Coming Back from Academic Disaster: How to Get Back on Track and Pass Your Class

There’s nothing quite like the sinking feeling you get when you realize you totally bombed a test or turned in an assignment that you know isn’t your best work. While it might be too late to fix your mistakes for this assignment, if it’s still early enough in the semester you may still be able to pass your class, seriously learn the material, and salvage your GPA.

All of this can be made a bit more difficult in an online course where you’re learning at a distance and may not be able to meet with your professor or take advantage of all the academic support offered on campus, but it’s certainly not impossible and well worth the effort if you want to turn things around and get back on the right track in your online course. Here are some things you need to do in order to turn an academic misstep into a step in the right direction.

Don’t freak out. First things first: calm down. A bad grade can be unsettling, but it’s not the end of the world. The worst thing that could happen is that you’ll have to retake the course, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t all that bad. Take a deep breath and start working on a plan of action.

Reflect on why you’re struggling. Is there a reason you’re not doing well in your course? What’s going wrong? While it’s easy to place blame on your professor or other things going on in your life (i.e. the course is too hard, you’re too busy), it’s critical to take responsibility for your own actions—these are the only ones you can actually change. If you just didn’t study enough or tried to write a paper at the last minute, acknowledge it as it’s something you can work on improving going forward.

Meet with a counselor or advisor. If you can, try to arrange a meeting with a counselor or advisor. He or she will be able to go over your options for the course with you (in some cases you may opt for pass/fail or just drop the class and try again next semester), and will be able to point you to some resources that will help you improve academically.

Talk to your professor. The other smart place to turn for help is your professor. He or she can tell you where you’re going wrong, offer suggestions for improvement, and help give you clarification on what you need to do better on future assignments and tests. Some professors may even allow you to rewrite a paper or do extra credit to help you turn your grade around, but you have to ask to find out.

Find support. You may be working on your classwork from home, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be isolated in your studies. Create online study groups with your classmates, take advantage of online tutoring, or even get the help of a friend or family member who can proofread, help you make flashcards, or just offer some moral support to help you get back on track. Working with others can help you feel more accountable, too, so you’re less likely to procrastinate or put in less effort in your course.

Build study skills. One of the most common things that derails students, especially online students, is a lack of strong study skills. Doing well in your course takes more than just doing the bare minimum. The better and more efficient you are at studying, the better you’ll do in class so it’s well worth the effort to build strong habits up front. Find help with studying in The Learning Commons or read some helpful online guides like this one from Penn State to start studying smart.

Find balance. Being able to do well in your courses may require some give and take from other things in your life. You may need to take fewer classes, work less, and plan and schedule time for other important things in your life, not just try to squeeze it all in. Striking this balance will allow you to prioritize your success in your course, without burning you out.

Get involved. Being an active participant in your class will allow you to stay connected and will give you an early heads up when you are not understanding a concept. Talk with your classmates, post in discussion boards, chat with other learners, and get actively engaged—it’s worth the effort.

Need help figuring out where to go next? Contact Counseling or The Learning Commons for help in improving your grades, finding tutoring, and ensuring you know all of the options and resources you have available to you.