Putting agency in our hands: how to bounce back from midterm grades post-spring break

By Erica Quinones

News Editor

After weeks of preparation and studying, receiving a midterm grade lower than you expected can be devastating. But disappointment is not a signal that you are not smart enough to succeed, according to Director of the Office of Academic Skills Hilary Bateman, but rather a chance to reevaluate your learning strategies and move forward.

According to Bateman, there are many resources on campus to help students recover from such academic disappointments.

Acknowledge how you’re feeling.

Impediments to academic success can come from several factors. While the hinderance can originate from the learning strategies with which they engage, other factors can be social or mental stressors. 

Director of Counseling Services Miranda Altman said that talking to counselors can help students identify their barriers to academic improvement and plan to move forward. 

“Allowing one grade to define you as a student negates all of the other work you’ve done,” Altman said.

While it is tempting to fixate on negative aspects of ourselves, learning to recognize the positives is key to learning resilience in order to rebound from a disappointing grade, according to Altman.

Students might practice resilience by creating a values inventory, which is a list of positive attributes that students haveinternalized, according to Altman. This inventory can both remind students of the strengths they relied on previously to rebound and the positive attributes that stay consistent even when the world feels like it’s spiraling out of control.

While taking stock of what is consistently good is important, Altman said she also talks to students about the “Exception Rule,” asking them to “consider whether the situation is absolute and unchangeable.”

Frustration might come from feelings that students cannot change their situation, but working on flexibility can make students grow positively, according to Altman.

Reassess how you’re working.

While recognizing that how you feel about the past is valid, according to Bateman, “at the end of it…all you can do now is move forward.” 

This need is especially true regarding academics, because, as Bateman said, “every semester is different.”

As the courses that students take change, so too must their learning strategies. Just because a strategy worked in the past does not mean it will continue to do so.

Thus, while students may think they can succeed by simply trying harder, Director of the Writing Center Dr. John Boyd said that it is important to observe how you engage with coursework and make changes accordingly.

“Don’t think you can do more of what you were doing and do better, think of tangible changes and hold yourself to it,” Dr. Boyd said.

Students should assess their efforts and priorities thus far into the semester, deciding where their attentions are best spent for the remainder, according to Bateman.

Once students find areas of their learning strategies to change or improve, they should identify the academic resources that will support them and plan to implement those changes.

Part of that change may be increasing the time they spend with coursework outside of class.

According to Bateman, students should aim to spend two to three hours outside of class working with course materials, although those hours should not be crammed into one session.,

Bateman described learning “as like pouring water on a sponge”: if you pour a gallon of water on the sponge, it won’t soak up everything. But if you pour it on slowly, then the water will eventually soak in.

Learning how to soak in information may include students engaging with higher thinking by utilizing what they are studying in tangible ways.

Memorization is only the base of learning, according to Bateman. Once students remember the concept, they can work towards understanding it so they can apply their learned theories, slowly growing towards the final step of synthesis — when students combine learned material to make new discoveries. 

But to reach that final point, students must know how they personally learn.

There are many different models of learning, but the one which most people likely know is VARK — visual, auditory, reading and writing, and kinesthetic. 

Identifying if you learn best while listening to lectures, working with diagrams, or having physical models to play with can reveal new strategies to get your performance where you want it to be.

Use the resources campus offers.

There are plenty of resources at Washington College which can help students find their learning style and new strategies to succeed, according to Bateman.

There are three resource offices: the Writing Center, which works with students on papers and presentations; the Quantitative Skill Center for math, computer science, and “anything with numbers”; and the Office of Academic Skills, which tutors in the sciences, languages, social sciences, and offers general education strategies courses, according to Bateman.

Students can also access resources like success seminars and crash course videos through the Office of Academic Skills, the former of which are announced via email on Mondays and the latter of which can be found on YouTube.

For synchronous tutoring, resources like the Writing Center offer personalized, instantaneous feedback which is “one of the most valuable things as a learner,” according to Dr. Boyd. 

Beyond the direct feedback, the Writing Center is also a peer-oriented space which gives students the power to seek support on their own terms, according to Dr. Boyd.

Dr. Boyd said the Writing Center exists “at the intersection of time and need,” inviting students to both choose their own time for tutoring and with whom they work, putting “the agency in their hands.” 

It is also a space in which students are tutored by fellow students who have likely experienced similar struggles as their tutoree, creating a judgement-free space.

“There are a ton of other resources for students. And the reason we have them is because we expect students to use them. And we want to be part of student success. So, I never want a student to feel like they’re asking for help,” Bateman said.

Talk to your professors.

One of the hardest steps a student can take is approaching their professors. Faculty can be intimidating to students, but both Dr. Boyd and Bateman said students should remember that professors are human and want to engage with students. 

“You don’t work at WC because you have a PhD; you work at WC because you want to teach students and you want to work with students, and you want to help your students grow,” Bateman said. “So, yes, they are brilliant individuals who do cool research and have such an amazing worldview but take advantage of that because they want you to. Faculty love that.” 

For students who need assistance engaging with their professors, Bateman suggests they consider a question they can ask the professor to help ease them into conversation. Even if the question is one the student already understands, their responses can show that they are engaged with the coursework.

Bateman also suggests that students talk to their professors about strategies in the course. Discussing both your current learning strategies and asking about strategies which worked in the past can be beneficial for improving your approach to their course.

“We’re going to be really thrilled to hear from our students and we want to help them,” Dr. Boyd said.

While it can feel like a catastrophe, disappointing midterm performances are not only manageable hurdles, but learning opportunities for students as they approach future challenges.

Featured Photo caption: For students looking for ways to improve after midterm grades, here are a few tips as to help get back on track by the end of the semester. Photo by Mark Cooley.

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