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The Most Common Causes of Bad Grades

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Radon XP

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I think a thread on the most common causes of bad grades and effective countermeasures would be helpful to many people in both a corrective and preventative capacity.

Feel free to chime in (especially upperclassmen and those with more experience). I'll throw in my 2 cents based on what I've noticed. I'm not including things like "working while studying" or "taking too hard of a courseload", because ultimately , poor performance while doing any of these things is explained by one or all of the following reasons.

My advice is surely insufficient, and I look forward to reading the tips of others!


1) You don't understand the material
Results: Poor performance on due assignments and exams

The best way to mitigate this is to study and study effectively. Read the textbook, go to class, go over your lecture notes, and do practice problems, supplemented by visits to the tutoring center (usually free at university) and office hours.

What do you do if you just can't understand something/a class is too hard?

2) You don't keep up with assignments
Results: Zeros start filling in the blanks where your grades are supposed to go.

Nothing is worse than the kid who groans "I'm smart but I'm just lazy". A few can slide by on their smarts with very little study, but most of us need practice. Additionally, if you have assignments due for a grade, you need to do them. I've seen smart friends tank their grades because they put off assignments until the last second (sometimes literally, when it's due at midnight), or because they half-ass/never turn in assignments.

Keep a planner and be mindful of what's coming up (hopefully your professors keep detailed and helpful syllabuses).

* Spell check did not correct syllabuses, so I'm going with it.

3) The one-time tragedy
Results: A critical grade (i.e. something worth a large chunk of your semester grade) is now carrying you down

A favorite expression of mine is: you can be in first place in a 100-yard dash all the way until the 90th yard, but if you don't keep going, you're still a loser. I'm sure it was worded better when I first heard it. Nevertheless, one-time tragedies can be deadly; something happens and you end up missing an assignment, missing an exam, forgetting to study...all sorts of things.

The causes are many: family emergencies, unforeseen dilemmas, what have you. At this point, you really have to prioritize your grades: nothing (no ECs and no job) should come before your grades. For those that have to work or have obligations outside of school, this is where back-up plans come in handy. Additionally, unless your professor is an ass, you can usually work something out.

4)The Bad Professor/ Demonic Curve
Results: Getting a bad grade despite the fact that you understand the material/do your work/do well in absolute terms

This is the most horrifying of all the causes, IMO. There's very little you can do if you are stuck with a bad professor (as far as grading is concerned). My suggestion? Use ratemyprofessor or myedu and pick the best option. Sometimes, there is no good professor available; in that case, you can either put off the class, or just take it and buckle down.

These things can all assault you at once (i.e. being in a class with a bad professor, not understanding the material, falling behind on assignments, and facing a tragedy). I hope we can keep up!
 
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deleted550985

A few can slide by on their smarts with very little study

I've seen this alone kill many pre-med dreams. A good number of my friends are very smart, and breezed through high school without any difficulty. This was especially true for those who went to unleveled public high schools without many APs.

The result of this is a rude awakening in college, as skipping every third class and still acing the tests without studying won't fly any more. The solution is to recognize that college is a different ball game, and to either proactively learn study skills in high school or develop them very quickly in college.
 

kmp0410

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Trying to cram.

If you simply stay on top of the material, devote a little time each day, practice of necessary then most classes are not bad. I was a bad crammer in undergrad and it hurt me when classes got harder.
 

Pattycake25

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Wanted to emphasize the role of PRACTICE in a lot of courses, such as orgo and virtually any math. Even if you feel like you understand the material, do practice problems and prove it. If you DON'T understand the material, don't expect to master it in an all-nighter right before the test - put in the time well in advance, so you know if you need to ask someone for help!

6) Personal issues

If there's something major going on in your life that has nothing to do with schoolwork, it can be a major distraction that subsequently leads to points #1 and #2. The best remedy is to be introspective, identify conflicts as they arise, and either strive to resolve them quickly and/or consult with professors to see if any accommodations would be appropriate. Do this BEFORE, not after, you bomb tests.
 

jaybird117

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Advice for 1: cut your losses. Work out what mark you need on the course final to get an acceptable mark (somewhere in the B range for me), figure out how much you need to study for that, and forget about the stupid thing. Sure, you can devote hours of your week to understanding the material and maybe get an A-, but that's time you could have put into getting your other four courses up from A- to an A. When the work isn't worth the return, stop working.
 

SunsFun

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Test anxiety. Bad at taking tests.
 

