Monday, November 23, 2015

What if I am Impossibly Behind?

So finals are two or three weeks away. And you have no idea what is going on, let alone what you need to be doing.  Some classes have nothing due these last few weeks, with the expectation that you will be studying for a final exam. Other classes have long term projects coming due in these last few weeks.  

Some people feel impossibly behind when they just don't have a good feel for what is going on right now in the class. Others haven't done anything for the class in some period of time and truly may be "impossibly behind". The first step is to determine what is going on, where you are in relation to where you need to be right now.

Dig out your syllabus. Maybe you have a paper copy, or access to an online copy. Find it. Print a new one. Read it.  Here is what to look for:

1. The instructor's withdrawal policy: some instructors give permission for you to drop up until the last day of class. Others only let you drop up until the midterm - they figure if they have put this much effort into you, you should put some effort in at the end. While impossibly behind doesn't necessarily mean that you need to drop, reading this section will let you know if it is at least an option for you at this point.

2. The grading policy: the syllabus should outline how you will be graded. How much of that have you accomplished? How much is left to do? Is that "on track" with the timeline of the course? Or have you missed due dates or exams along the way? Write down specifically what you are missing. The printable linked at the end of this blog post might help you outline this and see how it might affect your grade.

3. The schedule: this will help you with figuring out due dates that you have missed and what might be coming up.

Are you considering a withdrawal? Here are some factors to consider:

1.  Are you on financial aid? Check with your financial aid office about your best course of action. Sometimes students are asked to repay financial aid or lose future eligibility if they withdraw from a course.

2.  Are you planning to repeat the course? In this case, some students stick it out until the end to get the most exposure to the material possible. In the event of a D or failing grade, you can re-take the class and the grade may replace your grade this semester.

3.  Are you applying for a program in the next semester where your GPA or transcript will be considered? In this case you will likely want to withdraw instead of fail the course, since the failing grade will likely be calculated into your GPA.

Can't, or have decided not to, withdraw? Time to buckle down and get serious about what you can accomplish before the end of the semester.

First, block out some time to work. Look at your schedule between now and finals. Thanksgiving is this week (in the US) and many college students have at least part of this week off. Use that to your advantage - this means time that you can work on studying previous material when new material isn't being added. How much time could you take off work? Could you limit other obligations? Can you get someone to watch your kids while you have uninterrupted study time? Get serious here, you will need a lot of time to try to do a semester's worth of work in three weeks. 

Second, make a plan for the work that you need to do. Are you studying for a comprehensive final exam? What's the last chapter you studied in depth? How many chapters does that leave you? Figure out how you are going to review those chapters in the time you are planning. Have a presentation to give, block out time for research, writing, and rehearsing before the big due date.

Third, figure out your reward. Okay, so if you put your nose to the grindstone for three solid weeks, and you pull it out for this class, think about the reward at the end that will help keep you motivated.

Some other advice:

Think about the expectations for the class so far. How have you done on exams up until now? Do you need to step up your study techniques at this point to try to rock the final? 

Try to hook up with others in your class for study groups. It doesn't have to be the "A" student at this point, just working with others who are also getting serious for the end of the class will be beneficial for you. This can also help you wrap your mind around where you are in the course relative to where you need to be.

Talk to your instructor. Yes, some instructors get peeved when a student they haven't seen in months shows up asking "what do I need to do to pass this class?" - that's not what I am suggesting. Make an appointment - you don't ever want to have an important discussion on the fly at the end of class in front of other students. Be sure you are well versed in what you need to do for the course. If you have missed a deadline, ask for an extension. The worse they can say is no, but they may be willing to compromise. Plan what you want to ask for - don't plan excuses. Even it is the truth, and the real reason you fell behind, instructors hear "my grandmother died" or "my kid was really sick" ALL THE TIME. Knowing the reason you fell behind is NOT likely to influence their decision about extending your deadline or giving you another chance on work. What WILL influence that decision is how prepared you are for the conversation, how much you have informed yourself what you need to do, and how well you have planned to do it.

Okay, so you've talked to the instructor, found a group of students to work with, and you know what you need to do in the next three weeks. It's time to buckle down and just do it.

Have any of you had a semester where you fell behind? Were you able to get caught up? Have advice to share with the impossibly behind student? 

Free Printable: Calculating My Grade

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