5 ways to get over a bad midterm

So you got a bad mark on one (or more) or your midterms? Don't despair—we've all been there and there's hope for you.

Don't worry, it's happened to the best of us.
This article was updated on October 7, 2020 to reflect the realities of life during COVID-19.

It happens to the best of us. With so many tests, assignments, and readings to do, sometimes studying for midterms takes a back seat. If you got a grade that was lower than you hoped for, try not to worry too much. A lot of classes have an exam that’s worth more than any test, so your overall grade can be salvaged. Here are five tips I use if I bomb a midterm.


Ask to see the test

First and foremost, if you don’t know what could have gone wrong, ask the instructor if they’ll let you see your test/bubble sheet (if you're lucky enough to have an in-person class). They’ll usually either release the test back to the class or let you visit their office and go over the answer key with you. Not only does this outline what questions hurt your grade, it also allows you to catch any mistakes made by the marker (which can be more common than you think). If you see your answer and feel that it was correct but marked incorrectly, don’t be afraid to speak up.


Figure out what you do/don’t understand

If the markers didn’t make any mistakes and you truly didn’t perform as well as you’d hoped, figure out why. Was it a certain type of question (multiple choice, long answer, fill in the blanks)? Was it a certain topic (citric acid cycle, derivatives, etc.)? You can ask the professor for tips on how to study for these types of questions, or make a short list of the topics you don’t totally understand in order to avoid this happening again.


Figure out a timeline from now until the exam

Now that you’re equipped with everything you don’t know, it’s time to figure out how to understand it all in time for the exam. This part is crucial for those classes that have cumulative exams or learning objectives that build on one another. If it’s a topic I’m struggling with, I normally set aside one hour a week to dedicate to it. I’ll then either read up on it or go to office hours to learn about it.

The semester isn’t slowing down and professors will continue to push ahead, assuming that everyone is comfortable with the material, so it’s up to you to teach yourself what you don’t know. An hour a week won’t overload your schedule, but it will keep you from falling behind in the first few topics.


Talk to the teacher, friends, or academic advisors

If reading about what you don’t understand doesn’t seem to help you, there are plenty of other options. Professors want you to do well, and if you put in the effort to ask them specific questions, they’ll take the time to answer them. If you’re having issues getting in touch with your profs, try to ask your classmates if they understand the content. Study group sessions are vital to doing well in university. If you’re able to teach someone else the content, you should understand it well enough to excel on tests.

On the flip side, if what you’re struggling with is a certain type of exam question, try meeting with an advisor or doing a workshop (on topics like handling multiple choice exams and dealing with exam stress) at the Bissett Student Success Centre in Halifax or the Student Success Centre in Truro. They can give you the tools to feel confident in your test-taking abilities.


Go to the Internet

Finally, if all else fails, I go online for academic support. As a former science student and current engineering undergrad, I’ve learned that websites like Khan Academy and Symbolab can help a lot with math and science questions. Khan Academy also has chapters for biology and chemistry if that’s what you’re struggling with. Other subjects are often covered on blogging platforms or YouTube. Sometimes all it takes is hearing someone else explain your area of issue in another way for you to begin to understand it.

All in all, getting a bad test grade isn’t the end of the world. The important thing is to not let it get you down. Life happens and sometimes school marks suffer, but there are always supports out there to help you get through this crazy time!