Failing Classes in College? Here’s 3 Practical Steps to Save Your Grades!

save your grades first gen students
How to Save Your Grades as a First-Gen Student

How do you save your grades after failing every test and quiz?

That was me. First quarter at UCSB and I was already failing my classes in college. I literally FAILED every chem quiz and midterm leaving me at 45%, or an F, going into the final. The average on the final was 65%. Yet somehow, I got an 83.5% on the final and a B in the class. For those who don’t believe me, here’s the actual proof:

Save Your Grades When You're failing classes in college
Failed Every Quiz
Save Your Grades When you're failing classes in college
Failed Every Midterm
Save Your Grades When you're failing classes in college
Despite starting off failing my classes in college, especially all my midterms and quizzes in chem, I made this insane comeback on my final!

Like I said, I failed LITERALLY every midterm and quiz. I even got WORSE! So what made the difference? Don’t worry, no Adderall or photographic memory is required to save your grades. If fact, you don’t need to do anything crazy. If you’re failing your classes in college, all you really need is a plan.

This step by step guide shows how I saved my grades and how you can save your grades too. 


Step 1: Find Out WHY You’re Failing Classes in College 

Do you have anxiety or feel overwhelming disappointment when looking at a bad grade? It’s okay. You’re not alone. I actually felt incredibly discouraged looking at the 2 D’s and F’s on my exams and quizzes. One for each test and quiz. But you need to know where you’re messing up if you hope to save your grades. 

“You can’t fix your mistake if you don’t know what they are!” – John Cena probably. 

For instance, my biggest issue was having poor study habits to begin with. So I outlined all the mistakes and strategies I needed to change. I made a list of all them below. 


Things I Noticed I Needed to Change: 

  1. Studying either a few days or the night before 
  2. Looking only at lecture notes and practice tests 
  3. Not doing ANY of the recommended book problems
  4. Not going to office hours 
  5. Zoning out during tutorial classes 
  6. Not having a study game plan 

So with 6 different habits that needed to change, which ones was I going to prioritize?


What Should I Change If I’m Failing my College Classes? ALL OF THE ABOVE

When you’re failing you’re classes in college, you need to make big changes in order to save your grade. The next step is crucial so stay with me here! 


Step 2: Making the adjustments

Saving your grades is all about the changes you make to your study habits. Now that you found the reason why you’re failing you’re classes in college, it’s time to find out how to make the necessary adjustments. 


Read Your Syllabus!

Make sure you have a game plan using your syllabus as a guide. This is a GAME CHANGER. 

In my experience, many students do not read over the syllabus properly. A decent amount of professors will outline EXPLICITLY how to study for their class and most importantly, which practice materials to go through. 

Students who follow these instructions usually end up doing well in the class. An easy way to set yourself up for success is to simply just do everything outlined. That being said, even going through every single practice problem isn’t usually enough. It’s important to make a conscientious effort to actually understand the material. It’s okay to go through the material slowly and ask for plenty of help.

All you need to do is put everything on that syllabus onto your Google Calendar, iCal, or whatever app or calendar system you use. 

I prefer an online calendar because I can set out reminders and color code them any way I like. 

Save your grades with a google calendar schedule
Save your grades with a google calendar schedule that keeps you on track. Especially when you’re failing your college classes.

Right now we’re working on a step by step video on how to do this. [Video Coming Soon]

Now that I have a whole scheduled outline, I can prioritize the upcoming assignments, quizzes, and exams. It also keeps me on top of my schedule and classes for the day. 

A lot of syllabus’ will have recommended book problems too. A lot of students might either do some of them or skip them entirely, which is EXACTLY what I did. I thought I could get away with just showing up to lecture, doing the practice tests, and graded homework. 

But that’s exactly why I took a FAT L on my first midterm and quiz. Lack of preparation and lack of a solid study plan lead me to fail my classes in college. 

So I joined UCSB’s free study classes (or CLAS) that they offered on campus. If you’re planning on applying to UCSB, check out this article on all the other free stuff they offer to students. 

Failing Classes in College
Check this article out for more resources UCSB offers their students for FREE


Solving my Zoning Out Problem: Switching to active learning

Those tutoring sessions helped me understand the general concepts but I kept zoning out! So I decided to enroll in their smaller group sessions that they were trying out for the first time. They only offered it to students struggling and if you saw my grades above, I was STRUGGLING

There I met my mentor Ryan Soe, who actually challenged me to explain how to solve a problem. Whenever I got stuck, he would help me figure out the problem step-by-step. So be sure to find a mentor if you can!

