14 Ways to Improve Your Grades if You’re Underperforming

1 September, 2014

Image shows a young woman in a bright orange hoodie working outside on her laptop. Have you been disappointed with your grades of late?

Even the brightest students can sometimes find themselves academically underperforming, often through no fault of their own. When students find themselves in this situation, it’s often because they’re stuck in a rut and are not sure what to do to improve. If this sounds like you, the first step is to work out the reasons why you may be underperforming, and the next step is to work out how to tackle the problem. If you’re not sure how to go about it, this article shows you what you can do to form an improvement plan to help you achieve the grades you know you’re capable of achieving.

1. Adopt a positive mental attitude

Image shows a bright and airy study room.

Brightening up your study space can help you stay upbeat.

In the face of lower-than-expected grades, it’s only human to react by feeling disappointed with oneself. When you’re frequently receiving lower grades than you’d hoped for, you may start to feel depressed or defeated, and feel like giving up. The first step on the road to improving your grades is to turn this negativity on its head. You need to be positive about the situation if you’re to stand a chance of improving it. Acknowledge that your grades aren’t what you’re aiming for, but believe that you can do something about it. Start by mentally taking control of the situation: instead of thinking “I’m a failure”, think “I can and will do better than this.” Don’t give up – take positive steps towards achieving the improvement you’re more than capable of achieving.

2. Work out where you’re falling short

Image shows someone working on Maths homework with a calculator sitting on their textbook.

Do you do well at the theoretical side of Maths, but struggle with applying it to practical situations?

You need to work out which areas need targeting before you can draw up a plan of action, so the next step is to figure out the areas in which you’re underperforming, and why. Are your grades consistently lower than you’d like them to be across all your subjects, or is there one particular area you’re struggling with that’s bringing down your overall performance in a particular subject? Take a look at your grades over the last few months and look for patterns. Has there been a general decline in academic achievement, or have your grades in certain areas always been lower than you’d hoped? Are your grades always low in the same areas, such as one problem subject? You’ll probably already have a vague idea of the answers to these questions, but seeing your grades written down on paper – perhaps even in graph format – can help you see things more clearly.

Next, think about the reasons why you’re not performing to your full academic potential in the areas you’ve identified. Are there external factors that may be negatively affecting your grades, such as a family problem or worrying about a social situation at school? Are you struggling with any particular academic skills that might be dragging you down, such as essay-writing or note-taking? And are you studying in a way that works for you? These are all factors that could be affecting your academic performance, so once you’ve isolated what the problem is – it could be a combination of more than one of these issues – you’ll be able to start tackling it. If the problems are external, you’ll need to take steps towards getting them to a point at which they no longer adversely affect your studies; seeing a counsellor might help, for instance. If they’re academic, read the rest of this article for some suggestions on how you can improve.

Image is a button that reads "Browse all Study Skills articles."3. Talk to your teachers

Your teachers know you best, so it’s worth talking to them when you’re drawing up a plan of action for improving your grades. Ask them where they think you need to improve, and they’ll probably have some advice on how you can go about it. Coupled with the advice in the rest of this article, this should allow you to tailor an action plan to your personal situation.

4. Pay more attention in class – and ask questions

Image shows pupils in class with their hands raised.

If you struggle with understanding something, make sure to ask.

If you’re prone to daydreaming in class, it’s time to start focusing on the here and now. Listen to what the teacher is saying rather than talking with friends or allowing your mind to wander. Don’t simply copy down what’s on the board without thinking about it; make sure you’ve understood it, make neat notes so that you can understand them when you come back to them (more on that later), and don’t be afraid to speak up if there’s something you don’t understand or want clarifying. It’s much easier to ask a teacher to explain something differently than it is to trawl through books trying to find a clearer explanation for yourself, and they won’t think less of you for asking.

5. Start organising your life

Clutter of any kind inhibits our ability to operate efficiently, so another way of improving your academic performance is to get organised. Keep your workspace tidy and all your notes and textbooks organised in such a way that you know where everything is. Start thinking more about your time management, too, as this will allow you to prioritise your time effectively, freeing time for problem subjects. Write yourself a daily timetable that incorporates your school schedule, dividing your day into slots of time and fitting in plenty of time for studying. Allocate extra time to subjects or topics you’ve identified as being ones you’re struggling with; it could be that the reason for your underperformance in these subjects is that you’re simply not devoting enough time to them.

6. Improve your note-taking skills

Image shows a neat desk with a laptop, lamp and pinboard on the wall.

Make sure your notes are legible and well-organised.

