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11 Tips to Help Your Teen Transform Failing Grades Into Academic Success

A few scholastic tips to help your student turn academic failure into success.

As I was boarding a plane recently, I couldn’t help overhearing a heated discussion between a mother and her older teenage son. They were arguing over his failing grades and trying to determine if there was hope to turn things around. It’s a common problem. As an educational specialist, I have been a part of numerous conferences where this very question—how to help teenage students whose grades are on a downward spiral—is the topic of conversation.

First of all, academic failure can be a place of reckoning where the teenage student needs to decide to make some dramatic changes in their educational habits. They likely need a good overhaul of their study habits and organizational skills in the class or classes they are experiencing difficulty in.

The following are a few of the scholastic tips that have helped my students turn academic failure into success.

1. Conduct a reading analysis

A reading analysis is a good place to start because if the student is unable to comprehend the class material, then they will require help improving their literacy skills. Students with reading issues can look for CDs of their textbooks. Looking up the phonetic spelling of unmastered words can also help. The student should keep a running list of key vocabulary and the phonetic spelling for each one they were unable to decode. There are free websites where a word can be entered and then the site reads it aloud.

2. Bulk up daily study time

Teenagers who experience low grades in one or more classes should implement a daily study plan that includes an additional 30 to 45 minutes a day. The extra time should be allocated to the subject area(s) of concern.

3. Use every resource

During designated study time, teenagers should focus on learning the important vocabulary or formulas. When the student begins to have difficulty understanding a key concept or formula, the key is to stop and find help. And there is no shortage of academic resources to turn to online. Finding a new, different explanation of a concept or approach to a problem can make all the difference.

4. Ask for and accept help

Students can and should ask any academically stellar friends or the classroom teacher for help on any concepts they are having trouble with. Teenagers who are experiencing difficulty in one or more classes may not be asking enough questions and may be avoiding asking for help from teachers and peers due to shyness or embarrassment.

5. Embrace pre-learning

Pre-reading and pre-learning the terms and concepts prior to the challenging class can help the student master more of the content. Pre-learning is helpful because it provides the student with foundational knowledge, which will help increase understanding.

6. Perform an end-of-day review

At the end of each school day teenagers benefit from reviewing their class notes for a minimum of 10 minutes for each subject. Daily review of class notes helps student retain more of the day’s lesson.

7. Reread difficult material

Students should make notations about any leaning concept or formula they do not understand and then reread the information multiple times to help improve their knowledge. Reading the material multiple times can help the student because they may have missed key concepts during the initial read.

8. Adjust the attitude

A student’s attitude toward a class or subject area is vitally important. If they believe they have no talent for a subject area, their belief system may truly affect their learning ability. Even if a student failed a class in the past, they still can relearn the information.

9. Prep for tests

Students benefit from studying for tests and quizzes every evening for at least a week in advance of the exam. The additional study and review time gives the brain time to commit the learning concepts from the short-term memory to the long-term memory.

10. Retake difficult classes

Retaking difficult classes during the summer can help students fill in their learning gaps. Typically, the second time one takes the same class is easier because the student has some foundational knowledge to employ.

11. Use summer to catch up

The summer is a fantastic time for students to focus on any subject(s) of difficulty and fill in their learning gaps by relearning the material.

Students who have experienced academic failure can learn methods to help them overcome their learning challenges. Turning low and failing grades into passing—often impressive—marks takes work and effective educational methods and solutions. Students who have failed in one or more classes can learn how to succeed and relearn unmastered material. Effort paired with proven educational solutions can make academic achievers out of the most unlikely candidates. 

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