Nothing helps you understand concepts faster than going through a problem, with other students judging watching, and a tutor helping you along the way. 


“But what if my school doesn’t have the funding to offer those smaller personal tutoring programs?”


Trust me, my school didn’t either until the LAST FEW WEEKS of the quarter. So what did I do before that? 

Here’s My Pro Tip: Go to Drop-in Tutoring or my Professor’s Office Hours immediately after my quiz or exam was done. 


“What?!? Why?!??” – Anybody 


In my science classes, we could take the exams home because we only needed to submit the scantron. So I would take my test to my Professor’s office hours or the school tutoring drop-in services. This is because nobody. And I mean NOBODY will be spending their day going over the exam or quiz or assignments after taking a stress inducing test. 

This is also the PRIME TIME get to know your professor or other resources on campus. The tutors would send me extra problems or study guides, and the professors would start to build friendships with me. My chem professor even knows my name, to this day! 

And EVEN IF you wanted to relax after your midterm, you could still go to office hours the week following the midterm. 

Trust me, you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to squeeze yourself with 15 other students in a tiny office waiting to ask the professor a question a couple days before the exam. 


Where Trying To Save Your Grades Can Lead To (Side Story)

Literally, I went to my professors office hours so frequently, he memorized my name. To this day!

In fact, when I saw him three years later, he actually asked me what my plans were and if I had time to hang out. Really reminds you that they’re people too. Cool people at that.


Changing my study plan: You can’t memorize everything

I also realized that the reason I was okay with doing that lame study plan in the first place was because it was EASY. I tried to memorize the answers to the problems in order to take the exams. In high school you might get away with it but in college you just can’t. Why? 

Because as soon as the professor changes one SMALL detail in the problem, you’re SCREWED. I’ve seen this in both my chem classes and in my English class. They either want you to write about Daoism instead of Taoism (HINT: they’re the same thing) or solve for enthalpy instead of entropy.

They might even ask you to explain how African literature challenges the modern literary canon instead of simply summarizing the 8 books they made you read. 

The university’s mission is to make you THINK CRITICALLY and not regurgitate information. It might always be that way but ultimately that’s their goal. So get ready to think! 


Asking for help: 

I already talked about how your professor and campus tutors can help you. However, I forgot to mention that your TAs, friends, online resources, or whoever is relevant to your class can help you out too!
Having trouble figuring out what to talk about? Here I got you! Click the article below if you want to learn how to be homies with your professors: 


Talk to professors in Office Hours
Article on How to Talk to Your Professors in Office Hours


My big tip when asking for help was to go to my professor. Why

Because often times, they’ll get to know you and offer you tips or even “ideas” of what to expect on the next exam or test. In fact, this was a key instrument into how I killed the final that SAVED my grade. 

After failing and doing worse on my second midterm, I went to my professor and told him: 

I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”

I get this a lot from students I mentor. Hell, I WAS that student! I went to the school’s tutorial services, did the book problems, practice tests, and spending hours everyday study. I was failing my classes and I didn’t know what to do. 

But that’s where asking for help comes in handy!

I went to office hour asking for advice and my professor gave me the simplest but probably the most critical advice I received for the final. 


“Up to this point in the lecture, I taught you everything you need to know for the final. For the next two weeks, we’re simply explaining the same concepts but in different scenarios. Except for a few minor details, it’s almost completely the same.” 


This was RIGHT BEFORE Thanksgiving Break. The perfect time to play catch up!

(P.S. Please enjoy the time with your family. But afterwards, take some leftovers with you to the library because it’s time to grind.)

Instead of worrying about the minor details, he told me that the larger overarching concepts were going to be the focus on the final. So I knew to spend a majority of time knowing and developing a deep understanding of the concepts he was teaching us before I started getting hung up on the details. 

That’s not to say those minor details weren’t important, it’s just that they didn’t require that same level of understanding. Essentially I still reviewed everything, but this time knew exactly what required my attention and focus. I prioritize what material I needed to study. 

So go talk to your professor! And if you have anxiety talking to professors like me, remember here’s an article that can help. If you still can’t muster up the courage to talk to a professor, any mentor or upperclassmen can help too.  So with all that in order, here’s a summary of what I changed up to do better for the final. 


The Adjustments I Made:

  1. Set up my calendar to include tests, quizzes, and assignments
  2. Did all the recommended book problems, homework, practice exams, essays, or anything else outlined in the syllabus
  3. Did extra problems or prompts assigned by my campus tutorial services 
  4. Made an attempt to stop zoning out (at least putting my phone away and getting sleep to avoid daydreaming) 
  5. Asked for help 
  6. Went to office hours 
  7. Developed a Study Game Plan


I have one last tip. And it may be the most important when it comes to saving your grades.

