What to Do If You Fail a Midterm

Side view of a group of young students writing notes in the classroom

You may fail a midterm for any number of reasons. It could be that the course material never resonated with you, that your schedule is too heavy, or simply that you struggled to study. Whatever the reason, a failing grade can feel terrible.

However, even if it does impact your overall grade for the class, it’s unlikely to have dire consequences — and there’s a good chance you can take steps to recover.

Assess the Exam with a Clear Mind

Before you can understand what went wrong, you need to give yourself space. Do something to relax, such as yoga or breathing exercises, and then come back to the exam. Check carefully to see if there were any areas where you received a particularly low score. You may have misunderstood certain parts of the material, found a specific type of question difficult, or misinterpreted what kind of answer your professor wanted for the assignment.

Whatever the case, knowing the reasons for your failing grade should help you avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Determine If the Failing Grade Should Be a Surprise

If you studied hard and believed you had a good grasp of the material, the grade likely came as a real shock. On the flip side, you may simply have hoped that you wouldn’t fail after putting little effort into studying. Perhaps you only read the summaries of the material or thought the class was easy enough to pass without preparing for the midterm. In either case, you’ll need to come up with a new approach going forward to avoid repeating this experience.

Plan a New Study Approach

Changing your approach to studying may mean coming up with a new routine — or it could mean actually sticking to the schedule you already have. If you struggle to find the motivation to study alone, form a study group with others. Plus, make sure you attend all your classes and take detailed notes that will be useful later. Finally, if you’re struggling to understand the material, ask questions in class — never just write notes and hope the meaning will become clear later.

Ask for Feedback

You should start asking questions even before your next class. Pay your professor or TA a visit to talk about the midterm and to clear up any doubts you have about why you failed.

Avoid Being Too Tough on Yourself

Don’t allow one failed midterm to make you too stressed. Punishing yourself for the failing grade is unlikely to have the desired effect of making you work harder next time. While it’s important to study, it’s also crucial to take care of yourself.

If you failed your midterm because you were unable to study effectively, one solution could be to find new off-campus housing. UWaterloo students have Preston House and Bridgeport House. No more sharing your personal space with a noisy roommate or settling for rundown facilities — you’ll have a private bedroom in a suite, access to modern amenities, and the use of dedicated study spaces. Book a tour to see the building of your choice.