Failing Classes in College? Here’s 5 Steps to Save Your Grades!

By Chris Landeros •  Updated: 11/30/21 •  19 min read

Failing Classes in College? Here's 5 Steps to Save Your Grades!

How do you save your grades after failing every test and quiz?

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That was me. First-quarter at UCSB and I was already failing classes in college. I literally FAILED every chem quiz and midterm leaving me at 45%, or an F, going into the final.

The average on the final was 65%. Yet somehow, I got an 83.5% on the final and a B in the class. For those who don’t believe me, here’s the actual proof:

Save Your Grades When You're failing classes in college

Failed Every Quiz

Save Your Grades When you're failing classes in college

Failed Every Midterm

Save Your Grades When you're failing classes in college

Despite starting off failing my classes in college, especially all my midterms and quizzes in chem, I made this insane comeback on my final!

As I said, I failed LITERALLY every midterm and quiz. I even did WORSE! So what made the difference?

Don’t worry, no Adderall or photographic memory is required to save your grades. In fact, you don’t need to do anything crazy. If you’re failing your classes in college, all you really need is a plan.

This step-by-step guide shows how I saved my grades and how you can save your grades too. 

How To Save Your Grades: CheatSheet

This guide is insanely detailed but I understand college students are running on 3 shots of espresso and whatever’s leftover in your Hydroflasks. So I made a summary.

BUT I highly recommend you read the entire guide. If not, that’s cool too but do me a favor and share this article with one of your friends who need it. It’ll help them out and help me out too.

The Adjustments To Made:

  1. Set up your calendar to include tests, quizzes, and assignments
  2. Studied Like a Straight A Student: did all book problems, homework, practice exams, essays, and anything outlined in the syllabus
  3. Do extra problems or prompts assigned by on-campus tutorial services.
  4. Find and Do More Practice Problems and Old Tests from your class or from sites like CourseHero.
  5. Stop zoning out (reduce your screen time and get more sleep) .
  6. Find a Mentor and asked for help!
  7. Get used to going to office hours!
  8. Learn How To Take Effective Notes and developed a Study Game Plan.

Okay, there were 8 steps instead of 5 but HEY, I summarized this whole guide for you!

Step 1: Find Out WHY You’re Failing Classes in College 

Do you have anxiety or feel overwhelming disappointment when looking at a bad grade? It’s okay. You’re not alone. I actually felt incredibly discouraged looking at the 2 D’s and F’s on my exams and quizzes. One for each test and quiz. But you need to know where you’re messing up if you hope to save your grades. 

“You can’t fix your mistake if you don’t know what they are!” – Princess Mononoke probably. 

For instance, my biggest issue was having poor study habits to begin with. So I outlined all the mistakes and strategies I needed to change. I made a list of all of them below. 

Things I Noticed I Needed to Change: 

  1. Studying either a few days or the night before 
  2. Looking only at lecture notes and practice tests 
  3. Not doing ANY of the recommended book problems
  4. Not going to office hours 
  5. Zoning out during tutorial classes 
  6. Not having a study game plan 

So with 6 different habits that needed to change, which ones was I going to prioritize?


What Should I Change If I’m Failing my College Classes? ALL OF THE ABOVE

When you’re failing your classes in college, you need to make big changes in order to save your grade. The next step is crucial so stay with me here! 


Step 2: Making the adjustments

Saving your grades is all about the changes you make to your study habits. Now that you found the reason why you’re failing your classes in college, it’s time to find out how to make the necessary adjustments. Even simple changes like using a research assistant tool to help write your next paper or organizing your calendar can go a long way. 

Read Your Syllabus!

Make sure you have a game plan using your syllabus as a guide. This is a GAME CHANGER. 

In my experience, many students do not read over the syllabus properly. A decent amount of professors will outline EXPLICITLY how to study for their class and most importantly, which practice materials to go through. 

Students who follow these instructions usually end up doing well in the class. An easy way to set yourself up for success is to simply just do everything outlined.

That being said, even going through every single practice problem isn’t usually enough. It’s important to make a conscientious effort to actually understand the material. It’s okay to go through the material slowly and ask for plenty of help.

Setup Your Calendar and Time Manage!

All you need to do is put everything on that syllabus onto your Google Calendar, iCal, or whatever app or calendar system you use. 

I prefer an online calendar because I can set out reminders and color code them any way I like. 

