Are you failing a class? If so, this post is for you. Below, I cover the three scenarios you may find yourself in when you’re failing a class in college and the next best steps you can take to bounce back. Take a look at each scenario and see which one best applies to you.
Let’s jump in.
Scenario 1: You’re Failing a Class In College Because You Bombed Your First or MidTerm Exam
If this is you, you can absolutely bounce back from this. Most college professors give 10-25% weight to the first exam, 10-30% to the midterm, and 40-60% for the Final exam, when totaling up your final grade.
As such, if you’ve bombed your first or mid-term exam, you still have a chance to recover and walk away with a pretty decent grade.
I know this because I got a D on the first mid-term of my international relations class and completed the class with an A. One of my closest friends also got a D on his first geology exam, but after making changes to his study habits, he walked away with a very strong A in the class.
With these tips and a commitment to work hard over the next several weeks, you can do it too.
So here is what you do:
First, you need to get a copy of your exam so you can understand what you got wrong.
It’s super important that you get a copy of your exam because professors often pull 1 or 2 questions from the first exam or mid-term and put them into the final exam to see if you and other students still know it.
You don’t want to miss easy points.
Go through each question and review the right answers for each question. If the reason for the right answer is obvious to you, then check it off and move on to the next one.
If you want to do what a straight-A student does, turn your incorrect test questions and answers into flashcards and drill yourself on those flashcards when you’re preparing for your final exam. You won’t miss the questions again if you do this.
If after reviewing the correct answer, you still don’t understand why the correct answer is the “right” one, circle it. Do the same for every other question you are unsure about.
Once you’ve finished going through all the questions and answers, find someone who can explain the answers to the questions you’re still unsure about.
You can turn to a colleague in your class who aced the exam or make an appointment with your professor to review the questions and answers with them.
Whichever you feel most comfortable doing is fine.
Once you have an understanding of what you got right and wrong on your first or mid-term exam, ask a student who is acing the class if you could study with them and give you pointers on how to study effectively for the next exam.
You should not have any trouble finding a student willing to do this. Most will be flattered that you asked.
More importantly, they’ll be thankful you asked early and not right before the next test.
(I was always very annoyed when someone asked me two days before a test if I could help them prepare for the test…”Where were you weeks before?? I have to study too!”)
When you have meetups with your study partner, learn everything you can from them:
- what chapters they’re reviewing
- how they take notes in class
- how much time they put into studying for each class
- what study aids their using
- their method for preparing for the exam
And try your best to make it to every study session they have. That way when you are going through your homework and you have a question, you can ask them.
By all means, don’t abandon any study method that has been working for you. Just add to your study regimen anything you find helpful from your study partner.
Next, meet with your professor and ask him or her two things:
(1) Do you have any extra credit assignments that I can do?
If your professors says no, ask if he or she can create an extra credit assignment for you to do.
Explain how disappointed you are that you failed the test but how determined you are to ace the next test. If you show them that you are sincere and you’ll do whatever it takes to get an A, 9/10 they’ll come to your aide.
(2) What can I expect on the next test?
The next thing you’ll want to ask them is “what can I expect on the next test?” Try to gain as much information as you can: the chapters that will be covered on the test, the format of the test (multiple-choice, short answers, essay format), the number of questions on the test, and anything else you can pull out of them.
Don’t be surprised if they throw you a bone.
It’s happened for me. I was taking a very difficult science class my second semester of Freshman year and didn’t want to take any chances on my mid-term.
So I visited my professor during his office hours to discuss my first exam and the upcoming mid-term. During the meeting, and to my surprise, he threw me a doggy bone and told me to study a specific model in the textbook.
He said he was going to test the class on it on the next exam.
You best believe I studied that model in and out and got an A on my exam!
Had he not pointed the model out, I would have skipped right over it and missed about 10 points.
Finally, make sure you show up to every class and take good notes. You can dramatically increase your chances of getting an A on your next exam by taking good notes.
If you do those four things, I am confident that you will not only score a strong A on your next exam but you’ll bounce back and complete the class with a passing grade.
Scenario 2: You failed your first exam, failed your mid-term, and you firmly believe you are not going to pass the class.
You have two options.
You can move forward and try your best on the final or you can withdraw from the class.
But which option is the right one for you?
Well, it depends.
Option 1: If you withdraw from a course mid-to-late semester, you could become financially liable for not completing a class that your scholarships and/or financial aid paid for on your behalf.
You may also lose financial aid and scholarships for falling below a certain grade point average or losing “full-time student” status.
(Note: You earn 0 points for a W. If your GPA is already below a 3.0, this could devastate your GPA. You should speak with a counselor immediately if this is your situation.)
Option 2: If you decide to move forward and take your final, you could get a B or C, and average out to a D in the class. Then you could retake the class, get a better grade (B) and ask your University to replace your first grade with your second better grade.
Many schools offer that to students who fail out of a class.
