Getting a Bad Grade

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It’s happened. You failed a course, failed a semester, failed an exam, got a bad grade on a test, failed a course. We’ve all been there! It’s a terrible feeling. It can feel like your world is ending. Especially if you’ve always been a good student.

I have worked with probably hundreds of students who received their first “bad” grade. The system is rigged against you – you probably had to get an 80-something average or higher to get into uni, but so did everyone else. So once you get there, everyone is super-smart, and a lot of programs use a curved grading scheme.

Curved Grading

What does curved grading mean? It means that your professor may adjust grades in comparison to other students. Curved grading means, very roughly, that if the highest grade on a test is 60%, that person could get an A+ and you may have needed below 20% to fail. On the other hand, it may mean you needed 99% to get an A+ and that an 85% ended up being a C+. Your instructor should have let you know if this is how they are grading – check the syllabus or the program website for any grading criteria. Not all programs grade in this way. 

Is it okay to get a bad grade?

The not-so-helpful answer to this is “it depends.”

First, what is a “bad” grade? It will depend on your program and goals. Your program should have minimum grades and minimum GPAs (grade point averages) listed on their website. You may only need a D or C- in some courses, or you may need a higher grade. Make sure you know what the requirements are before you panic!

You will also want to check the impact of a low grade on your GPA. And remember that the GPA is an average, which means that as you take more courses, each grade matters less. This also means that when you only have a few courses, in your first semester or first year, each grade can impact your GPA more.

If you are planning to go to grad school or a professional program, you’ll want to check what their GPA and grade requirements are so that you can do your best to adhere to those. Their requirements may not be the same as your undergrad program, so you should be checking with both.

What happens next?

Explore your university’s options. Some universities have academic forgiveness policies, or course repeat policies, so you may be able to find a solution for bad grades. Review your university’s policies and speak to an academic advisor if you can. There may be some good options for you! It may or may not be possible to fix some low grades.

Academic Probation

Most universities have some form of academic probation – this is when your GPA falls below a certain requirement and you get a warning. After a certain number of warnings, if you have not brought your GPA up, you may have to leave the university. If you are worried that your grades are too low, you should find out what your university’s requirements are. Don’t wait to receive notification from your uni! Start working to bring your grades back up before you end up on academic probation.

How to Get Over a Bad Grade in University

Why Did It Happen

The first thing you want to do is figure out what happened. Why did you get that grade? And be honest. If you didn’t put in the effort, that may be the problem.

Understanding what happened means you will have to review your assignment or exam. For exams, this may involve going to see your instructor. Have a look at the feedback or marking so that you can figure out what to work on. If you don’t understand what you did wrong, speak to your instructor or TA. Once you have an idea of where you went wrong, then it’s time to figure out how to do better next time.

If you just didn’t put enough effort in, be honest with yourself about it. On the other hand, it may be time to try out some new study methods. If you studied a lot and aren’t sure why it didn’t help, then it’s definitely time for you to engage some new study skills.

Next Steps

You can talk to your professor and any TAs, and your university probably has staff who can help you assess and improve your study skills. Look for an academic or study centre through your library or student services areas. Your professor may be able to let you know where to find it!

You may also consider finding a tutor so you can get additional one-on-one help. Make sure you find a reputable tutoring company. Your university may have a tutoring service, or may be able to recommend one. Otherwise, ask around.

Are You Crying Over Bad Grades?

Of course, there is also the emotional aspect of getting a bad grade. This can have a big impact on you. A bad grade can impact your confidence and self-esteem. Remember that you are not your grades. Your grades don’t define who you are as a person. Grades don’t reflect your value as a person, or even your intelligence. Seriously, grading systems are flawed, and although a good grading system will measure how well you mastered the content of a course, that doesn’t necessarily indicate whether you’re smart or not. Many grading systems are set up so that not everyone can be successful, which obviously can feel very personal if you are the one getting the bad grade, but part of this is the result of the system.

Finding out what happened and taking steps to correct is also going to help you move forward. Don’t spend too much time being upset about your grades before you start to do something about them. One of the challenges at university is that nobody talks about their bad grades. There is a sense of shame about them, so students don’t tend to share their experiences with bad grades. It makes you feel like you’re the only one who is struggling!

So many students struggle, especially in the first year of university. Most of those students are able to recover and complete a degree. You can also find all sorts of examples of folks who either struggled in university or didn’t go, and yet had massive success. It can be inspiring to learn about folks who’ve been really successful without a degree. Although my work focuses on university, there are many other ways to be successful in life that don’t require you to go to university. Find some examples that you can learn about and look up to.

It might also help to talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be one of your classmates! If you’re not comfortable talking with them, you can talk to your other friends, family members, or someone else you know will support you. And don’t feel like you have to tell anyone you don’t want to! Just make sure you stay away from people who will make you feel worse. And if you find that your grade is dragging down your mental health, you should reach out for support from a professional. Check your university health centre for counselling services, they will be experienced in this topic.

Hopefully this has helped you get ready for a bad grade that will never come! If you have any questions or worries about your grades, please reach out at

4 thoughts on “Getting a Bad Grade

  1. I agree bad grades don’t define who you are as a person. In fact, it’s just a sign to pay attention to that particular subject or be a focus student and avoid destruction when you’re in class. Great tips and thanks for sharing.

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