My Grade Went Down How Much???

Now that the second week of second semester is here, gone are the days of lounging around and watching Netflix. Even though it’s only the second week, my planner is full of midterm dates and assignment deadlines that seem dauntingly close. There can be moments from the previous semester that can evoke fear and dread for the new term ahead, like a final mark that was lower than expected or a goal that just wasn’t met. How do I tackle these emotions? Reflection. I know I talk about reflection a lot, but by implementing the following techniques I’ve been able to leave some of the thoughts of “what if” in the past. Here is how I reflect:

Identify what went wrong

I think all of us  have a moment in our classes when we view our final grade and it’s lower than expected. After I got the grades back for my first semester of university, I remember feeling crushed that one of my course grades had gone down so much. In that moment, I jumped to a conclusion that if I could not meet my standards in a core course, maybe I shouldn’t pursue my program of study at all. But once I thought about what went wrong, this idea began to fade.

So, ask yourself: Was it poor studying habits for the entire semester that, even with adequate time to study for the final, meant that you literally had no idea what you learnt? Or did you only cram the night before—or write a final paper in the span of a day? In my case, I realized that I had not given myself enough time to prepare for that final and the grade showed it. Although it was really disappointing, at least it served as a learning moment for my future academic endeavours.

Photograph of University College with snow on the ground

What will you do to change it this semester?

Although I was not happy with the grade I received, I accepted it. Acceptance was the first step to approaching the new semester with excitement, rather than fear. After realising that I had not given myself enough study time in the past, I learned that I need to set up my study schedule better for the future. Now, before every exam season, I print out a blank calendar and figure out what I will study each day. I distribute the number of lectures onto the days and ensure I give myself a minimum of two weeks per course. If my exam tests twelve lectures, for instance, I set aside fourteen days to work on a lecture every day, with some extra time to deal with any problems that come up and to repackage everything into something useful for the final. Had I not learned from my experience in my first semester, I do not think I would have developed this technique—but everyone should make a plan of their own! Figure out your approach for this semester. If you’re fighting procrastination and stress, and are having problems coming up with a strategy for your semester, you can book a free appointment with a Learning Strategist on campus. The details of booking an appointment are available at https://www.studentlife.utoronto.ca/asc/hours.

What will you do in the future?

Personally, I do not believe that one bad course dictates your future success! But a poor grade can be an obstacle to your success. For example, you might have taken a full course load last semester and now feel that you’d be more comfortable taking four courses or less. And you might have other things to do in your life that make it difficult to carry five courses: you might have a job or some other commitment that just makes the full set unreasonable. There’s no shame in lightening your load, because it’s valuable to understand your personal limits. If you do decide to take a lighter load, just make a mental or physical note of how you might need to adapt your future course scheduling in order to meet your degree requirements. It definitely does not hurt to stop into your registrar’s office, where you can talk to an academic advisor and get assistance in navigating your path.

Checking your final exam

The last thing I wanted to mention in this post is that it is possible to view your final exam. Many of us have had the experience of getting a grade back and wondering, “how is it possible my grade went down so much?” There is a way to find out. Arts and Science students can request a free exam viewing (see http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/current/exams/examview for details). The exam viewing is free, but there are monetary costs if you ask for a remark. Personally, I have viewed my exam before and the process was pretty easy, and definitely useful! Even if your mark stays the same, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on which types of questions you struggle with. For example, maybe you mainly got calculation questions wrong, or application-based questions were not your strong suit. From there, you can learn from those errors and have success in your future courses: figuring these things out for yourself is key to your success.

How do you prepare for the semester ahead? Leave me a comment below, I’d love to hear!

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