Students who receive what they perceive to be a bad mark can experience a range of emotions. Associate Professor Ekant Veer has a reputation for championing wellbeing. He also calls a spade a spade. In Insider’s Guide we shared his advice with students on what to do about any ‘crap marks’ that they’re worried about, including how to approach lecturers professionally. We now share it here with staff.
Links to support services for students and what to do if a student is distressed are at the end of the blog.
So, you’ve got a crap mark.
It’s happened to everyone. I’ve received bad news and I’ve been on the other side where I have to deliver bad news. It’s part of learning to know when you haven’t done well enough. There are many things you can do when you get lower marks than you expected, but I want to take a couple of tips to help you to learn the most from a bad mark.
Put things in perspective
Firstly, it’s a bad mark. You’re not dying. Even if this was the last straw and your time at uni has come to an abrupt end, it’s NOT the end. You have your whole life ahead of you – this chapter hasn’t gone the way you expected – but there’s plenty more in this life to explore. Contrary to popular belief, having good marks doesn’t make you a good person and not having a degree certainly doesn’t make you a worse person than someone who has one. Life will go on – it’s a mark, nothing more!
Never, never, NEVER act immediately after receiving bad news. Don’t email your lecturer, don’t update social media, don’t rant to your friends. Forget about it until you can look at the feedback more objectively. For most people this is at least 24 hours. [Editor’s note: three days for me. Feel free to share your comments on this one.]
Emailing your lecturer when you’re angry, in particular, isn’t going to help you in the long run. A few years back I received an email that read “WTF man! This isn’t ok! Email me when you’ve remarked my assignment”. Not a great way to make friends and influence people.
Reflect on the feedback
You should have some feedback from your lecturer. It may be generic feedback for the class or it may be specific feedback on your work. Either way, don’t just read the feedback and argue against your lecturer in your head about why they’re wrong. Read the feedback and see where you think you’ve made mistakes and/or could have done things better. Sometimes the main reason students don’t do as well as they expect is because they simply did not answer the question. They have told me a bunch of things that are really interesting but the central focus of the test/assignment hasn’t been completed – as such, it’s impossible to give them the marks they were hoping for. This is often where students feel most aggrieved because they may have put in a ton of effort for little reward – unfortunately, effort doesn’t equal higher marks when you’ve put your effort in the wrong direction!
Contact your lecturer PROFESSIONALLY
Let’s say you’ve calmed down and reflected on the feedback and you’re still unhappy. That’s ok, it’s time to get in touch with your lecturer. They may have office hours dedicated to giving assessment feedback – go see them. If they don’t, then craft a PROFESSIONAL email to them. Here’s how I suggest you contact your lecturer:
Hopefully your email will be replied to quickly and you get a chance to meet with your lecturer and go over the assignment. They’ll hopefully explain in more depth where you could improve. This is not a time for your demand a re-grade, but a chance for you to learn where YOU can improve. If they offer to regrade your assignment then take them up on the offer, but don’t walk into the meeting looking for a fight – work with your lecturer to improve your work.
If you act professionally, ask for advice and debate your point carefully there is every chance that your lecturer may rethink their grade, but that’s not the aim of the meeting. The aim is for you to not make the same mistakes as last time!
Reflect on the feedback and MAKE CHANGES!
The worst thing for a lecturer is not seeing students improve when you give them time, effort and encouragement. We want to see you do well! So, once you have both written and oral feedback you need to make changes. Whatever you did last time didn’t work. Start your assignments earlier and send drafts to your lecturer to get feedback. Ask questions in class (yeah, turning up to class is important!). Make sure you’re on the right track from the start and put effort into overcoming your previous failings.
Getting a bad mark is a perfect opportunity to learn. It might be your study habits, it might be your knowledge, or it might be your understanding of the question being posed. Whatever the issue is, overcome it next time. One bad grade in one assignment is not as bad as never learning from your mistakes and repeating those mistakes for the rest of your academic and professional life. Seek feedback, take it on board and improve next time. Don’t be afraid of meeting your lecturer – a lot of us a marginally normal. Some are nice. Most want to see the best for you, so take their advice to heart and do better next time!
What advice do you give your students when they receive what they perceive to be a bad mark? Share your comments.
Support for students:
For students in a state of psychological or emotional distress, the primary referral point is the UC Health Centre. This never changes. It is located at the rear of the UCSA carpark beside The Foundry bar. Phone: +64 3 369 4444
A wide variety of support for students can be found here: http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/support/