How getting a lower grade made me work harder

20 Jul 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students

Studying at university is a whole new ball game to school, or even college. So, if you’re used to getting pretty good grades with little effort, you might have to step things up.

When I started uni, I was totally comfortable in the fact that, throughout school, I’d never had to try very hard to get decent marks in exams or on essays.

Academia came pretty naturally to me and I was one of my few friends who generally didn’t have to study day and night to get the grades I wanted.

And honestly? I got cocky.

Many people will tell you that first year is an absolute breeze compared to second and third year (and, as long as you get above 40% on your modules, you won’t fail the year).

However, it’s a new way of working and easier to fail than you think. From juggling an incredibly busy social life to working part time to cover those nights out, studying can quickly fall to the wayside.

And it’s a trap that (almost) all of us fall into, particularly within those first few months when everything is still so new and exciting.

Getting that first bad mark

That’s how I ended up only just passing one of my very first assignments – and the shock was pretty staggering.

Unlike at school, where it’s often socially accepted that getting lower marks makes you ‘cool’ (it really doesn’t, by the way), people at uni actually want to do well. Intelligence is revered; you’re not judged for staying late in the library and getting top grades is something to shout about.

So, when I got my first results back, I was pretty stumped, and almost embarrassed, when I found out how well my peers had done and how epically I’d fallen.

Yes, they’d all been out partying with me and some of them had jobs, too, but instead of lying in bed to watch Netflix during their hangovers, they’d been straight back to the library the next day to get their heads down.

And all I could think was that, if I had tried a little bit harder, I would be out celebrating with them, instead of commiserating with my wine alone.

What I did next

This first low grade was a catalyst for me – and a wake-up call, if you like. Rather than letting it get me down (or totally giving up), I started to put my studying first. After all, isn’t that why we go to uni?

Socialising and having downtime were still important, but I started to think more strategically about my priorities, considering what I was willing to let slide in order to get the grades I wanted.

Any time there was a group project, I tried to ensure I teamed up with people who wanted to work equally hard and, when I had an assignment, I did my best to get it in earlier than the set deadline, so I wasn’t facing the midnight rush before.

Of course, there were the odd times when an exam or a piece of work was harder than I thought it would be and I’d be battling the inevitable all-nighter in the library… but that’s just part of the experience!

Moving forwards

Not everyone learns this lesson early on, but I think it’s a pretty important one. While the first year of university rarely counts towards your final grade, it’s important to build good habits for moving forwards.

And, essentially, what you learn in first year will create the building blocks to second year. So, by not trying hard, you’re missing out on a lot of learning that will help you later on.

If, like me, you got a bad grade and you’re not sure how to change things around, though, there are some things you can do to get back on the right path.

1) Talk to your lecturer

Often, your lecturer can have a one-to-one session with you and talk to you about where you fell down on the assignment or exam, and how to avoid the same thing in the future. They may also recommend extra reading or opportunities to help you get to grips with the module, so you can be one step ahead on the next project.

2) Be strict about your time

The temptation to go out in the run-up to a deadline or an exam is real, but you really need to be strict about your time. So, next time, explain to your friends why you can’t make it out and (like all good friends should) they’ll understand why you need to be more focused for a bit.

3) Build yourself a study plan

A study plan can be your key to getting the grades you want. If you’re not sure how to make one, however, you can steal Grace’s version right here. To make things easier, create the ultimate revision survival kit, or check out these 14 apps to help you get through the stressful exam season.

And finally…

Don’t forget that a bad grade is just that – a bad grade. You’re not always going to get the grades you want, but as long as you’ve done your best, that’s all anyone can ask.

If you’re feeling the stress, don’t forget there are lots of people out there you can speak to and you’re definitely not alone.

For more advice on exams and revision, click here.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.