Help! I Failed a Class. / Exam / Assignment / Etc. How Bad is Failing a Class as a Pre-Med?

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Deep Breaths. Don't Panic.

You’re probably feeling a little panicky right now. If you aren’t panicking skip to the next paragraph. 

Being upset that you screwed up means you’re taking this seriously. I’d honestly be more concerned if you weren’t upset. That being said, if you let your flight or flight response take over you won’t be doing yourself any favors. People don’t learn well when they have adrenaline and cortisol flooding their system. You need to be able to calmly assess what you need to do next. 

So first things first. Let’s problem solve.

  1. Take a deep breath. Make sure your thoughts aren’t racing.
  2. Don’t make any excuses.
  3. Don’t take any rash actions.
  4. Identify what the problem is.
  5. Identify what went wrong.
  6. Identify how to fix it.
  7. PROVE IT. (Take some practice exams / tests)
  8. Be Honest.

Now to break down each step and why it’s important.

Take a Deep Breath

While research shows that some stress before an exam can be helpful, the equation changes if you go into a new quiz / test / class and are distracted by the thought “I need to pass or else I’m ruined.” Remember stress is complex. It has behavioral and emotional aspects to it. If you teach yourself to feel stressed every time you do practice problems, take an exam, review your material… you won’t be approaching exams with a clear mind. 

Stress is for situations like this. Not Bio Exams.

Don't Make Any Excuses

Bad, unpredictable, stuff happens all the time. If something truly terrible happened which caused you to fail your class or exam. That’s a reasonable excuse. If this is the case, then you need to talk with your teacher, your academic advisor, and make plans to retake and correct that grade. Then you need to be comfortable talking about that experience on the interview trail. 

 

With that being said, most exam or class failures are not rooted in personal tragedy. They are due to feeling overwhelmed, not preparing yourself properly, underestimating the material, and / or not starting your studying soon enough.

It’s your responsibility to prepare for your exams and classes. You’ll have bad teachers, hard material, dueling priorities… at the end of the day if YOU are what’s standing between you and your path to medical school, you gotta fix that. 

Don't Make Any Rash Actions

It’s important to act with a clear mind and act in a way that won’t cause problems for you later! I once was accused of plagiarizing an essay in a Intro to Law class in undergrad. Of course the teacher failed me and indicated that she would be alerting the school. Of course I didn’t planarize the essay – something like that on your academic record could keep you out of medical school. I could have wrote the teacher a nasty email. However, I instead ran my essay through a plagiarism checker and determined that the teacher had misidentified two (cited) quotes as plagiarism. After pointing out that the quotes were what flagged the plagiarism and that the rest of my essay was original, the teacher apologized and everything worked out fine. 

Do not send an angry email to your professor. If you truly believe that the problem isn’t your fault, look up complaint procedures in your academic handbook or syllabus and act calmly. However, keep in mind that you will have to learn how to deal with rash professors, bad professors, and unfair situations. In medical school you will not be able to “switch classes” or “change attendings” or “find a less difficult patient”. You need to learn how to approach problems calmly. 

 

Identify the Problem

Common reasons for academic difficulties include…

  1. Failure to Study Properly.
  2. Underestimating the Material.
  3. Not Doing Practice Problems.
  4. Not Getting Tutoring.
  5. Not Fully Understanding What Would be on the Exam.
  6. Not Studying for the Exam!
  7. Procrastination.
  8. Distractions.
  9. Health Problems. 
  10. Personal (Home / Relationship)

    Is it one of these or something else? You need to fully identify the problem if you are going to make changes to 

Identify What Went Wrong

Knowing the problem is only about 1/3 of the way to fixing it. Figure out what went wrong. Let’s break down the same list from above. 

  1. Failure to Study Properly.
    1. Did you not create study time?
  2. Underestimating the Material.
    1. Did you feel the exam would be easier then you thought?
  3. Not Doing Practice Problems.
    1. Did you think you fully understood the material?
  4. Not Getting Tutoring.
    1. Did you feel like you could handle everything yourself?
  5. Not Fully Understanding What Would be on the Exam.
    1. Did you think the exam would be multiple choice when it turned out to be an essay? Focus on studying the wrong material?
  6. Not Studying for the Exam!
    1. Again, did you feel the exam would be easy? Did you have other exams you studied for instead?
  7. Procrastination.
    1. Studying isn’t fun. Are you putting it off?
  8. Distractions.
    1. New video game? Sports Season? Bitcoin Markets?
  9. Health Problems.
    1. Is a recent health issue impairing your ability to perform in a class?
  10. Personal (Home / Relationship)
    1. Is there strife at home? Things that make it much harder to study or focus?

