Every single year, at the end of each semester, I get contacted by some of the students I mentor who tell me they have just failed a class.
Some are worried how they will tell their parents. Some are worried that it will put their scholarship in jeopardy. Some think of themselves as failures overall.
I always like to start out with some reassurance . . . you are not the first engineer to fail a class. Many of the successful engineers that you see out in the field have failed a class while they were in school.
Yes, it sucks, but it is not the end of the world by any means. Get this notion that you are lesser or not worthy of being in engineering school out of your head!
The other thing I tell them is that we have to focus on what we can control and put aside what we can’t. You failed the class and that can’t be changed now that the semester is over. Therefore, the important thing is to figure out WHY IT HAPPENED and then implement a plan so IT DOESN’T HAPPEN AGAIN. As you move forward, the fact that you overcame a failure will become a motivational source for you to overcome other distractions and hardships you will undoubtedly encounter.
So Why Does it Happen?
What I have found, is that most students do not fail because of lack of trying. Honestly, if they did, then it would be an easier problem to solve. The truth is, that most of them are putting in the time, but they are not really putting in the right kind of studying.
In short, most are studying harder, but really should be studying smarter. Without a focused plan, studying for 10 hours can be of lesser value than focused studying in a smarter manner for half that time.
The Plan to Make Failing a Thing of the Past:
Here is the basic plan that I recommend to get back on track so you never come close to failing again. This is something I initially developed for myself as I had a really tough time at the beginning of engineering school and was able to turn it around. I have further developed it by having other engineering students implement it as part of my mentoring program with them.
So here are the primary items you need to address to get back on track . . .
- Continuity – Studying only for exams is a recipe for failure. Math and sciences in particular (but other subjects as well) are absorbed better when they are taken as smaller chunks on a regular basis. For me, this meant 15 minutes of problem solving at lunch and another 30-45 minutes later in the day even if there was no homework assignment. This was aside from my general work requirement and just kept me in the groove.
Take some time to play around with different chunks of time for studying each day or each week. There is no specific time that works for everyone, but the idea of touching your material on a regular basis is key.
- Really UNDERSTAND the problems – Could you explain one of your practice problems to a non-engineer? Try working through each variable to be able to describe them in simple terms. If you can start to do this, you will have a better understanding of the problems and will also be able to spot the variables quicker.
- Study groups – Studying with others ends up helping on so many levels. There is the obvious side of things that they can explain things to you when you are having issues. However, there are two more reasons that these work well. First, when you explain things to others, you have to really focus on details. This will help you understand it better. Second, having to show up as part of the group and work with one another will help keep you accountable as you do not want to be seen by the group as a drag.
- Office hours – You pay to be at the university and one of the things they give you is professors to be your guide. Take advantage of the office hours they offer to get assistance. This will help you with the material and will also show the professor that you care. As an added bonus, this can help create a bond with the professor which is always great for networking purposes.
- Accountability – Have someone with whom you need to check in with on a regular basis and update them on your progress. No judgement, just honest feedback from them is enough to make sure you stay on top of your work. By the way, accountability can be provided by your study group partners as well. However, I have found that it is beneficial to separate these two roles and have an accountability partner outside of the study group. I believe this person is more likely to take a holistic approach to supporting you as opposed to the study partners that will focus strictly on the classes.
- Schedule down time – The biggest distraction to your studying is wanting some time off. If you schedule specific times to be on break, you can stay focused much longer by keeping in mind that it is only a certain period longer until you have that break.
This is not an all or nothing game. You can pick the parts of my plan that work for you and implement them into your daily life over time. The key is to just pick something to change and start moving towards a better outcome in future semesters.
Don’t let one bad course ruin the rest of your studies and get you down. YOU CAN DO THIS!
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