Save your grades with a google calendar schedule

Save your grades with a google calendar schedule that keeps you on track. Especially when you’re failing your college classes.

We actually finished step by step video on how to do this in under 5 minutes! The video is like two minutes and outlines literally all you need to time-manage like a college pro. 

In case you don’t have time to 2x speed this 1-minute video, I also wrote a step-by-step guide on how to organize your calendar.

Now that I have a whole scheduled outline, I can prioritize the upcoming assignments, quizzes, and exams. It also keeps me on top of my schedule and classes for the day. 

A lot of syllabi’ will have recommended book problems too. A lot of students might either do some of them or skip them entirely, which is EXACTLY what I did.

I thought I could get away with just showing up to lectures, doing the practice tests, and grading homework. 

But that’s exactly why I took a FAT L on my first midterm and quiz. Lack of preparation and lack of a solid study plan led me to fail my classes in college. 

So I joined UCSB’s free study classes (or CLAS) that they offered on campus. If you’re planning on applying to UCSB, check out this article on all the other free stuff they offer to students. 

Failing Classes in College

Check this article out for more resources UCSB offers their students for FREE


Solving my Zoning Out Problem: Switching to active learning

Those tutoring sessions helped me understand the general concepts but I kept zoning out! So I decided to enroll in their smaller group sessions that they were trying out for the first time.

They only offered it to students struggling and I was STRUGGLING

There I met my mentor Ryan Soe, who actually challenged me to explain how to solve a problem. This really helped me figure out what I was getting stuck on.

I go more in-depth with how to actively study in this article written by homie Byron Rosenthal.

He’s literally attending medical school RIGHT NOW at Georgetown University. He’s also really nice, so reach out to him for medical school questions!

Find a Mentor to Answer Your Questions

By having a mentor, I was able to directly ask them for help. This saved precious time by answering my questions quickly and step-by-step. So be sure to find a mentor if you can! 

In case you need help, I made a video featuring my friend at UCLA who literally has CEOs and Ph.D. professors mentor her for her business and grad school.

Nothing helps you understand concepts faster than going through a problem, with other students judging watching, and a tutor helping you along the way. 


“But what if my school doesn’t have the funding to offer those smaller personal tutoring programs?”


Trust me, my school didn’t either until the LAST FEW WEEKS of the quarter. So what did I do before that? 

Here’s My Pro Tip: Go to Drop-in Tutoring or my Professor’s Office Hours immediately after my quiz or exam was done. 

“What?!? Why?!??” – Anybody 

In my science classes, we could take the exams home because we only needed to submit the scantron. So I would take my test to my Professor’s office hours or to my school’s tutoring drop-in services.

This is because nobody, and I mean NOBODY, will be spending their day going over the tests or assignments the day after taking a stress-inducing test. 

This is also the PRIME TIME to get to know your professor or other resources on campus. The tutors would send me extra problems or study guides, and the professors would start to build friendships with me. My chem professor even knows my name, to this day! 

And EVEN IF you wanted to relax after your midterm, you could still go to office hours the week following the midterm. 

Trust me, you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to squeeze yourself with 15 other students in a tiny office, waiting to ask the professor a question the day before your exam. 


Where Trying To Save Your Grades Can Lead To (Side Story)

Literally, I went to my professor’s office hours so frequently, that he memorized my name. To this day!

In fact, when I saw him three years later, he actually asked me what my plans were and if I had time to hang out. Really reminds you that they’re people too. Cool people at that.

Changing Your Study Plan: You can’t memorize everything

I also realized that the reason I was okay with doing that lame study plan in the first place was because it was EASY. I tried to memorize the answers to the problems in order to take the exams.

In high school, you might get away with it but in college, you just can’t. Why? 

Because as soon as the professor changes one SMALL detail in the problem, you’re SCREWED.

I’ve seen this in both my chem classes and in my English class. They either want you to write about Daoism instead of Taoism (HINT: they’re the same thing) or solve for enthalpy instead of entropy.

The university’s mission is to make you THINK CRITICALLY and not regurgitate information. It might always be that way but ultimately that’s their goal. So get ready to think! 

So get organized! Buy a notebook organizer and color-code your notes with multicolor pens if you have to. Students get 6 months of Amazon Prime shipping for FREE so you can have your study tools ready by tomorrow!


Practice Problems Will Save Your Grades!

