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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Sometimes, you will fail a college midterm or other test no matter how much you study. Just how big of a deal is it when this happens and what should you do next?

How you handle failure in college can have a major impact on the rest of your semester, so the best thing to do when you fail a test is to remain calm and follow these steps to recover.

Look Over the Exam When You're Calm

When you get that failing grade, give yourself some space from the situation. Take a walk, go for a workout, eat a healthy meal, and then come back to the test to get a better sense of what happened. Did you bomb the entire thing or just do poorly in one section? Misunderstand one part of the assignment or a large chunk of the material itself? Is there a pattern about where or how you performed poorly? Knowing why you failed can help you learn the most from this experience. Moving forward with the right frame of mind makes all the difference.

Be Honest With Yourself

Once you are distanced from your initial reaction, you need to 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? 

If you already know that you did not put your best foot forward when you went to take the exam, you probably need to rethink your study habits and develop a new approach. If you did your best and still didn't perform well, there is more you can do.

Talk to Your Professor or TA

It is always smart 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 to discuss what went wrong—they're there to help you learn. Remember that arguing with your professor TA about your grade will not get you anywhere and what's done is done. Instead, meet with them to clarify misunderstandings and prepare for a stronger score next time.

Commit to Making Changes

No test failure is the end of the world, but they should still be taken seriously. 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 to improve.

If you have already developed effective study habits and always apply yourself to the best of your ability, it is possible that this test is just an outlier and will not set the course for the rest of the class or year. Don't beat yourself up over one bad test and begin to doubt your abilities. The best change you can make in this situation is to learn to move past setbacks.

If you know that something in your test-taking approach needs to change, try some of the following tips:

Take Care of Yourself

The most important thing to do in the face of failure is to take care of yourself. There is a time to buckle down and get to work and there is a time to give yourself credit for all that you have accomplished and not sweat the small stuff. Failures can be tough on your body and mental health if you don't manage them appropriately and this can lead to future setbacks that won't be as easy to come back from. Find a balance between working hard and practicing self-care and remember not to expect perfection from yourself.

You are not supposed to go through college without asking for help and most universities offer more resources than you could imagine. Take full advantage of everything your college or university makes available to you to not only prevent future academic failure but have a healthier life overall.