Dealing With Bad Grades at University

Nothing confirms just how horrendously average you are quite like attending a Russell group university. Growing up as one of the higher achievers in my year group, I had always felt like a big fish in a small pond. However, since coming to university, this pond has rapidly expanded to a vast ocean, in which I am a tiny sardine. I must admit I was rather naive to think that I could start university with top grades from the get go, but this doesn’t mean that working hard for unsatisfying grades stings any less.

I am generally an extremely positive person and I rarely let disheartening situations set me back. However, since being a young child, I have undoubtedly been my own toughest critic- particularly when it comes to academics. Coming to university made me realise the true difficulty of higher education study and that, despite taking English Literature, I am apparently unable to write a good academic essay. I have so many amazing and intelligent friends that are smashing university so far, and I am always so proud to see this. Yet unfortunately, this can sometimes make it difficult to avoid that all-encompassing comparison trap.

Whether your grades are genuinely considered as bad, or they just don’t live up to your personal expectations, it can be extremely frustrating when you work hard for something and don’t achieve the desired outcome. As I feel like I have experienced this frequently at university, I wanted to share some tips for staying optimistic and working towards improving in the future.

Don’t dwell on it

I am shamelessly hypocritical when it comes to this first tip. I have always been a perfectionist with a particularly annoying tendency for dwelling on my mistakes. So my advice is, don’t be like me. It’s important to understand that a bad grade is not the end of the world and that we often look back in hindsight and wonder what all the fuss was about. Of course, you should give yourself time to come to terms with it and feel disappointed, but once you have done that, its time to move on.

Stay positive

This is something that I can say I am pretty good at. After spending a large proportion of first year feeling down on myself about my studies, I decided that it was time to switch my mindset. Since then I have generally focused on the more positive things that are going on in my life when faced with frustrating situations. Receiving a dissatisfying grade for an essay can leave you feeling extremely disheartened at the prospect of writing the next one. However, instead of letting stress take over, try to engage a proactive mentality and focus on your next step towards a solution.

Ask for feedback 

If I had a pound for every time I asked myself ‘where did I go wrong?’, well I’d probably only have about £20, but that’s still a lot of times to ask myself the same question. Ironically, it is often the essays that you feel most proud of that seem to receive the lower grades (in my experience anyway), so this often leaves you feeling confused. In this case getting feedback from the person who marked your essay is essential. If you are stuck in a rut, or on the cusp of where you’d like to be, then finding out precisely what you could do to improve could be the thing that takes you up to that next level. Arranging one to one meetings with a tutor is a particularly good way of doing this, as it’s important to get detailed feedback- we are paying over nine grand to be here after all.

Seek guidance

So you’ve received your feedback on the last piece of work you did, now it’s time to work towards the next one. As I mentioned before this can feel daunting at first, so it’s important to realise that even though university focuses on ‘independent study’, you are not alone. Most tutors will be happy to work through an essay plan with you and give advice. Additionally, universities often provide academic writing services to help you perfect your writing style- for instance the University of Birmingham has AWAS tutors who I have contacted multiple times. They also often hold workshops that focus on improving various academic skills, so if you’re feeling in the dark then these services can really help.

Stop comparing yourself to others

I will certainly admit that this one can be difficult. Both social, and academic pressure are rarely higher than when you reach university and the temptation to compare yourself when surrounded by such high achievers can be irresistible. But often where you find fault, others find admirable qualities. Focusing too heavily on what those around you are achieving is both draining and unhelpful, preventing you from asserting a positive mindset. Perhaps you could ask for advice from those around you that are excelling in a particular module, then try and adapt your own writing style. Otherwise, if not for constructive use, comparison is merely an accessory to self-doubt.

So those are five pieces of advice that I regularly try to give myself when I receive disappointing grades. It may take a while to finally grasp how to do something well, but (at the risk of sounding like that inspirational poster in your high school classroom) perseverance is key. University can be frustrating as a whole, but I’m sure that the majority of students couldn’t think of anywhere else that they would rather be. Onwards and upwards!