It’s that time of the year again. Midterm exams and midterm papers have been graded and returned.
What do you do if your result is not stellar? And by not stellar I mean poor. In some cases really poor. Like you are seriously questioning if you are going to make it through the course with a passing grade poor.
Every year I speak to several students who share this same question. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. And dropping a course can actually be a positive decision.
All institutions have an official “drop date” (check your institution’s academic calendar for details) for quarter, half and full term courses. In most instances, if a student drops the course before said date, the course grade and attempt will not show on the student’s official transcript. On the other hand, if a student continues in a course and ends up failing, this attempt (sometimes shown as “F” or sometimes with the actual number grade) will appear on the transcript.
Before you make your final decision, consider your honest answers to these six questions:
- How much effort did you put into the required coursework? Did you attend class? Do the readings? Prepare the review questions? Participate in the class seminars and discussions? Seek clarity if you didn’t understand the content? Etc.
- How well do you understand the content? Do you actually get it but for some reason weren’t able to showcase your understanding through the testing vehicle or assigned paper? Or do you really have no idea what is going on?
- What strategy were you using to learn the content? Did you keep up with the weekly readings or did you try to cram eight weeks of reading into a 48 hour period? Did you do the readings before class or after class or never? Did you think about and document your personal responses to the assignment questions, review problems, cases, discussion questions, whatever, before class or did you just hope to absorb the content by osmosis?
- Is this a mandatory or optional course for you? If it is a mandatory course for your program it is likely a prerequisite for future courses. How will dropping this course impact the rest of your academic plan? Will a poor grade impact your performance in future courses? Should you retake the course at a time when you are ready to give it your all? On the other hand, if it is an optional or elective course when will you be able to make up this course? Will that be easy or difficult given your schedule?
- What is your grade potential in the course? By grade potential, I mean what is your projected final grade? Work out the math using the evaluation breakdown in your course syllabus. Will it be enough? Most programs require a minimum average to stay in the program and sometimes a minimum grade for core courses in the program. Do you risk being removed from the program?
- Were there extraordinary circumstances that affected your performance? For example, were you extremely sick with the flu the day before the exam? Perhaps you really understood the content but your performance suffered because you were dehydrated, weak and perhaps a little nauseas. Did you experience a substantial loss that would impact your mental state and therefore your performance? Will these circumstances continue to affect your ability to perform or are they one-time events that you do not expect to impact you in the future?
Before you make your final decision I highly recommend making an appointment with an academic counsellor to get some answers to the questions above. If you feel comfortable or if your professor has made it clear that she is willing to talk to students about this issue then by all means, make an appointment and discuss your concerns with her as well.
Dropping a course can free up valuable time for you to put more effort into other courses or to manage other issues in your life. At the end of the day the decision to stay or go is personal and yours to make.
Do you have enough information to make your decision now?
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I was inspired to write this post after attending a baptism this weekend.
After the “main event”, the officiant began his sermon on the topic of “House Rules”. As I listened to the officiant and his partner share their personal experiences, the lightbulb went on when they shared their “stages of parenting” definition.
Even though I was hoping to take away some information on how I could be a better parent to my two young girls, all I could think about was how these stages relate to the transition between high school and university. The transition involves so much more than just moving away from home, meeting new people, finding new interests and studying new subjects.
The transition requires the student to understand the new responsibility that comes with being a post-secondary student. And that is what many students fail to realize.
I am going to rework the officiant’s “stages of parenting” into my definition of the stages of education.
- The first stage in the process is the disciplinary phase. I consider children from nursery to pre-school age to be in this stage. The student’s responsibility at this stage is to listen to and watch the teacher model appropriate actions in order to learn the standard rules of acceptable behaviour.
- The second stage of the relationship is the training phase where the teacher lets go of some of the control (a little at first and more later on) and the student’s responsibility is to start using the skills, tools and knowledge she has acquired. Students from kindergarten all the way up to about grade 8 would be in this phase.
- The final stage is the coaching phase. This is the best stage and why I love my job. In this phase, it is the student’s full responsibility to figure out what needs to be done and how best to do it. This stage starts in early high school and carries on all the way into post-secondary studies. At this stage the teacher trusts that the student is capable of formulating a plan and making decisions. The teacher is there to encourage, advise, support, motivate and guide the student. You know, remind them of the “game plan” every now and again.
Students in the coaching phase are responsible for:
- Attending “practices” – classes, seminars, labs
- Completing “training” workouts – readings, assignments, exercises
- Analyzing “post-game” – seeking and applying feedback
And so much more.
Do yourself a favour and before you attend a post-secondary institution be ready to take on the new responsibilities that come with it.
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For some reason students feel like they shouldn’t ask their profs questions. Why is that? Do you think that how to amortize bonds payable using the effective interest method of amortization is common knowledge? No, it’s not. It’s a difficult concept and so are many other theories, processes and formulae you will cover in all kinds of courses ranging from anthropology to zoology.
Most professors are happy to answer your questions for these three reasons:
- Asking questions demonstrates that you care. The fact that you are concerned enough to ask a question shows us that learning is a priority for you. We really like to help those students who are interested, passionate or just plain curious about a topic.
- We genuinely want to help our students succeed. We enjoy facilitating discussions and grading papers where students “get it”. Believe me, it’s no fun grading a failing paper.
- We like interacting with our students. Those of us who teach large classes don’t get to do this very often. When we respond to questions in a one-on-one setting it can be a great opportunity for us to find out what students are struggling with so that we can make changes to content delivery.
Before you approach your professor with an “I don’t understand” statement, be clear that we do have some expectations. We expect that you have done some preliminary work and have made some effort to familiarize yourself with the concept/topic/process. Use this list of questions as a checklist and only approach your professor after you can answer yes to all of them.
- Have you completed the reading?
- Have you attempted the review questions/demonstration problem?
- Did you pay attention/take notes/get notes to the lecture/discussion on the topic?
- Have you attempted to discuss the concept with other students in your class or study group?
- Have you actually thought about the concept?
Here’s a question for you. Does this help?