Let’s face it, bad grades suck. It happens. Sometimes we make mistakes or there are events that are out of control. How do you overcome and learn from it? 


  • First, Breathe
  • Figure Out What Went Wrong
  • Change Study Strategies
  • Take Tips From your Upperclassmen
  • Find a Tutor
  • Go to the Professor’s Office Hours
  • Take Care of Your Mental Health

First, Breathe

When you first get the news, it can be a bit of a shock.  Especially if you worked very hard and expected good results.  Check-in with yourself. Whatever you are feeling, first notice it. If it is a negative thought, consciously choose again. Each person reacts differently, so don’t judge your feelings. 

Failures are not truly failures, but lessons. Ask yourself, what is this experience trying to teach me? Also, don’t beat yourself over what happened. Forgive yourself and move on to figuring out the core of the issue.

Figure Out What Went Wrong

The real questions to ask are what went wrong and why. Blaming external factors will get you so far. Truly introspect and understand what you need to change.

Is it a faulty study strategy? There are different study strategies and the ones you choose depends on what type of learner you are. Consider asking yourself: are you a visual, auditory, or a dexterity learner? A lot of times a combination of the three are present, but usually there is one learning style that is dominant compared to the rest. For me, I am a visual learner. I need to see and map things out on a white board or use visual pictures like in Sketchy Medical and Physeo to grasp the concepts.

Other questions you can ask is whether it is a content issue, a test-taking issue, or both. Though I wasn’t naturally the best test taker, memorizing content was my strength. Despite knowing the content, I needed to understand and integrate the concepts. This was my struggle for biochemistry. I knew all the pathways by heart, but at the time I needed to take extra effort to connect all the pathways together. 

Change Study Strategies

Once you have figured out what you need to work on, find a strategy that will work for you. I kept some strategies that I had before such as hand-writing notes, but I added on different methods. For me, I needed to take on a lot more active learning, such as doing practice questions and asking certain types of questions to help me understand the concepts.  In addition to the changes I made, I found a study buddy. Having a good study partner was valuable as we would bounce off ideas while going over lecture and doing practice questions together.

During COVID times, learning has become online. Although I haven’t taken online classes during this pandemic, I learned that I focus on the lecture better in person than in the recording and made it a habit to attend class in person. I took notes on as many important things I could pick up in class and filled in the rest of my notes after class. For online classes, I suggest watching live lectures instead of recordings. And if you have to watch a recorded lecture, treat it like a live one. 

Take Tips from your Upperclassmen

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but strength. Upperclassmen can give you valuable insights on a course they have taken in the past. Here are some questions you can ask to get a better idea of how to succeed in the course:

  • What did you think about the course?
  • What did you think about the professor’s teaching style?
  • How did you do in the course? This question is important because you want to know if with how they studied they aced the course or barely passed.  Additionally, if they did poorly, it can be helpful to know that you are not the only one that struggled.
  • What do you recommend doing and not doing?
  • How did you study for the course? You can also tell them your study strategy and ask what they think you can add or delete.

Find a Tutor

Along with asking upperclassmen, you can be tutored by one too. My school offered large group, small group and peer tutoring. It is helpful to consult people who have taken the course so that you can get some insight into what will be emphasized on test day.

If you are an auditory learner, a lot of my colleagues found large group tutoring beneficial. The tutors created tutoring slides which were summaries of the lectures and taught for certain time periods throughout the week. 

Some upper semesters also offered small group tutoring. This was a little more cozy with only about ten to twenty people in a room. I did this for biochem and our tutor used to explain the pathways and write it on the whiteboard. It was a good review of the week’s material.

Peer tutoring was available with one-on-one interaction. I used this the most to ask questions and to be quizzed. I actually tried a couple tutors at first, and then stuck to my favorites. For any type of tutor, if you messaged them a question, they were happy to get back to you.

Go to the Professor’s Office Hours

Office hours can be a blessing. If your professor offers it, use it. This time is a good way to learn and build rapport with them. 

During basic sciences, I went to office hours regularly. While most expected you to come prepared with questions, some took the extra mile when explaining concepts. One professor I had was willing to spend as much time needed to summarize the important points of a lecture. 

Regardless of the professor, make sure you study the material and come prepared. That way, you will get the most out of the meeting. In addition, you can also ask him or her about your exam and how best to study. If allowed, you and your teacher can go over the exam together and figure out what is the best way to move forward.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

When you experience a setback, it’s easy to feel down or struggle to bounce back.  Taking care of your mental health will keep you on course and help your motivation.  There are different ways to take care of mental health: exercise, meditation, and social support are all examples. Exercising regularly was a big help for me. My school offered gym classes, and I loved going to yoga and Zumba classes. An hour of exercise a day was good to recharge my brain and get back to studying.

Meditation is a good way to practice self-awareness and stay grounded. Even 10 minutes a day is helpful. There are many meditations you can try out on youtube and spotify. Try to find which ones work for you and incorporate it into your practice.

Talk to someone that has gone through what you are going through. It can really give yourself some perspective and inspiration to move forward. Whether that someone gives advice or a pep talk, it makes it all worth it. 

Also, ignore the naysayers. Sometimes your colleagues and advisors may encourage you to quit or give up. Though it is important to be realistic, I believe you should always put your best foot forward and see what happens. Remember, people are capable of seeing others only to the capacity they see themselves.

A lot of times when people are going through their own challenges, they do not share their experience for fear of being judged.  From the people I have talked to, I don’t know anyone that hasn’t gotten a “bad” grade in their life. No one has the perfect life. You are not alone.


Overall, bad grades are just setbacks, not your destiny. You can learn a lot from it, and I am confident that for the next test you will be much more prepared. All the best!

If you have any questions or want to see my life through medical school, find me on Instagram @future_artist_md

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