Identify How to Fix It

Now you’re 2/3’s of the way to fixing your problem. Let’s keep building on the 10 examples from before.

    1. Failure to Study Properly.
      1. Did you not create study time?
      2. Solution: Set aside 55 minutes of studying daily. Be strict with your time!
    2. Underestimating the Material.
      1. Did you feel the exam would be easier then you thought?
      2. Solution: Don’t make this mistake again. Go to the teacher, to go tutors, go to friends who took the class, go to your text book and find the hardest practice problems. 
    3. Not Doing Practice Problems.
      1. Did you think you fully understood the material?
      2. Solution: Start doing practice problems! Your teacher has basically told you how to succeed in your class. Do problems over and over again until you can do them in your sleep.
    4. Not Getting Tutoring.
      1. Did you feel like you could handle everything yourself?
      2. Solution: Get tutoring. Tutors are your MVPs. Find one that took the class you’re in and they will guide you to that A. 
    5. Not Fully Understanding What Would be on the Exam.
      1. Did you think the exam would be multiple choice when it turned out to be an essay? Focus on studying the wrong material?
      2. Solution: Ask the teacher, ask the tutor, ask the TA… just ask someone how to study for the exam. 
    6. Not Studying for the Exam!
      1. Again, did you feel the exam would be easy? Did you have other exams you studied for instead?
      2. Solution: See #1
    7. Procrastination.
      1. Studying isn’t fun. Are you putting it off?
      2. Solution: Find a way to hold yourself accountable.
    8. Distractions.
      1. New video game? Sports Season? Bitcoin Markets?
      2. Solution: Distance yourself from the distraction. Remind yourself of the stakes. Then See #1.
    9. Health Problems.
      1. Is a recent health issue impairing your ability to perform in a class?
      2. Solution: Reach out to your academic support services. They’ll help. Show you’re responsible enough to ask for help when you need help.
    10. Personal (Home / Relationship)
      1. Is there strife at home? Things that make it much harder to study or focus?
      2. Solution: Find ways to create dedicated time for your studies. Keep in mind the goal at the end of the struggle. 

Prove It

All the plans in the world don’t mean anything unless you walk the walk. Whatever solution you plan, you need to prove it.

Be Honest

Fixing problems you have depends completely on you being honest with your advisors, tutors, teachers, and especially yourself. If your efforts aren’t working you need to honestly figure out why. 

How Bad is Failing an Assignment?

Depends on how much of your grade that assignment is worth. If the assignment is worth a major part of your grade… then you’re going to need to work extra hard to make it up on the upcoming exams and assignments. Remember, getting a 50 on an assignment worth 10% of your grade means the highest grade you can get in the class now is a 95. That’s a bad place to be in – needing to get close to 100’s on everything in order to get an A. 

Check out our GPA vs sGPA article to learn how to calculate your grades. 

How Bad is Failing an Exam?

Usually, significantly worse then failing an assignment. However, oddly, sometimes it’s easier to make up a failed exam. See if the teacher throws out the lowest exam during the semester. If not, see if there are any opportunities for extra credit to be applied to the lowest exam. If not, and you really failed the exam badly… you may even want to consider withdrawing from the course and coming back better prepared. However, doing that is a little red flag and can really delay you.

How Bad is Failing a Course?

You want to avoid this at all costs. Especially if it’s a pre-med science course. If you think you’re going to fail a class, it’s better to withdraw. It’s a major red flag, but it’s not unsurmountable. You’re going to have to prove you can come back from a failure AND you’re going to have to be able to to articulate why you failed, what you learned, and what you started doing differently. 

How Bad is Plagiarizing an Essay?

Academic dishonesty. Cheating, plagiarizing, etc., are the fastest way to get you disqualified from medical school. 

If you did copy, you’ve created a major problem for yourself. First, be honest about it. Second, grow from it. Third, never do it again. Finally, be honest again with admissions committees and be able to talk about why you did it and how you’ve grown from it. 

The Path to Medical School Can Feel Long And Unclear

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