How to Recover After You've Failed a Midterm

What you do next can also have a major impact on your semester

Students taking written examination, woman holding hand to head
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No matter how much you studied (or didn't), the facts are the facts: You failed a college midterm. So just how big of a deal is this? And what should you do next?

How you handle failing a midterm (or any other major exam) can have a major impact on the rest of your semester. Consequently, it's important to take a step back and do the following things:

1. Look Over the Exam When You're Calm

When you find out you failed, give yourself a little while to focus on and do other things. Take a walk, go for a workout, eat a healthy meal, and then come back to the test. Get a better sense of what happened. Did you bomb the entire thing? Do poorly in one section? Misunderstand one part of the assignment? Misunderstand one part of the material? Is there a pattern about where or how you performed poorly? Knowing why you failed can help you turn your performance around for the rest of the term.

2. Talk to Your Professor or TA

Even if the entire class failed the midterm, you still need to get some feedback on how to do better on the next exam or final. Make an appointment with your professor or TA during office hours. After all, they're here to help you learn. Remember, too, that what's done is done; you aren't there to argue with your professor or TA about your grade. You're meeting with them to find out what will help you do better next time.

3. Be Honest With Yourself

Have an honest conversation with yourself about what you did wrong. Did you study enough? Did you not read the material, thinking you could just get by? What could you have done better to prepare? 

4. Commit to Making a Change That Will Help You Do Better Next Time

Even if you failed this midterm and feel like it's the end of the world, it's probably not. There will be other exams, essays, group projects, lab reports, presentations and final exams you can do better on. Focus on what you can do that will help you improve.

5. Seek Out the Help You Need

Let's be honest: If you failed this exam, you're going to need some help. Because even if you think you can do better on your own next time, your failed midterm grade means you can't leave anything to chance. All that money you're paying for tuition and fees means you should take full advantage of the resources your college or university has to offer! Instead of thinking "What can I do for next time?" think "What will I do to prepare for my next major exam?"

You can sign up for office hours with your professor and/or TA. Have someone read your papers before you turn them in. Get some tutoring. Find a mentor. Form a study group of folks who will focus on learning the material instead of goofing off. Make appointments with yourself to spend quiet time reading and studying without distraction. Do whatever you need to do so you can celebrate acing your next exam — not feel as horrible as you do now.