I Failed My Midterm / Exam / Project / Paper. Now What?


I failed my midterm.
I failed my exam.
I failed my project.
I failed my paper.

I failed!!! What do I do now?

Whether you failed or got a much lower grade that you expected, the shock that comes with it can stop you in your tracks. You might be thinking, “How can I possibly recover from this?;” “Maybe I should just drop the class;” or “Maybe I should just drop out.”

Don’t worry, you’re nowhere near the end of the road, and you’re certainly not the first person to ever fail an exam or project.


Follow these five steps to recover and get back in the game:


Step 1: Chill

You might be in shock. Maybe you’re freaking out. Maybe you just ate a pint of ice cream.

Stop what you’re doing, clear your mind, and get focused by following one of these 5 ways to get back on track. My favorite recovery tactic is to run through 10 minutes of a workout video on YouTube (I like FitnessBlender and Tone It Up), then run through the mental exercise tapping into the WHY behind your long-term goals.


Step 2: Analyze what went wrong

Now that you have a clear head, take a look at your returned midterm, exam, project, or paper. Read the instructions, then read your response and any comments from your professor or teaching assistant. Does your response match the instructions? Did you do poorly on a particular aspect or section or the entire thing?

Next, think about your overall study strategies and how you prepared for this particular midterm, exam, project, or paper. Did you study enough? If it’s a midterm, did you follow the advice in Prepare for Midterms in 7 Steps and What to Do in the 24 Hours Around Your Midterm or Exam?

Maybe you felt like you did everything right by going to class, taking notes, and completing assignments. Or, maybe you had other stuff going on that influenced your performance on this assignment.


Step 3: Talk with your professor and/or graduate student instructor

Ask for their feedback, share what you learned in Step 2, and tell them how important this class is to you and why. Ask, “What can I do now to do better next time?” You should also ask about how this grade will influence your overall grade in the class, and what grades you’ll need to get on future assignments in order to pass.

It’s worth asking if you can redo the assignment or complete another assignment for extra credit. Not all professors will agree to this, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.


Step 4: Make a turnaround plan

Now that you have the information you need, bring it home by putting together a turnaround plan. Set a goal for how well you want to do on your next midterm, exam, project, or paper. What strategies can you put in place to achieve that goal?

Maybe you’ll:


Step 5: Take action

Choose one thing from your turnaround plan and do it right now! Then, choose something else from your turnaround plan and act on it tomorrow. If you continue the cycle, you’ll find yourself one step closer to your goal with each passing day.


Kori Crockett
CEO, Propeller Collective

Have other tips?
Share with the community in the comments below!