SN12357

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Failure to understand and adapt to the professor's style

This one is more for paper-writing courses than test-based courses, but it does apply to either. So many people fail to pay attention to their professor's opinions and instructions. There will always be clues to how they grade and what kind of work they prefer.

Failure to get feedback

If you're a bad or mediocre writer? Guess what--there are writing centers at just about every university. Go use them. Set aside your ego and go get feedback and your work will pretty much always improve. This goes just as much for science papers as it does for english or history.
 

sh0rtstop34

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Advice for 1: cut your losses. Work out what mark you need on the course final to get an acceptable mark (somewhere in the B range for me), figure out how much you need to study for that, and forget about the stupid thing. Sure, you can devote hours of your week to understanding the material and maybe get an A-, but that's time you could have put into getting your other four courses up from A- to an A. When the work isn't worth the return, stop working.

diminishing returns...only thing i learned from econ 101 lol
 
D

deleted550985

Advice for 1: cut your losses. Work out what mark you need on the course final to get an acceptable mark (somewhere in the B range for me), figure out how much you need to study for that, and forget about the stupid thing. Sure, you can devote hours of your week to understanding the material and maybe get an A-, but that's time you could have put into getting your other four courses up from A- to an A. When the work isn't worth the return, stop working.

I swear by this, and made a spreadsheet to calculate the grade for each of my classes and how each assignment affected it. I'm sure there are others out ther, but I've attached mine for anyone who might find it useful.
 

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  • GPA Calc.xlsx
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Plue00

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I think a thread on the most common causes of bad grades and effective countermeasures would be helpful to many people in both a corrective and preventative capacity.

Feel free to chime in (especially upperclassmen and those with more experience). I'll throw in my 2 cents based on what I've noticed. I'm not including things like "working while studying" or "taking too hard of a courseload", because ultimately , poor performance while doing any of these things is explained by one or all of the following reasons.

My advice is surely insufficient, and I look forward to reading the tips of others!


1) You don't understand the material
Results: Poor performance on due assignments and exams

The best way to mitigate this is to study and study effectively. Read the textbook, go to class, go over your lecture notes, and do practice problems, supplemented by visits to the tutoring center (usually free at university) and office hours.

What do you do if you just can't understand something/a class is too hard?

2) You don't keep up with assignments
Results: Zeros start filling in the blanks where your grades are supposed to go.

Nothing is worse than the kid who groans "I'm smart but I'm just lazy". A few can slide by on their smarts with very little study, but most of us need practice. Additionally, if you have assignments due for a grade, you need to do them. I've seen smart friends tank their grades because they put off assignments until the last second (sometimes literally, when it's due at midnight), or because they half-ass/never turn in assignments.

Keep a planner and be mindful of what's coming up (hopefully your professors keep detailed and helpful syllabuses).

* Spell check did not correct syllabuses, so I'm going with it.

3) The one-time tragedy
Results: A critical grade (i.e. something worth a large chunk of your semester grade) is now carrying you down

A favorite expression of mine is: you can be in first place in a 100-yard dash all the way until the 90th yard, but if you don't keep going, you're still a loser. I'm sure it was worded better when I first heard it. Nevertheless, one-time tragedies can be deadly; something happens and you end up missing an assignment, missing an exam, forgetting to study...all sorts of things.

The causes are many: family emergencies, unforeseen dilemmas, what have you. At this point, you really have to prioritize your grades: nothing (no ECs and no job) should come before your grades. For those that have to work or have obligations outside of school, this is where back-up plans come in handy. Additionally, unless your professor is an ass, you can usually work something out.

4)The Bad Professor/ Demonic Curve
Results: Getting a bad grade despite the fact that you understand the material/do your work/do well in absolute terms

This is the most horrifying of all the causes, IMO. There's very little you can do if you are stuck with a bad professor (as far as grading is concerned). My suggestion? Use ratemyprofessor or myedu and pick the best option. Sometimes, there is no good professor available; in that case, you can either put off the class, or just take it and buckle down.

These things can all assault you at once (i.e. being in a class with a bad professor, not understanding the material, falling behind on assignments, and facing a tragedy). I hope we can keep up!

The ones for me are just 3 and 4.

Especially 4... even worse when all your peers are smart and not the average college kid.
 
4

487806

Trying to cram.

If you simply stay on top of the material, devote a little time each day, practice of necessary then most classes are not bad. I was a bad crammer in undergrad and it hurt me when classes got harder.

