Is There Life After a Failed Midterm?


Sure, we all do poorly on tests now and then, but when you straight-out fail a midterm, get ready to grovel, especially if you’re a senior. ( iStock Photo)

Published: April 15, 2010

I’ll be honest, I’m no straight-A student.  For just about every one of my ‘required classes’ in which I have absolutely no interest, I consistently cut corners, turn in the bare minimum and feel fully satisfied with my C+ at the end of the semester. Recently, however, my style of slacking while still passing came to a screeching halt—I full-out failed a midterm. I’d like to share with you, slackers and over-achievers alike, how to avoid failing an important test, and more importantly, what to do if it happens.

If your professor is gracious enough to give you a review before the midterm, pay attention.

Even if you think you cannot stand one more second of the girl in the front of the class having a full-blown panic attack and asking infinite questions.  Even if the questions start to get as ridiculous as, “Can we use material we’ve learned from other classes on this midterm?” You need to keep your eyes from glazing over. Even if you think you know this material backwards and forwards (because I sure thought I did), there might be something said during this review that could save you from failing. In our class review, it was decided that you couldn’t argue against the theories presented in the textbook for the essay portion of the test, which cost me 20 points.

Read the questions. Read the questions again.

This might also sound like a no-brainer, but really understanding what the professor is asking from you is key to not losing a significant amount of points. You could know all the key facts about a particular question, but if you don’t realize that you need to elaborate on a specific point, you’re basically throwing away points—or eight of them, in my case.

Take your time.  

Even if you finish 40 minutes into your two-hour midterm, sit there. Read it over. Read the questions and read your answers. Had I re-read my answers, I would have realized that I needed to do more in order to pass this test. Plus, professors will judge you if you rush out of the room within 40 minutes of taking the exam. So, seriously, even if you are done and confident in half the test time, sit there. In our meeting, my professor actually asked me, “Where did you have to go that was more important than this?” Oh, well “Grey’s Anatomy” is on Thursday nights, so, you know…

So the test happened,
and you failed it. You can’t rewind time. So what can you do to fix it?

Avoid saying things like, “I knew this, I just didn’t know you were asking for it.”

Wrong. If you didn’t write it, you didn’t know it.  And even if you did, telling your professor this is totally not helping your situation, as I learned.

Set up a meeting with your professor.

Your gut reaction will be to talk it out with your professor right then and there. Don’t do it. Take the time to schedule an appointment. Even if you have no shame about discussing it as your class is clearing out, pretend that you do.

Do not cry to your professor.

Especially if she happens to be an adjunct professor, who holds her personal meetings in a jam-packed cafeteria due to lack of office space.  Crying in the caf during the rush right before night classes is not only socially unacceptable and embarrassing, but it also will not change the fact that you failed your midterm. Trust me.

“Is there anything I can do?”

This isn’t high school. Extra credit is not something that you’re entitled to. That being said, ask, beg, plead (in good taste) for any extra assignment that you can do to raise your grade to however many points you need to pass by the skin of your teeth. It didn’t happen for me, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Learn from your mistakes

This is college, after all, and you’re here to learn. If you can’t pull yourself out of the hole you’ve dug, you always have next semester to cram this class into your schedule. And if you happen to be in my exact situation, a senior who failed a midterm, eat and breathe this material until the day of your final and don’t be afraid to be that obnoxious student asking ridiculous questions during the in-class review. Your degree could depend on it.