“I FAILED every chem midterm and quiz. I’m talking 55% or WORSE on every midterm and quiz. And the average … was 65%. So I wasn’t even passing with the curve. I really didn’t know if I could save my grades.”  


Step 3: Don’t Give Up On Yourself

When you’re failing classes in college, it’s easy to lose hope. And I’m here to tell you shouldn’t. But there’s this one hard pill I need you to swallow:


Even Though Your Trying to Save Your Grades — You Might Fail

At UCSB, 20% of the class will fail out of my chem class, each quarter. Meaning they will need to retake it. (Shout out to my chem professor for being at least honest.)

People fail or have to retake classes for a lot of reasons. Failing college classes sucks but it happens. Even if you’re doing everything you possibly can to save your grades, sometimes it’s really beyond our control. Before I go into this last tip, I want you to know that it’s okay to fail. 

During my first quarter as a freshman, when I was literally failing all my classes in college, I was shocked. Perplexed. Bamboozled! I was so dumbfounded I started looking up fancy words in the dictionary to describe it! 

Before college, I was never close to failing a class. I would have anxiety over getting B’s. Being a First Gen student, I saw college as the only way I could ensure financial security for both myself and my family. 

So I went to EVERYONE and ANYONE for help. I really felt the dread of failing for the first time.

Other students in the same position started giving up on their dreams of being doctors or engineers. I even knew someone who said “screw it, I’m gonna fail the final and just retake the class” and decided to practice ballet in the hall instead of studying. 

However, the one bit of advice my RA told me really put my situation in perspective: 


You might fail. But as long as you know you did everything you could to succeed, then why even be disappointed in yourself? At least you know you really did everything you could.” 


And that’s the key idea I believe every student should know. When failing classes in college, the worst that will happen is you find another subject to study or you retake the class. 

In one case, you realize maybe the major or subject wasn’t for you. In the other, you decide it’s something you’re willing to try out again. 

If you’re a First Gen, low-income, or underrepresented student, this might be the hardest pill you have to swallow. Especially when literally your family’s social mobility and financial security rests on your shoulders. But if you learn this lesson early, it might actually be a blessing. Now you’ll know if you definitely want to pursue that specific academic path. 

Besides, income differences and job security between majors might be less important than you think. If you don’t believe me, check out this New York Times article that says otherwise. So don’t get hung up on your job security. You WILL find a job that WILL want to do. And it will provide financial security! That’s why you went to college in the first place. It might only look different than how you imaged.

However, until you get that final grade on your transcript, you don’t have to make that decision yet! There’s still time to save your grades! 

So turn up some Rocky Music and get ready to GRIND!


Choosing to do Everything You Can Humanly Do: 

After failing every midterm and quiz, doing enormously worse on each one despite all the adjustments I made, I didn’t quit. 

I kept telling myself that “I still have the final.” I mean I did still have 40% of my grade on the line. The exam was on a curve and, at UCSB, they replace my lowest exam score with my final grade. 

Effectively, I had 60% of my grade on the line! Talk about pressure. 

I definitely used a TON of test taking strategies to avoid letting my anxiety and stress get the better of me. Including: 

  1. Getting a good night’s sleep (SUPER UNDERRATED) 
  2. Writing out all my anxieties on a piece of paper and crumbling it (I don’t know why this worked for me. There’s just something satisfying about crumpling paper)
  3. Breathing exercises (Breathing in and out slowly and deeply at my seat for 30 seconds immediately before the test) 
  4. And finally, having water to drink and gum to chew works for some people too

These are just a few I techniques I used. Feel free to mix and match or find other techniques that work for you! They don’t need to be perfect. Despite all the pressure and all the stress, the outcome was worthwhile. 

The anxiety of checking my grades was insane! 

The email said the average on the final was a 65%. That was actually 10% higher than my test averages in the class. When I checked my final grade I was SHOCKED!


I turned my F average into Solid B. And instead of failing my classes in college, I SAVED my grades. 

Shows grades on UCSB GOLD after starting off failing my classes in college.
This is from my UCSB GOLD page. I went from Failing College Classes to only A’s and B’s . This is how you save your grades!

I know I focused on my chem class but these tips could save anyone’s grades. Whether it’s a math class or writing class, these tips definitely will help you save your grades.

These strategies saved my grades, I hope they help save your grades too. If you have any questions or tips, email me at:

I’ll do the best I can to answer any of your questions.




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