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A student pensively staring out a window
October 14, 2022
3 mins read

Pushing ahead in the face of lower grades

Your midterm grades are out.

The way midterms are graded in university may be new to you, and you may not have received the marks you anticipated—despite the work and time you put in.

Sometimes, it can be easy to feel unmoored as a a lost vessel floating amid the tempest. These feelings of inadequacy, alienation, and internal pressure can make you question if you really do belong in this learning environment.

Remember: You do. You worked hard to get here, and many students—just like you—share these feelings, too.

During my first year, I walked into and out of my first few midterms with the expectation that I would achieve the grades that I did back in high school.

Only later—when the marks came out and I learned that I’d taken a handful of Ls—did I realize that the way learning is evaluated at university was more intense than I was used to, and that I had to avoid letting my high school transcript and my entrance average get to my head. It's university now; the level of difficulty has changed, and so should my expectations. 

Learning from your midterm experience

Some profs have told me that giving students back their first marked midterms is one of the hardest things they have to do in their roles. They have also said that many students are able to rebound from low midterm marks, do well on the final, and end up with a strong average. 

If you're feeling discouraged by your current grades, consider seeing your midterm marks as a half-way checkpoint to help you determine what to change about your learning.

Your performance on the final is more likely to improve if you make an effort to take what you've learned from your midterm experience and strive to avoid repeating habits that may not have worked out (e.g. staying up well into the night). Instead, try some different strategies, such as:

As Prof Jay Wickenden, the instructor for my second-year chem lab, puts it, “Students often take it as a personal affront that they are not smart enough to be here. It’s usually that they are not preparing properly for the exams. Alter the way you’re prepping. Make sure that you have adequate time. Seek help immediately if something doesn’t make sense. Don’t leave things to the last minute. Spread the work out over the term.”

To that end, even if it’s too late to change your past performance, carry the feedback into your next academic challenge.

What your grades actually tell you

Prof Wickenden shares that “grades are a reflection of how well you’re doing at that moment, not a comment on your intelligence.” He advises students to approach their grades as a piece of information, not so much as a point value, as your marks may fail to account for any personal circumstances you're facing.

Sometimes, you may feel like everyone else is doing much better than you are—that you're not as smart as you used to be, or as smart as you think you should be. You might even wonder if you hit your peak in high school...and never will again. But take heart: you can change this narrative. Know that many students have been in your shoes and can relate to these feelings. 

Where you now stand in academics can improve—when you put the effort in. Take it from me, your grades by the end of the term can change (a lot!) for the better.

How to push forward

Here are a few ways to push forward that I personally find helpful:

  • Aim for the best while being prepared for the worst
  • Avoid being so hard on yourself when you don't meet your previous standards, but continue to work hard and use the feedback to see what you can change
  • Reframe all feedback (beyond just grades) as learning experiences, so that you can better approach similar challenges next time
  • Talk to others—your classmates, fellow club members, even UBC Reddit commenters. They may be going through experiences similar to yours

First year doesn’t have to be a solitary journey; you have the potential to rebound from academic setbacks and to lift one another up. Stay strong as you progress in your first year—you will power through.