What to Do if You Are Failing Chemistry

Young male scientist struggling with chemistry equation on chalkboard

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Are you failing chemistry? Don't panic. Here's a look at what you can do and how you can make the best of the situation and possibly turn it around.

What Not to Do

First, let's take a look at how not to handle the situation. You may view failing chemistry as the end of the world, but how you react could actually make a bad situation worse, so don't do these things:

  • Panic
  • Cheat
  • Threaten your instructor
  • Attempt to bribe your instructor
  • Give up
  • Do nothing

Steps to Take

  • Talk to Your Instructor. This should be the very first thing you do because nearly all of the options for minimizing the damage involve your teacher. Discuss your options. Is there any way you can pass? The answer to this question is almost always 'yes' since most chemistry classes end with comprehensive exams that are worth a lot of points. Most classes, especially at the middle school and high school level, are intended to allow for mistakes since the point of the class is to teach you the material and not to weed you out. Most general chemistry classes in college are the same way, though there may be less opportunity to make up for a bad beginning. Ask about extra work. Ask about extra credit. Ask if there is any chance to re-do past assignments. Teachers usually respect an honest effort, even if you made a late start of it. If you are willing to work for the passing grade, there is almost always something you can do.
  • Keep Doing Your Homework. Or start doing your homework, if that is part of the problem. Digging yourself in deeper is not going to help you.
  • Keep Attending Lectures and Labs. Or start going, if you haven't been attending. Showing up makes a difference.
  • Take Notes. Write down whatever the instructor puts on the board. Try to write down what is said. If your teacher takes the time to write something out for you, it is because that information is important.
  • Get Someone Else's Notes. Part of your problem may have to do with your skill at taking notes. Studying your own notes strengthens the connection between what you experienced in class and what you are learning, but studying someone else's notes gives you a different perspective and may help you identify important concepts that you overlooked.
  • Try a Different Text. Your instructor should be able to recommend a different text you can read in addition to the one you are using. Sometimes concepts 'click' when they are explained differently. Many textbooks come with outlines that instructors use to prepare notes. Ask if those outlines are available for your text.
  • Work Problems. Problems and calculations are a big part of chemistry. The more problems you work, the more comfortable you will become with the concepts. Work examples from your book, examples from other books—any problems you can find.

How to Fail Gracefully

Everyone fails at something. How you handle failure is important for several reasons. But with respect to chemistry, it affects your academic future.

  • Consider Withdrawing. If you either don't want to put forth the effort required to turn your grade around or else can't avert failure, see if you can withdraw from the class. In some cases, you may be able to drop the class without having any negative marks made on your academic record. No grade may be better than a bad grade since a bad grade will work into your grade point average.
  • Consider Staying in Class. If you can't avert the failure no matter what, you may be tempted to just walk away. That may be fine if you never have to see chemistry again, but if you need to pass the class at some point, you may want to stick it out for lectures and labs so you will be better prepared the next time you face the material. You may not think you are learning anything, but chances are, some of what you read and hear will stick. If you are withdrawing from class, discuss remaining in class (not for a grade) with your instructor.
  • Exit Gracefully. Don't say or do anything you might regret later, no matter how tempting it may be at the time.
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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What to Do if You Are Failing Chemistry." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-to-do-if-you-are-failing-chemistry-607842. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, February 16). What to Do if You Are Failing Chemistry. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-to-do-if-you-are-failing-chemistry-607842 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "What to Do if You Are Failing Chemistry." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-to-do-if-you-are-failing-chemistry-607842 (accessed May 31, 2023).