What To Do When You Fail a Class

You did really well in high school, but suddenly you’re struggling with university classes. Don’t panic: you can handle this.

By Valentina

Image for Post

It was the winter semester of my first year and my young self thought that it would be a good idea to enrol in an 8 am calculus class. This really didn’t make sense because I am not a morning person, I don’t particularly enjoy the winter weather, and most importantly math has never come easy to me. Looking back, I was setting myself up for the inevitable: skipping class.

I got away with skipping one class a week and just turning in my assignments for the first half of the semester. I even got above average on my midterm, so I was honestly not too concerned with failing the class. I knew I wasn’t going to get a great mark, but failing never crossed my mind.

When finals came around I did some practice exams and called it a day. Turns out I only needed 30% on the final to pass the class, so I was very confident when I walked into the main gym that I was going to write that final, score over 30%, and then forget about calculus forever.

But when I finished the exam I knew there was no way I passed the final let alone the actual class, so I did what every young adult does when something goes wrong: I called my dad. At first, he tried to convince me there was no way I got less than 30% on an exam I had studied for, and to be fair I had never failed anything in high school so failing felt out of character. He explained to me that failing a course in university is more common than you think, and told me that he actually failed a class twice before passing it when he was in school.

Once I saw that very expected F on my transcript and it was “official,” it was time to stop moping around and start figuring out a plan for retaking the class. Now I not only wanted to pass the class, but hopefully get a good grade in it.

Here are some tips for dealing with a failing grade, based on my own experience:

Image for Post

Failing is natural and it doesn’t mean you are not good enough for school or for the program you are in. Adjusting to university-level classes takes time and that’s ok!

There was no way I was taking math at 8 am again for obvious reasons, so I enrolled in an afternoon class and made sure I was taking a class I found interesting right before it so that I would be less likely to skip it.

Different profs have different teaching styles, so I read a lot of Rate My Professors reviews and asked around to see which of the profs would match best with my learning style.

There are a bunch of resources available through the U of A to help students do well in their courses. A lot of people have to take Math 114 and a lot of people struggle with it, so there are specific supports to help students in 100 and 200-level math and statistics courses. I started going to weekly group tutoring sessions that helped me stay on top of what was going on in class. There are also review sessions every week and TAs that help out with the weekly assignments. I also found that there are student tutors available through the SU, which are super helpful because they have taken the class before. So ask around, try different things, find what works best for you and stick with it throughout the semester!

Stop cramming, it is so stressful and it won’t help you in the long run. I made sure to work on math every day (yes, I really didn’t want to fail again). Every morning I would go to the library an hour before my classes started. I worked on my math assignments before Googling the questions or visiting the TAs and that helped me figure out what I need it to focus on. When your studying time becomes part of your routine it’s harder to avoid it, plus I found short study sessions are less overwhelming.

Talk to people in your class, at the review sessions, or when asking for help to the TAs. It is so nice to have people you can message when you missed a class or when you are struggling with a particular question. I also found that there were a lot of us taking the class for a second time, which made me realize it wasn’t that big of a deal and that we were all in the same boat. Talking to your prof during office hours helps, too! Not a lot of people do that and they are usually happy to see someone interested in their class and willing to ask for help.

When the time came and I had to face the once-feared math final, I was sure I would do better than just pass it, and I did!

Failing a class is not ideal, but it happens (more than you might think). You have the power to turn it into something positive and learn from it. Looking back, it “forced” me to improve my study habits, which has helped me become a better student overall. My math foundations are now stronger (pretty important for an economics major), and it made me less afraid of failure because I know I can turn things around and come back from it.