10 Ways to Overcome Mid-Semester Grade Slippage

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Picture yourself halfway through the semester, teetering with a failing grade and one bad test score away falling below a 3.0 GPA. Parents give you the same old speech, “College costs a fortune—fail one more class and we’re taking you out.” You think they’re bluffing, but the chance they aren’t frightens you. You don’t have any options. You need to do well. But looking back, the professor doesn’t see you in good light. He only knows you as a disappointing test grade. So how do you turn things around the second half of the semester? The answer seems simple: Do the opposite of what you’ve done before now.

1. Get to Class on Time

Nothing good comes from arriving late. “One of worst things is when someone is chronically late—it is like the class was not that important to them,” Boston College Professor Donald Fishman said. Whether in a lecture hall of 400 or a small classroom of 20, professors notice who waltzes in late. Not only will you miss important information (like exam dates), but you’ll also most likely miss the review for previous homework assignments. So if you want to leave a good first impression from the moment you step through the door, show up to class on time.

2. Ask Meaningful Questions

Usually the classroom atmosphere goes one of two ways. In one scenario, the class explodes with eager hands, leaving the professor with his pick on whom to call on first. On the other end, the class can be dead quiet with the teacher desperately waiting for a willing hand to creep into the air. “Good students pursue questions about the material—meaningful questions are a good sign that the materials has interested, bothered, or provoked them,” Fishman said. Teachers appreciate students who actively engage, and if you ask the right question, you might even get some key advice (or hints) before the next exam.

3. Think of What You Wear

The feeling of freedom and individual expression allows students to practically wear anything from business suits to pajamas. However, what you wear matters. “The clothes you wear can be seen as a direct reflection on your seriousness as a student entering the professional world,” Harvard Professor Rhonda Bentley-Lewis said. Obviously professors don’t expect you to walk around in a three-piece suit or a business casual dress with pantyhose, but you do want to show your professors that you showed up to class to learn and everything else takes a back seat. In other words, leave the Family Guy t-shirt at home.

4. Actually Go to Office Hours

Countless times over the course of a semester, teachers reference their office hours. They might be available once a week or hold an open-door policy. In a class with hundreds of students, the professor will not go out of his way to know you. Use office hours as a chance to put a face to your name and get a lot more one-on-one attention on trouble areas. Spend some solo time with your professor or TA so when she sees your grade at 89.4, she bumps you up to that 90 percent.

5. Have a Problem? Send an E-mail

For all those students too intimidated by office hours, this new age of technology brought about a thing called e-mail. Professors readily endorse this option because of its simplicity. Writing an e-mail can be as simple as sending a long (grammatically correct) text message with an opening and closing phrase. “E-mail is the ability to get questions answered anytime,” Fishman said. Yet so many students still hesitate to seek out their teacher for help and/or advice. Trust me, one e-mail can make the difference between understanding the material and going to class without a clue.

6. Do Not Slack Off on Homework Assignments

College≠high school. Back in the high school days, you understood homework assignments while binge watching Breaking Bad. But in college, the difference between successful students and unsuccessful students might be the way you do your homework. If homework starts to make less sense that the ending of Lost, turn off the TV and give it your undivided attention. Also avoid starting homework assignments at 11 p.m. while lying down wearing your headphones (AKA a recipe to knock out on the couch). Homework deserves laser focus, so turn off the TV and power down your iPod—your grades depend on it.


Want to improve your grades? You can’t coast by with the bare minimum effort. “Preparation is not skimming but thoughtfully considering ideas offered whether you agree or disagree,” Howard University Law Professor Keeva Terry said. Stop trying to cut corners and search for cheat codes. Nothing but old-fashioned hard work and meticulous studying will take you out of the danger zone and onto that Dean’s List that parents and students crave.

8. Don’t Be An Echo

Professors welcome questions and comments that benefit class discussion. Way too often, you find students seeking participation credit by answering every question but not adding anything to the conversation. Bentley-Lewis said, “When students reiterate comments already said, not only does this show a lack of originality but also gives off a sense of disinterest to other classmates’ insight.” Don’t just speak—you’ll waste valuable class time your professor could use to help get you back on track.

9. Don’t be Afraid to ASK

“Ask for anything that could enhance you learning, but do it with respect,” said Terry. Professors don’t set you up for failure. They come to campus to help and you can ask for whatever you need to succeed. You may not get everything you want (extra credit or scaled tests), but you won’t get condemned for asking for help in a respectful manner. Think of it this way, college is expensive. Really expensive. Don’t be afraid to ask what you need to do to reach your full potential and make the most out of your investment.

10. Show Don’t Tell

If you want your teacher to see you as a quality student who deserves her help, show that you mean business. Don’t come in with nothing organized or prepared, nodding off in class and doodling in your notebook. Teachers can tell if a student wants to be in the class or just needs the credit to fulfill requirements. Although the latter will definitely occur in your time as a student, the professor doesn’t need to get that impression. If you show interest in a class and give it your 100 percent effort you may be surprised how much you enjoy the material and see your grades skyrocket in no time.

Christian Lewis is a sophomore at Boston College. He is a Communication and Music major spending his late nights eating steak and cheese subs and learning guitar.

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