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

Keeping grades up is hard, and students need an academically supportive environment. Here are some great tips to tackle bad grades together as a family.

It’s not uncommon to overhear a heated discussion between a parent and their teen. Oftentimes the argument may be over failing grades and trying to determine if there's hope to turn things around. It’s a common problem. As an educational specialist, I’ve 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. 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’re having difficulty in. The following are a few 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 a student is unable to comprehend the class material, then they’ll need help improving their literacy skills. Students with reading issues can look for audio versions of their textbooks. Looking up the phonetic spelling of unmastered words can also help. Your student should also 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. Finding a reward system for getting through a tough bit of reading can be another helpful motivator for struggling students.

Related: 6 Quick Tips for Better Reading Comprehension

2. Bulk up on daily study time

Teenagers who experience low grades in one or more classes should implement a daily study plan that includes an additional 30–45 minutes. The extra time should be allocated to the subject area(s) of concern. Help them create a schedule that’s feasible for them to get through, and make sure they include breaks as a reward for successfully completing sections of study.

3. Use every resource available

During designated study time, teenagers should focus on learning the important vocabulary or formulas they’ve been struggling with. When your student begins to have difficulty understanding a key concept or formula, the key is to stop doing what isn’t working and find resources to approach the problem from a new angle. And there’s 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, teachers, or tutors for help on any concepts they’re having trouble with and can’t puzzle out themselves or with your help. Teenagers having trouble 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. Speaking up and inquiring after difficult concepts is one of the best things they can do to improve academically.

Related: 6 Reasons to Put in Effort With Counselors and Teachers

5. Embrace pre-learning

Pre-reading and pre-learning the terms and concepts that haven’t been assigned yet prior to the challenging class can help your student master more of the content more quickly. Pre-learning is helpful because it provides students with foundational knowledge, which will help increase their understanding. In addition, reading ahead of time will give them an opportunity to plan any questions they may want to ask in class and take some pressure off from thinking on the spot.

6. Have an end-of-the-day review

At the end of each school day, teenagers will benefit from reviewing their class notes for a minimum of at least 10 minutes for each subject. Daily review of class notes can help students retain more of the day’s lessons. In fact, they could take it to the next step and rewrite or type out their notes from class to really ingrain the material in their brain.

7. Reread difficult material

Students should make notes about any learning concept or formula they don’t understand, then reread the information multiple times to help improve their knowledge. Reading the material multiple times can help students because they may have missed key concepts during their initial read. Similar to reviewing and rewriting notes, students can try copying out passages by hand that are proving difficult to understand; seeing it in their own handwriting could help with familiarity.

Related: Why Independent Reading Matters in High School

8. Adjust the attitude

General attitude toward a class or subject area is vitally important. If a student believes they have no talent for a subject area, their belief system may truly affect their learning ability. Even if they failed a class in the past, they still can relearn the information and do better moving forward. But they must believe they can do better in order to begin proving that very thing to themselves.

9. Prep for tests ahead of time

Students benefit from studying for tests and quizzes every evening for at least a week in advance of the exam. In fact, the worst thing they can do is cram the night before. The night before the test should be a night of relaxing and resting after a hard week of studying. The additional study and review time gives the brain time to commit the learning concepts from short-term memory to long-term memory.

10. Use breaks wisely 

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. For some, this means reviewing material on their own before retaking it during the school year. For others, it may mean summer classes. Retaking difficult classes during the summer can help students fill in their learning gaps without affecting their schedule for the next year. Typically, the second time students take the same class is easier because there’s already some foundational knowledge to employ.

Related: 5 Good Reasons You Should Take a Summer Class

Students who've 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've 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 seemingly unlikely candidates. 

Oftentimes, students struggle in classes because they simply haven’t figured out how they learn best. Help them by sharing this Infographic: Find Your Learning Style and Study Smarter.

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