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Help, I Failed a Midterm!

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So, maybe you just got a midterm grade back and ... well, you aren’t happy with it. Here are some ideas for next steps.

Give it some time

Breathe. It’s a cliché, we know. But try not to make hasty decisions right in the immediate shock of seeing a grade. And check out the Resilience Project to see how other students and professors have handled temporary setbacks, large and small.


A grade lower than you hoped isn’t necessarily failing. Try to get a sense of what this midterm grade really means and put it in perspective. Items to consider, depending on the information you have from the class:

  • Grade range--did the professor share any information about median grades or standard deviation? Compare your grade to those numbers, rather than the ideal 100%.
  • Weighting--how much was the exam worth? How many assignments remain in the class?
  • Trajectory--was this the first exam? Do things seem to be getting better or worse?
  • Preparation--how did you prepare, and was it effective?

Talk this information over with your Academic Advisor, and your professor and/or TA, to understand where you really stand.

Move Forward

A bad midterm is pure gold when it comes to doing better. It’s no fun to revisit, but if you go through the questions or problems you missed and rework them, you’ll learn the concepts. While doing this, look for patterns to your mistakes to help you identify what to do differently next time.

  • Were you moving too quickly and making careless errors?
  • Did you misunderstand the questions?
  • Did you apply the right concepts?

Discuss what you’ve learned with your professor, TA, a tutor, or an academic coach, and ask them for assistance where you still find yourself stuck. This is one of the things office hours were made for. Many students only attend office hours before an exam, but visiting after can be a great way to make strides in your understanding and prepare for later exams and evaluations.

In addition, reflect on your study strategies and the time you are devoting to the class. Learning complex material is frequently not intuitive and you may need to change your approach to do better.

  • Do you have a quiet place to study?
  • Do you have a good study group?
  • Did you do practice questions or problems?
  • What can you try differently in the future?

You’ll find some great suggestions for test preparation at the Academic Skills Coaching site, and an academic coach can help you develop more strategies.

Credit/No Credit/Withdraw?

If you are considering changing the grading basis of a class to CR/NC or withdrawing from a class, talk that decision over with your Academic Advisor. Be aware, there is a lot of misinformation out there about these options, so it’s best to talk with expert academic advisors as well as trusted friends.

Not performing as well as you hoped or expected on an exam or an assignment is disappointing, but it can also offer you an opportunity to reflect, reconsider, and redirect - and there are resources at Stanford to help you do just that.

See Also

Return to the Advising Student Handbook