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Bouncing Back After a Bad Grade

Whether he or she expected it or was blindsided, a low grade can shake even the most confident students. The teacher plops the graded essay on the desk with a thud or in the modern era, your student receives a google classroom notification that the test grades are posted. After a few heart-racing moments of anticipation, your student flips the paper over or clicks the “grade detail button”… and it stings. Failure has more bite than most events. 

So, how do we keep one failure from becoming a series of failures? How do we help students bounce back after a low grade?

There are three main ingredients to “failing forward”, a term coined to describe the process of making the most of our failures to create a launching point for future success. Here are the tactics:

    1.) Don’t Compare Your Bloopers to Someone Else’s Highlight Reel

Especially in the age of social media, comparison is the first thing to avoid. Help students gain perspective early in the “failing forward” process. Be vulnerable. Admit (I know it’s difficult) that you didn’t ace every test in school, no one does. Students need to learn that failure is a necessary ingredient for success. As the great inventor, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” There is something to learn in failure, making it incredibly useful. Beginning with a realistic look at failure helps students develop a growth mindset and paves the way for a legendary comeback. 

    2.) Focus on Growth, Don’t Wallow in Self-Pity

As we’ve discussed, a low grade is not the end, it’s the beginning. The most crucial steps in bouncing back from failure are reflection and action. Encourage students to reflect on what caused the result. In other words, what inputs caused this output. Help your student reflect with these questions:

  • Did I give myself enough time to comprehend the material?
  • Did I put myself in a test situation before test day? In other words, did I confirm my understanding before it was tested?
  • What material was crucial to this test that I didn’t grasp? 
  • What caused the majority of my mistakes on this exam?
  • Did I take advantage of every resource afforded to me?

Next, move toward action. Help your student establish an action plan for next time to correct these mistakes. Focus on avoiding procrastination, utilizing active recall, and taking effective notes. 

    3.) Make up the Margin

One often overlooked step after a bad grade is creative thinking to make up the deficit. As we frequently remind students, TEACHERS WANT TO HELP YOU. Most teachers provide ample opportunities for students to recover. Encourage your student to review the syllabus, explore the website, or ask for opportunities to make up the deficit of the low grade. Grit is crucial. The smallest action is more effective than the greatest intention. 

For more advice on helping your student succeed, check out the rest of our resources! Oftentimes, the best students are not the most intelligent but the most diligent. Use the tips above to help your child develop a growth mindset and reach come back stronger than ever. 



Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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