Actually, cramming is very useful in the short run if it's done correctly, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they're smart.
 

rolliespring

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Actually, cramming is very useful in the short run if it's done correctly, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they're smart.

Agreed. If you know you can study for an exam just the night before, you can save alotta time for other classes/ECs. But in this case you really need to understand your strengths and weaknesses.

For me I treated every class seriously until after the first exam. If I feel there are some classes I am capable of cramming, I will do so. Otherwise just treat every class dead serious until you get that A in your grade book.
 
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Gauss44

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Not keeping documentation of dropping a class!


If you drop a class, make sure it is dropped or keep evidence! I had a class that I dropped in person at the Registrar. It wasn't until the semester was over that I found out they never dropped it! Good thing I was able to prove it and get that off my record.
 

bigdogrob4284

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Taking on an overwhelming class schedule.

I think this is a major cause of getting bad grades. Especially because people see others on here talking about taking 20 credits plus research, volunteering, and TA'ing.
 

PennDippody

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easy...procrastination. Never mind difficulty or course load. Time management and commitment to study is key.
 

NontradCA

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Little to no effort? All college takes is effort, granted you don't have some sort of learning disability, in which case you shouldn't be worrying about being a physician.
 

Audiojb

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Time management/Social Agenda.

Trying to still be able to go out all the time with roommates and friends vs studying has killed me a few times.
 

Arkangeloid

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In my experience, many undergrad would-be doctors spend too much time exploring the alcoholic and cannabinoid arts, and not enough time actually doing work.
 

Koalafied

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How about just pure laziness for some people?.
I've seen worse. Sophomore year, this one dude was hauled to the final via his four limbs by his frat bros. Haven't seen the guy since. True story.
 

plumhill

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Mental health issues can really bring your GPA down. If you notice yourself having no motivation to go to class, to do your homework or to study for the exams, get your a** to your college's counseling office. I think a lot of us (especially pre-meds) think that we're the only one feeling down in the dumps at certain times of the semester and don't want to go to counseling. But its not worth having a string of C's and D's on your transcript.
 

loltopsy

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Poor study skills:

Reading the book when the exam tests only from lectures. Being a visual learner yet studying by listening to audio transcripts of lectures. Not doing practice problems that the exam draws from heavily. "Studying" by casually reading while spending 80% of that time on Facebook.

Poor study skills + 12 hours a day of studying can still mean getting C's.
 

physguy

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Failure to understand and adapt to the professor's style

This one is more for paper-writing courses than test-based courses, but it does apply to either. So many people fail to pay attention to their professor's opinions and instructions. There will always be clues to how they grade and what kind of work they prefer.
.

I like this one; my ochem classes were almost all memorization (same prof). I refused to memorize for ochem I b/c I thought it was stupid, so I did well on the concepts but bombed the synthesis problems and got a C+. ochem II I bit my tounge and straight memorized from flash cards and pulled an A.
 

Mel Belle

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Actually, cramming is very useful in the short run if it's done correctly, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone unless they're smart.

I understand what you mean, but I personally don't think it's worth it, at least not for any classes that will be relevant to the MCAT. Why make extra work for yourself later on? Obviously you're gonna have to study for the MCAT regardless, but at least once you get there it might be a bit easier for you since you didn't cram and legitimately learned and retained the material.

Maybe for a history class or some other elective. But even then... You still have a cumulative final exam eventually, I would assume. So. Life is just easier if you plan it out. I know it doesn't always work, trust me, but it is something that you should probably make a habit.

Poor study skills:

Reading the book when the exam tests only from lectures. Being a visual learner yet studying by listening to audio transcripts of lectures. Not doing practice problems that the exam draws from heavily. "Studying" by casually reading while spending 80% of that time on Facebook.

Poor study skills + 12 hours a day of studying can still mean getting C's.

"Study skills." I personally just cannot comprehend how people think anything involving Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. can be constituted as "studying". Smh. :smack:

I like this one; my ochem classes were almost all memorization (same prof). I refused to memorize for ochem I b/c I thought it was stupid, so I did well on the concepts but bombed the synthesis problems and got a C+. ochem II I bit my tounge and straight memorized from flash cards and pulled an A.

I understand what you're saying. But I'm not sure I would recommend memorizing for orgo, even if it did end up working for you. Memorizing instead of understanding is what lands most people a C in that class. At least that's the majority of the stories I've heard. Whatever works, though.
 
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