They either replace your failing grade with the second-highest grade or will take an average of the two grades, and make the average score the final grade of your class.
This means if you got a D the first time but a B the second time, the University will make your transcript reflect that you got a C in the class.
Nevertheless, no matter which option you are leaning on the most, you should check your college’s academic calendar to find out when the last day to withdraw from classes is.
You do not want to miss that deadline and be stuck with option two (take your final and get an F) if you have no plans to retake the class the following semester. That “F” will stay on your transcript permanently.
Once you’ve figured out when the last day to withdraw from classes is, you should make an appointment to speak with your academic counselor.
Your academic counselor can then explain the consequences for withdrawing or failing a class in college, give you advice on what you can do between now and next semester to turn things around, and the next best steps going forward.
If you need to retake the class in order to move forward on your major and retaking the class for a higher grade is an option, then that will likely be your best option.
However, if you have no plans to retake the class and dropping the class won’t cause you to lose your “full-time status” or any aid that you receive, then taking a “W” may be the better choice.
Though keep in mind that a “W” = 0 points and most colleges award 1 point for a “D,” which is clearly better than a W.
For this reason, if you know you can get at least a D in the class, then it will be better for you to sit for the final.
Scenario 3: I received my transcript. It says that I got a “D” or “F” in the class. What do I do?
If you are surprised that you got the D or F, then reach out to your professor to make sure it was not an error.
Your professor could have made a mistake when entering your grade into the system or omitted an assignment or exam you took when he or she tabulated your grade.
Ask why you got the grade and make sure your professor gives you a full explanation. There may be room for you to dispute your grade and request a higher grade without getting other administrators involved.
After you have spoken with your professor and assuming your grade has remained unchanged, speak with your academic counselor about the next best steps.
If you are disputing the grade, she can tell you exactly what you need to do to appeal your grade.
If you accept the grade, speak with your academic counselor to understand how much the grade sets you back on your major, the financial ramifications you may be facing, and the options available to you to recover your GPA.
Your counselor can then prepare a custom roadmap for you to follow to get back on track.
If you decide to retake the class, I encourage you to think about whether it’ll be better for you to retake it with a different professor. If you have a bad professor, you could fail the class again despite your best efforts.
. . .
Frequently Asked Questions
Do most college students fail a class?
That’s a tough question but if I had to take a good guess, the answer is no.
While professors give out C’s and D’s, you’ll find few who are willing to issue a student an “F” unless the student did not show up to class (ever), turned in incomplete assignments, and epically bombed every exam.
If we’re saying a grade below a “C” is failing, then yes many college students do fail a class. But I believe the college major students pick plays a big factor in the numbers.
For example, if you are in a science-related major like chemistry or biology, then you’ll likely see a higher number of college students failing a class in college.
On the other hand, within a liberal arts-related major like communications, students failing a class is likely to be a rare occurrence.
How many classes can you fail in college?
There is no hard number. It will depend on what your University deems is the lowest GPA you can have without completely flunking out. And since failing a class in college can mean any grade lower than a “C,” you can get away with more “Ds” than “Fs” before you flunk out of college.
How do you deal with failing a class in college?
For a more thorough response, follow the tips above. Here’s the short answer: See if you can get a passing grade by doing better on your final exam and possibly completing an extra credit assignment.
If you cannot recover from your first and midterm exam, go see your college counselor immediately to discuss your options.
If you’ve received a failing grade on your transcript, reach out to your professor to see if the grade was a mistake. If it wasn’t a mistake, ask the professor to explain why he or she gave you that grade. If you disagree with his reasoning and he is unwilling to change it, see if you can appeal it.
If you accept the grade, then reach out to your counselor to find out the next best steps. You’ll want to understand what consequences you now face for failing a class in college (like whether this event pushes back your graduation date), what you can do to improve your GPA, and how to get back on track.
Finally, know that this event doesn’t define you or define how well you do the rest of your student career. You can absolutely make a comeback and crush the class the second time and improve your GPA.
You may have failed a class but you are not a failure. You’re only a failure if you give up on yourself. Take this event as a learning moment and do better next time.
You CAN do it.
If you need more encouragement or something to will give you your fire back, review this post: 101 Best Motivational Quotes for College Students.
I’ve compiled the best quotes specifically for students who are failing a class in college.
Is failing a class in college the end of the world?
Failing a class in college is NOT the end of the world. Depending on which college you attend, you may have the option to retake the class and replace your first grade with your second “much higher” grade.
I know I sound like a broken record by now but I can’t stress this enough: schedule a meeting with your academic counselor to understand your options.
To prove to you that failing a class in college is not the end of the world, consider my friend:
I had a friend, who majored in engineering, fail SEVERAL classes. I think he had a 1.2 GPA.
Nevertheless, the school did not kick him out. Instead, they offered to erase his GPA and start over fresh in a different major, which he gladly accepted. He took up IT, thrived in that major, and graduated.
So see. Not the end of the world.
Just a new beginning.