Five Ways to Deal with a Midterm Mishap

Fordham Students and Faculty Share Their Suggestions on How to Cope with a Failed Exam


You’ve spent all night studying and attended every class. You’ve done all your assignments thoroughly and on time, and you haven’t skipped any readings. But when the midterm comes around, you find yourself staring blankly at the paper, wondering where and when you went wrong and just what you’re going to do to make up for this blunder.

Bombing a midterm isn’t uncommon in one’s college career at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC). Sometimes it’s caused by feeling overconfident with course material or not fitting enough study time into your busy schedule. Other times a professor may attempt to “challenge” a class, and the challenge goes a bit too far, leaving students scrambling  for answers to questions that they don’t really understand. And then there’s always the chance that life gets “lifey,” and that can definitely cramp your midterm style.

But before you sink into a dark depression and consider ending your scholarly ambitions, we have a few tips to calm your nerves and get you back on track.

1. Talk to Your Professor

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it can really work. Your professor is, after all, the person who created your midterm, and will therefore have the most insight into it. Some professors offer extra credit, or will allow you to retake the test if you were having personal troubles or have a legitimate excuse for not studying.

“Part of the purpose of the midterm, (for me) is to assess how the student is keeping up on readings, and discussion,” Uttara Asha Coorlawala, professor of dance history at the Ailey School, said. “After the midterm the student has further opportunities to correct this grade.  All make-up papers undertaken by students are always extra work for their instructors… and therefore not popular. Generally speaking, I am not in favor of making special allowances for individual students unless they have endured exceptional and unusual mitigating circumstances and are going an extra mile to retake the midterm or its equivalent.”

Rev. Thomas Scirghi, S.J., associate professor of theology at Fordham College at Rose Hill said, “What I sometimes do for a student who has failed—in the case of a student for whom the failing grade does not represent his work (presuming that the student has been attending class, completing assignments, participating in class and has fair-to-good grades on quizzes)—is to allow the student to take the test again. If he passes he will receive a ‘passing’ grade for the exam.”

2. Learn From Your Mistake

Yes it’s hard, but look at ths mishap as a learning expereience. Maybe you stayed up too late the night before, studied the wrong material or simply didn’t allot yourself enough study time. Either way, figure out your mistake was, so the same thing doesn’t happen again.

“It’s only stressful when you realize you should have studied more,” Alexander Lupo, FCLC ’13, said.

Yummi Park, FCLC ’13, added, “I got a midterm back [that] I didn’t do as well [on] as I hoped and the professor doesn’t offer extra credit. It pushed me to work harder and do well on the next test. It’s a shock at first, but you move on.”

3. Try Your Hardest on Everything Else

Even though you’ve failed your midterm, the class still goes on and you still have a chance of impressing the professor. After you’ve talked to them to show that you care, put in the extra effort into every assignment you hand in, participate in class discussions and make an effort to be present for every class. If a professor sees that you’re committed and engaged in their class, it may help with that final grade.

Many professors take class participation, assignments and additional examinations into account when making up grades.

So look at failing a midterm as a motivational tool.

4. Don’t Stress

Getting in a tizzy about a failed midterm will only cloud your judgement and could decrease your performance on upcoming tests. One of the objectives of an education, after all, is to learn how to deal with setbacks and pressure in a positive way.

“Receiving a poor grade or failing a midterm can be disappointing, frustrating and upsetting. How students manage these feelings and adapt to challenges is a sign of maturity and growth, and will prepare them for dealing with the next test or a new environment,” said Yael Nitkin-Kaner, Ph.D., supervising psychologist and coordinator of Outreach and Prevention and the Group Therapy Program at FCLC. “There are many ways that one can cope and places to turn for understanding, academic assistance or counseling. In terms of coping, a useful strategy can be the practice of mindfulness, which involves developing a calm awareness of one’s feelings, beliefs and states of consciousness without getting stuck in an emotional state. It’s also important to treat yourself with compassion, and realize that being imperfect and even failing is a part of life.”

So if you do fail a midterm, take a deep breath and remain positive. Experiences like these will help shape you for the better and prepare you for what life has in store.

5. Have a Good Time

Even though you bombed your midterm, you shouldn’t sit in your room and mope. To cheer yourself up and prepare for the long hours you’ll spend making up for your mistake, get up and go out. Even though you may not have done as well as you’d like, you can still celebrate the fact that it’s over. Margaritas (or other non-alcoholic drinks if you’re under 21) can make the world seem a whole lot rosier.

So as midterms come to an end, some students will undoubtedly not do as well as they would have hoped. Just remember, when all else fails, you can always have a “post midterm” party to lift your spirits.