I was disappointed with my mark in a recent assignment and it was just what I needed.
This semester I got the worst grade I have ever received on an assignment. I enjoyed the subject so I had no difficulties submitting the coursework. I felt secure in the knowledge that, whilst what I had written might not be my best work ever, it was bound to get a decent grade. I was resting on my laurels.
When I saw my results on My Dundee I thought there must be a mistake. The number was far too low (I am aware how arrogant this makes me sound). I was sitting next to a friend in a quiet section of the library when we checked our results together. After absorbing my grade and quickly scrolling through the feedback a heated exchange of ‘whisper shouting’ followed. I had officially entered the anger stage of the grief process.
I get that it is a bit dramatic to talk about grades this way. Literally, no one died. But when we put pressure on ourselves to achieve academically or we see getting top marks as an inherent part of our identities then a poor grade (or worse a fail) can be a crushing blow to the ego. We experience a loss: of pride, or self-esteem, or a bit of both.
So, I had quickly gotten over the initial shock – and denial – and fast-tracked to full rage mode. My friend and I exited the confines of the quiet section and proceeded to pace the library floors whipping each other into a frenzy about the injustice we had suffered. My bitterness lasted for a few days.
Next, I felt sad. I began to reflect on this semester and convinced myself it was all going horribly wrong. If I was not going to fail my final exams then the best I could hope for would be to scrape passes. Thankfully, this phase didn’t last long.
Acceptance came pretty swiftly. I got a lower grade than I’d hoped for – whatever. The world had not in fact ended. I felt calmer and I arranged a meeting with my lecturer to get feedback. I was doing something about it.
Meeting with my lecturer offered me closure and guidance for future action. My assignment was dissected (thoughtfully) and we discussed where I had done well and where it had gone wrong. I saw my coursework, anonymised and identifiable only by my student ID number, through the eyes of the person marking it. Yes, I knew the law, but I had not demonstrated my knowledge clearly and a marker can only work with what is on the paper in front of them. They can’t see the thoughts inside your brain, only the ones you have put in writing.
Even if you have done well at school (or in a previous degree) you can’t assume that will always be the case. I had been relying on past achievements and had simply typed up my answers and hoped for the best.
Assignments and exams come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They vary by subject area and might differ from what you have encountered in the past. Problem questions are a huge part of assessment in Law because problem solving is a key skill required to work in the legal profession. You can’t just recite the textbook; you have to be able to apply what you know to the real world, just as you will be expected to do in the workplace. That’s the thing, studying is not just about getting grades that look good on paper (or having a good time) it’s also about developing skills and preparing for your future career.
So I picked up the legal skills textbook I bought in first semester. I made notes on approaching problem questions and reflected on my previous attempts. I took time out of studying module content to work on my exam skills. And it was totally worth it.
Now I am feeling more confident heading into the winter exam season. I have changed how I study and changed my mindset. I will not panic in my exams, dump everything I know on the page and cross my fingers. I am going to take a deep breath. I will re-read the questions (just like they keep telling you!). I will answer the question to the best of my ability. There’s no guarantee that I won’t be disappointed with the outcome but I will be satisfied with my hard work this semester and everything I have learnt. Thank god I messed up that assignment.
- Don’t take bad grades personally.
- Always read your feedback. If you need to know more make an appointment with the module leader.
- Learn from past mistakes. Reflect, improve, move on.
- Talk to your adviser of studies if you are having any issues.
- Access the support available at the university, like the Academic Skills Centre (both in person and online through LEARN Smart) and Disability Services.
- If you do fail, remember you can always resit exams.