Student Life

How I failed a midterm but still passed the class

If you're failing a class you don't have to drop it; get help to turn things around.

Jan 23, 2019

I've never been very strong in math. My strengths lie in my creativity and writing. It's been this way for as long as I can remember. I hoped that after high school I'd never have to take another math class in my life, but unfortunately things didn't work out that way.

I had to take a statistics class in university

I went back to my post-secondary studies after two years of working full-time. As a requirement for my Bachelor of Arts degree, I had to take a statistics course (basically, a math class). I’d heard many stories from my friends and classmates about the dreaded stats class. Some passed with no problem and even enjoyed it, while others had to re-take the course.

I worried that I'd struggle with the course, but I had to get through it. Adding to this, I was taking the class with about 230 other students in a large auditorium. I felt like it was near impossible to get to know the professor, let alone make any friends.

I attended every lecture, took detailed notes, and did my best to keep up with the assigned readings. When the midterm exam crept up, I studied the way I thought I should be studying—and missed a family get-together for my uncle’s 50th birthday.

Bombing my midterm exam

On the day of the exam, I didn’t know what to expect. Despite all my studying I didn't feel prepared. When I walked out of the exam room, I had this gut feeling that I didn’t do well. Everyone assured me that I probably did better than I thought and ought to relax until the grades were posted.

About a week later, I received my mark and found out that I failed the midterm with a 47%. It was a crushing blow to my ego.

I immediately made an appointment with my academic advisor to discuss my options: I could either drop the class and take it again next semester, or continue and work extra hard for the rest of the semester.

Drop the class, or power through?

Since I'd bombed a midterm that was weighted less than the final exam, I could still pass the course—but it was very risky. There was the possibility that if I stayed in the class, I could end up failing the course ... In situations like this it's often recommended that you withdraw from a course rather than having an F on your transcript.

I weighed my options. I talked to my friends and my mom. I really put a lot of thought into how I should proceed. Should I drop the class? If I drop it, that means I have to take it again next semester. Do I really want to do that? What if I stay in the class? If I work really hard, could I actually pass? Is it really that big a deal if I just get through the class with a minimal pass?

Choosing to face the music

I chose to stay in my statistics class—I saw it as a personal challenge. Plus I didn’t ever want to take this course again. I knew I had it in me to get through this course, but I needed help. I contacted the Student Services Centre and discovered I was eligible for a certain amount of free tutoring. I studied with a tutor on a bi-weekly basis, and through this process realized I’d been studying all wrong: I’d been spending more time on reading the material rather than practicing the formulas and figuring out when and where to apply them.

To boost my course average, I stayed on campus late working on my lab assignments. I had to generate graphs and analyze the information; it was a lot of work, but I did well on the assignments and they raised my grade. Things were starting to look up!

Turning things around for the final exam

The final exam (worth 50% of my grade) was nearing. I did as many practice exams as I could. I wrote out formulas over and over. I was feeling confident on the day of the exam. As I looked it over, I recognized a lot of similar problems from the practice tests I'd done.

This time I walked out of the exam feeling relieved, and knowing that I'd given it my all. There was no way I could fail after all the work I'd done.

My goal was to get a minimal pass of C- (56-59%). I surpassed my goal and finished the course with a C+ (65-69%), and I say this very proudly! Even though I wasn’t near the top of the class, that didn’t bother me. I worked very hard for that grade. I set out to pass the class, and I accomplished my goal. I didn’t give up or drop out. I saw this experience as a challenge and that motivated me to work extra hard. If I could get through this, then I could get through anything!

What to do if you're failing a class

If you find yourself struggling to get through a class, weigh all of your options before dropping out. Seek help from a student services center, your instructor, a teacher’s assistant, a tutor, or study group to get back on track. Don’t give up on yourself; you might be able to turn things around like I did.

Remember: it’s not the end of the world if you don’t do well on an assignment or an exam. You might not have the highest grade in the class, but you will have plenty of opportunities to make up for this grade in other courses. There is always room for improvement.


Native Studies
University of Alberta

Everybody’s journey through post-secondary is unique and there's no right or wrong way to further your education.

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