form of feedback on their study habits, work ethic, and level of comprehension. Since tests, essays, and progress reports are generally a reflection of your performance or comprehension in a class, grades are the perfect opportunity to take a look at your academic effort and judge how things are going. For example, a good grade, or a grade that you’re pleased with, is a sign that you’re on the right track; keep doing what you’re doing and think about how you can do even better next time.
On the other hand, a disappointing grade can be more difficult to deal with. You might be angry at your performance or at your teacher for giving you a bad grade, disappointed at having fallen short of your expectations, or frustrated that your hard work isn’t reflected in a grade. So how do you respond to a bad grade in a way that’s productive and sets you up for success? Read on to find out how you can make the most of a bad grade.
DEALING IMMEDIATELY AFTER:
You might be feeling a lot of things, but you’ll need a clear, calm head to move forward. Two things can help you do this immediately after receiving a bad grade.
1. After looking at your grade, take a breath and step back for a moment, ten minutes, or even a day. Abby Connell, a graduate of Shaker Heights High School now at Columbia University in New York, says she immediately takes some distance to take care of herself. “I don’t read the teacher’s comments or allow myself to grump about it for too long,” she says. It might be difficult, but taking some time and space will help you move forward.
2. Put the grade into perspective. If it’s a single assignment, it might not have a huge impact on your final grade. In that case, is it worthwhile to commit a ton of time and worry to this one grade? If it’s the first assignment of the semester, it’s also worth noting that you’ll have plenty of other opportunities later on to make up for this lower grade.
For some real perspective, Abby reminds herself that, “learning is a process and is not defined by one letter grade, or even multiple letter grades.”
IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM:
A bad grade is a sign that something, like your study habits, your effort, or your understanding of the material, is a bit off. To make the most of the experience, you need to determine what’s wrong and come up with a plan for how to how to fix it.
Think about what factors might have influenced the quality of your work that resulted in a bad grade. Did you spend enough time on the study guide before the or researching your essay topic? Did you fail to contribute regularly in class? This is the kind of analysis you should conduct to identity bad habits that are preventing you from doing your best work in school.
Whether it’s a bad grade on a report card, test, or essay that’s bringing you down, you should always consult your teacher. In this situation, teachers are an invaluable resource: They can let you know exactly what you did wrong and what you can do better. They’re the person that knows your work, the material, and the assignment best.
Another benefit of connecting with your teacher after a bad grade, says Abby, is the desire to improve that it demonstrates to your teacher: “Teachers really appreciate when you show a true interest in learning and growing from your mistakes.” And these meetings can even go both ways: Your input can help the teacher to clarify certain assignments and topics and make them aware of problem spots in the curriculum.
COME UP WITH A PLAN:
Now that you have a better idea of what went wrong, it’s time to figure out what you can do to change it. Your self-analysis or meeting with your teacher should have turned up issues that you need to address: Maybe you start studying too late for tests, or approach your essays in a disorganized fashion, or only speak up occasionally in class. How can you adjust your study habits or approach to studying a particular subject? You can consult your friends for advice on how to study effectively. You can also speak with your teacher on exactly what kind of work and participation they expect from you and adjust accordingly. You can also contact a tutor who can help get you on the right track.
Abby offers some final advice. “In the grand scheme of things, I know it’s much more important to learn the skills or material than to get a good grade just for the sake of a grade!” This is a great reminder that a grade is still just a grade – not a reflection of who you are. And while you should always strive for an A, your real goal should be improvement and learning!