Save the Grade: 7 Post-Midterm Tips

Young person writing in a notebook with a mechanical pencil. Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Midterms are right around the corner, and while that means that fall break is fast approaching—yay!—it also means you’ll soon be receiving midterm grades. While some students will be satisfied or even thrilled with their midterm progress reports, others may feel disappointed . . . or even downright panicked. If your semester study plan has involved more Netflix than note-taking, never fear – there’s still time to save your grades. Follow the tips below to get yourself back on track and snag some grades that your parents can brag about at Thanksgiving.

Assess the damage

The first thing you need to do is figure out the what and the why of your less-than-perfect grades. Are they concentrated on one or two subjects, or was every class a bit disappointing? If your worse performances were only in one or two classes, chances are that you’re struggling with the subject material, whereas if you had across-the-board disappointment this semester, the issue is more likely with your study habits. Determine this first to decide whether you need to focus more on getting help with the material, or on making some serious habit changes. (Regardless of which type of help you need more, be aware that all of the tips below apply to you and can still help you. This step is just to help you become aware of where you may be going wrong).

Get a tutor

No, getting a tutor is not lame. Yes, it actually can make a significant different in your class performance. Here’s why: tutors will hold you accountable. Studying is no longer just about you crashing on the couch with some Cheetos and a textbook; it’s about prepping yourself before each meeting, making your best effort to understand the material, jotting down questions to ask your tutor, and then reviewing the material after each meeting to make sure it clicks. Meeting with a tutor gets you motivated to go through all of these steps because you’ve actually set aside time—yours as well as someone else’s—to push yourself through the material. I would recommend going three times a week, at least to begin with, in order to really get yourself out of the studying rut and catch up on the first half of the semester. Worried about the cost? MTSU has free tutoring in the library! Click here to check out all the subjects and available time slots. Also, if you’re taking an online class, you can get free online tutoring as well! You literally have no excuse not to so do it!

Get some serious study buddies

While we’re talking about being held accountable, another great way to hold yourself to your study goals is to share them with a few friends. Take note of the word “few.”  More than two or three study buddies create a party, not a study session, so keep your group small and choose your study partners wisely. Reserve a room in the library and invite only the people that you know can be quiet and stay focused. As with the tutoring, make this a regularly-scheduled activity, at least once or twice a week at the same times each week. You don’t all have to be studying the same subjects, but just sitting and reading quietly with several other people creates a good kind of peer pressure. You’ll be far less likely to just toss the book and give up if your buddies keep at it.

Ask about extra credit

There’s a right way and a wrong way to ask this. The wrong way is when you look at the syllabus, see “NO EXTRA CREDIT” at the top in bold letters, and send your professor an email saying “Can I have some extra credit plz???” The right way to ask is in person, and with a specific plan. Go to your professor’s office hours and say “I was disappointed by my performance on the midterm, and it made me stop and re-evaluate my understanding of the material. I’ve been working hard to catch up, and I was wondering if I could be allowed to write a paper on X to demonstrate what I’ve learned.” Remember: never ask for extra credit without a plan of what it should look like. Vague requests mean that, if the professor says yes, he or she is going to have to spend time coming up with a special extra credit project just for you, and this is why most professors will say no. Presenting them a plan boosts your chances of a “yes” because it shows that you’ve already put some thought and effort into redeeming your grades. And if you do get a “yes”, don’t haggle for how many points the project is worth. Focus on wowing them with your effort, and hope that they’re generous. One more quick note: ask once, and only once. If you get a “no”, don’t argue; just thank them for their time and get back to your study group!

Check out some study aids

If your textbook has you totally lost and your professor’s PowerPoints only confuse you more, it may be helpful to look to another source to help you understand the material. No, I’m not talking about Quizlet (although it does have its uses); I’m talking about study aids or third-party sources (meaning not your textbook or your professor) that can help teach you to learn the material. The Dummies book series is my go-to for any subject I don’t understand. They break down every concept into plain English and give you the bare bones of what you need to know. Khan Academy is also a great source; they have thousands of videos on everything from trigonometry to art history, and each subjected is divided into niche areas in case there’s one particular concept you’re struggling with. Another great resource I’ve found is actually YouTube. There are many kind souls out there, specializing in all kinds of topics, who spend their free time making videos so that the rest of us can understand.

Explain it back to yourself

This is a technique that I use whenever I’m really struggling to grasp a concept: when you’re really struggling to understand something, try explaining it out loud as if you’re teaching it to someone else. If you and a classmate can practice going back and forth explaining the material to each other, that’s great, but this technique also works well when you’re by yourself. Explaining things out loud forces you to organize your thoughts in a logical way, and to really mull over the material to grasp the point of it. Also, studies have shown that paraphrasing what you’re learning in your own words improves your retention significantly. Come finals, you won’t just remember the words on a textbook page; you’ll also be able to recall your own thought processes and the explanations that made the most sense to you.

Study frequently

Be aware that “frequently” and “constantly” don’t mean the same thing: you want to break your studying up into smaller chunks and give yourself breaks in between, but revisit what you’re learning as often as possible. Some people study better in large blocks of time, but the majority of us are better at retaining what we’ve learned when we review it over and over for short periods each time. Try reading a little in the morning, a little around your midday break, and then reviewing what you’re read right before bed each night (studies have shown that sleeping on what you’ve learned will help you remember it). At the end of each week, skim the previous week’s reading and briefly review what you’ve learned. Study smarter, not necessarily longer; studying for hours at a time doesn’t help you if you burn out and don’t remember the material.

And remember, never be afraid to ask for help! Whether it’s from your professor, a classmate, a tutor, or a friend who’s good at the subject you’re stuck in, there’s no shame in admitting that you’re confused. Everybody hits these ruts in college, so don’t judge yourself for getting stuck; push yourself to get through it.