I go more in-depth as to why you should be doing every single practice problem and practice test you can get your hands on. When you’re failing your classes, you need practice. This can be writing out the answers to your old test prompts, redoing your last midterm, and working through the practice problems in your textbook.

If you don’t have access to any old exams, you can access cheatsheets and resources for your class with CourseHero. You can actually get 1 month of CourseHero completely free with your Amazon Prime Student account. You can sign up for 6 free months of Amazon Prime just for being a student.

Free CourseHero on Amazon Prime

How To Ask for Help When You’re Struggling 

I already talked about how your professor and campus tutors can help you. However, I forgot to mention that your TAs, friends, online resources, or whoever is relevant to your class can help you out too!

Have trouble figuring out what to talk about? Here I got you! Click the article below if you want to learn how to be homies with your professors: 

My big tip when asking for help was to go to my professor. Why

Because oftentimes, they’ll get to know you and offer you tips or even “ideas” of what to expect on the next exam or test. In fact, this was a key instrument in how I killed the final that SAVED my grade. 

After failing and doing worse on my second midterm, I went to my professor and told him: 

“I don’t know what I’m doing wrong”

I get this a lot from students I mentor. Hell, I WAS that student! I went to the school’s tutorial services, did the book problems, and practice tests, and spent hours every day studying. I was failing my classes and I didn’t know what to do. 

But that’s where asking for help comes in handy!

I went to office hours asking for advice and my professor gave me the simplest but probably the most critical advice I received for the final. 

“Up to this point in the lecture, I taught you everything you need to know for the final. For the next two weeks, we’re simply explaining the same concepts but in different scenarios. Except for a few minor details, it’s almost completely the same.” 

Take Advantage of Breaks and Holidays to Play Catch Up

Please enjoy your time with your family. But afterward, take some of your mama’s cooking to the library with you because it’s time to grind!

My professor handed me super insightful info RIGHT BEFORE Thanksgiving Break. The perfect time to catch up!

Instead of worrying about the minor details, he told me that the larger overarching concepts were going to be the focus of the final. So I knew to spend a majority of time developing a deep understanding of the concepts before I started getting hung up on details. 

Essentially I reviewed everything, but this time knew exactly what required my attention and focus, prioritizing high yield info!

So go talk to your professor! And if you have anxiety talking to professors like me, remember here’s an article that can help. If you still can’t muster up the courage to talk to a professor, any mentor or upperclassmen can help too.

Step 3: Don’t Give Up On Yourself

This may be the most important tip when it comes to saving your grades. So believe in yourself! You got this!

Step 4: But Know When It’s Time to Give Up

When you’re failing classes in college, it’s easy to lose hope. And I’m here to say you shouldn’t. But in case you decide the stress is really hurting your mental health, you have options!

Take a Class Either Pass/No Pass

NOTE! Before you do this, please talk to your professors, college counselors, and advisers because EVERY situation is different!

If it’s not too late, take the class Pass or No Pass (or Pass/Fail depending on what your college calls it). This way, you won’t have to stress about the class hurting your GPA. You will still have the option to retake the class if you fail.

HOWEVER, be aware that some colleges will not let you retake the class if you Pass! This can prevent you from completing requirements for graduate programs or WORSE, and prevent you from advancing in the major entirely! So do your research!

Withdraw from the Class If Necessary

The same goes for withdrawing from a class. This means instead of a letter grade, you will be getting a W on your transcript.

Depending on the situation, this could be your best option if the Pass/No Pass option is unavailable. However, although this will give you the option to retake the class, please keep in mind that some grad school programs may frown on this.

Remember, talk to a college counselor before you decided to do either option! I’m just a dumb kid on the internet trying to keep you informed!

Decided to Grind Instead? Okay Well Then Stop Stressing Out!

Before college, I was never close to failing a class. I would have anxiety over getting B’s. Being a first gen student, I saw college as the only way I could ensure financial security for both myself and my family. 

Other students in the same position started giving up on their dreams of being doctors or engineers. I even knew someone who said “screw it, I’m gonna fail the final and just retake the class” and decided to practice ballet in the hall instead of studying. 

However, the one bit of advice my RA told me really put my situation in perspective: 


“You might fail. But as long as you know you did everything you could to succeed, then why even be disappointed in yourself? At least you know you really did everything you could.”


And that’s the key idea I believe every student should know. When failing classes in college, the worst that will happen is you find another subject to study or retake the class. 

