How to Fail a Test


Honors Blog Week 2014 a

by Savannah Putnam

Savannah’s blog post is the fourth of Iowa State’s contributions to National Honors Blog Week 2014.  This year’s theme is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom,” …and Savannah has presented an interesting topic on how to deal with something that might happen IN a classroom:


Today I’m going to teach you how to fail a test! Before you panic (I’m pointing at you, Honors staff), I’m not promoting failing tests. I’m instead going to share my tricks for dealing with the fact that sometimes a bad test grade is unavoidable. For example: getting violently ill before a week of six exams can do anyone in.

The worst grade I received in college was in Organic Chemistry. I left the test with a feeling of dread, but I had not quantified exactly how horribly I did. All day I refreshed BlackBoard almost constantly, waiting for those fated two numbers to appear. And they did, around 5pm. 4. 2. 42. 42%. I had never failed so spectacularly. I was so stupid, not fit for college, I was going to fail every single class that semester, no one would ever hire me for any kind of job, I was going to be single forever with a dozen cats, my professor hated me, and my family was certainly disowning me. Realistic conclusions given the gravity of the situation. Surprisingly, none of those things happened (though there still is the real possibility that I’ll spend my life with cats). Eventually I got over that horrid test grade. Here is some advice for when you inevitably get a lower score than you wanted:

  1. Remember that everyone gets a bad grade in college at some point. Ask any of your friends (avoid the overachievers who may not admit it) and I’m sure they’ll tell you a horror story of their own.
  2. Eat a lot of a comfort food, such as chocolate ice cream and fritos. Shed a few tears and then watch a movie with your roommates.
  3. Go over your test with your professor. They have seen thousands of bad test grades in their time and won’t be phased by your low score. In fact, my professor was impressed that I came and talked with him. Oftentimes, if you show significant improvement and hard work throughout the semester, professors are willing to weight the final test grades heavier than your earlier lower scores.
  4. Make a plan to study more efficiently. This can include studying in groups with other smart people in your class, going to Supplemental Instruction sessions, and scheduling time each day to review practice problems or flashcards.

At the end of the day, employers aren’t going to be worried about one class having a lower grade than the others. They want to see involvement on campus, strong letters of recommendation (which can come from that professor who saw you turn your grade around by working your butt off), and a strong commitment to turning your mistakes into life lessons. It is not the end of the world to get a bad test grade. It only becomes the end of the world when you let it.

Putnam catsMy future cats



One comment on “How to Fail a Test

  1. Mark Law says:

    Point 3 – absolutely. I had this experience at Iowa State, and I’ve had it a bunch as a faculty member. Trust me – the faculty member will be impressed you’ve taken initiative to figure out why you got a poor score!

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