In one case, you realize maybe the major or subject wasn’t for you. On the other hand, you decide it’s something you’re willing to try out again. 

If you’re a first gen, low-income, or underrepresented student, this might be the hardest pill you have to swallow. Especially when literally your family’s social mobility and financial security rests on your shoulders. But if you learn this lesson early, it might actually be a blessing. Now you’ll know if you definitely want to pursue that specific academic path. 

What Happens if You Fail a Class in College?

If you fail a class and you need it for your major, you have to retake it in order to graduate. Not to mention, failing a class in college will hurt your GPA as an F is a 0.0 on a 4.0 GPA grade scale. So I would recommend trying your best to avoid failing a class.

At UCSB, 20% of the class will fail out of my chem class, each quarter. Meaning they will need to retake it. (Shout out to my chem professor for at least being honest.)

Even Though You’re Trying to Save Your Grades — You Might Fail: 

People fail or have to retake classes for a lot of reasons. Failing college classes sucks but it happens. Even if you’re doing everything you possibly can to save your grades, sometimes it’s really beyond our control.

During my first quarter as a freshman, when I was literally failing all my classes in college, I was shocked. Perplexed. Bamboozled! I was so dumbfounded I started looking up fancy words in the dictionary to describe it!

But don’t stress too much if you failed your dream major! It may not be as big of a deal as you may think.

Remember, Your College Major Matters Less Than You Think!

Income differences and job security between majors might be less important than you think. If you don’t believe me, check out this New York Times article that says otherwise. So don’t get hung up on your job security.

You WILL find a job that WILL want to do. And it WILL provide financial security! That’s why you went to college in the first place. It might only look different than how you imagined.

I know a Psychobiology grad who now is researching education at UCLA, a Psychology major recruiting for tech, and an Italian major who now works in healthcare.

Hell, I’m a Biology Major who works in EdTech.

Your major will not be the ultimate determining factor of your financial success!

Your work ethic and your network will matter way more than whatever your degree says when you graduate.

However, until you get that final grade on your transcript, you don’t have to make that decision yet! There’s still time to save your grades! 

So turn up some Rocky Music and get ready to GRIND!


Step 5. Take Control Over Your Anxieties! 

After failing every midterm and quiz, doing enormously worse on each one despite all the adjustments I made, I didn’t quit. 

I kept telling myself that “I still have the final.” I mean I did still have 40% of my grade on the line. The exam was on a curve and, at UCSB, they replace my lowest exam score with my final grade. 

Effectively, I had 60% of my grade on the line! Talk about pressure. 

I definitely used a TON of test-taking strategies to avoid letting my anxiety and stress get the better of me. Including: 

  1. Getting a good night’s sleep (SUPER UNDERRATED) 
  2. Writing out all my anxieties on a piece of paper and crumbling it (I don’t know why this worked for me. There’s just something satisfying about crumpling paper)
  3. Breathing exercises (Breathing in and out slowly and deeply at my seat for 30 seconds immediately before the test) 
  4. And finally, having water to drink and gum to chew works for some people too

These are just a few techniques I used. Feel free to mix and match or find other techniques that work for you! They don’t need to be perfect. Despite all the pressure and the stress, the outcome was worthwhile. 

The anxiety of checking my grades was insane! 

The email said the average on the final was a 65%. That was actually 10% higher than my test averages in the class. When I checked my final grade I was SHOCKED!

I turned my F average into Solid B. And instead of failing my classes in college, I SAVED my grades. 

Shows grades on UCSB GOLD after starting off failing my classes in college.

This is from my UCSB GOLD page. I went from failing college classes to only A’s and B’s . This is how you save your grades!

I know I focused on my chem class but these tips could save anyone’s grades. Whether it’s a math class or a writing class, these tips definitely will help you save your grades.

These strategies saved my grades, I hope they help save your grades too. Regardless of how things went, go relax afterward! Destress from finals by shopping for a new school backpack, hanging out with friends, or just sleeping in! If you have any questions or tips, Tweet me at: @ChrisLanderos_

I’ll do the best I can to answer any of your questions.




Chris Landeros

My name is Christopher Landeros but you can call me Chris. I started this website after struggling to find relatable and relevant info for first-gen college students. I kept learning the ropes and was wondering why there wasn't a resource to show you how to practically navigate college. So here I am, creating the most in-depth content for College Lighthouse.