One of the reasons you may have identified for underperforming is that you’re not taking good enough notes. Hurriedly scrawled notes from class can be difficult to make sense of when you come to revise from them, or even to write an essay based on them. It’s all too easy to misunderstand your own notes and fail to get a strong enough grasp of the topic. It’s imperative, therefore, that you produce good notes from each of your classes and from the books you use – notes that you can read, that are useful, and that are logically organised. If you make notes by hand – in class, for example – try to type them up at the end of the day, while they’re still fresh in your mind. Click here for lots more tips on effective note-taking.

7. Improve your essay-writing skills

Another common reason for academic underperformance is that the student’s essay-writing skills aren’t sufficient for the level required to achieve top grades. This is fairly easily fixed by improving your essay-writing technique. Good essay technique covers all aspects of essay-writing, from the research phase to the final proofread, and even how you respond to the feedback you get for your essays. Responding in the right way to feedback – and not taking criticism personally – will be particularly useful if you feel you’re underperforming, as this should give you the guidance you need to be able to improve. We have lots more advice in previous articles on how to write brilliant essays, so follow the links below if you think that your essay-writing is what’s bringing down your grades.

8. Find the right learning style for you

Image shows a pair of headphones lying on a desk.

Might it be easier for you to listen to audiobooks, rather than trying to absorb information by reading?

If you’re academically underperforming, another possible reason could be that you haven’t found the right learning style for you. We’re all different, and each of us has our own way of studying that yields the best results. Perhaps you just haven’t found your most effective studying style yet. If you’ve been trying to work on your own, for example, you might find it easier to work with a friend or two, so that you have someone else there to motivate you. To help work out the best learning style for you, have a read of our article on how to find the learning style that suits you best.

9. Improve your memory

Many students struggle to remember all the information they need for exams, and this brings their grades down. With so much to learn across many subjects, remembering facts, figures and arguments is a pretty monumental task, and you need to arm yourself with some effective memory aids to help you. You’ll find more tips on improving your memory in our article on memory techniques for exam preparation.

10. Stop procrastinating

Image shows some homework in the foreground and a portable DVD player playing a movie in the background.

Trying to watch a movie and do work at the same time seldom results in any work getting done.

One of the reasons why you’re underperforming could be that you’re spending too much time procrastinating – that is, putting off work by distracting yourself with other things, such as social media. This is a common response to a big workload; when you have so much to do that you don’t know where to start, the temptation is simply not to start. The problem is that in doing so, you’re delaying the inevitable, as well as making your task worse by eating into the time when you could be productive. If you’re guilty of procrastination – and we all are at some point or another – take a look at our article on five reasons we procrastinate and how to stop it.

11. Allow plenty of time for revision

If you’re achieving lower scores than you’d hoped for on timed tests or mock exams, it could be because you’re not allowing enough time for revising for them. This may be because you know it’s not ‘the real thing’, but practice exams are just as important as real ones. They show you which areas you need to spend more time on, and achieving good grades in them will give you a confidence boost. Treat them as seriously as you would a real exam, allowing yourself plenty of time to revising for them. Better still, revise everything you learn as you go along, so that you learn it properly first time round and have less need for revision. Also, be sure to read our articles on effective revision techniques for science students and humanities students.

12. Make learning more fun

Image shows study group in a room with a colourful floor, seen from above.

Establishing a study group can make working more fun.

Sometimes students underperform because they have simply lost the motivation to learn. It’s not surprising, when the pressure of exams and doing well at school takes away the enjoyment of learning. It’s easy to get so focused on achieving top grades that you forget that learning can actually be fun – and not only that, but it’s much easier to do well when you’re enjoying it. If studying has become a chore for you, it’s time to put the fun back into learning. You could do this by gamifying your studies, or by trying some of the ideas in our article on 15 ways to make studying less stressful.

13. Hire a private tutor

As a last resort, if the ideas in this article haven’t worked for you, you might consider hiring a private tutor to help you improve your grades for a particularly tricky subject. Some extra tuition may be just what you need to help bring your grade up, as you’ll benefit from one-to-one tuition in an environment in which you might feel more able to ask questions without the fear of speaking up in front of your peers. If you think this would help you, speak to your parents and suggest that they place an advert in the local paper if they’re willing to cover the cost of private tuition for you.

14. Go on a summer school

Image shows two ORA students working outdoors.

A summer school might give you the academic boost you need – and you can have fun at the same time.

A final option – best taken alongside the other advice in this article, rather than instead of it – is to book yourself onto an academic summer school. Taking part in a summer school would allow you to learn away from the pressures of the classroom and exams, reinvigorating your love of learning and inspiring you to take a more determined approach to your studies. What’s more, summer schools are great for helping you get to grips with trickier subjects, so this could be a good solution to your underperforming subjects as well. Take a look at our summer school courses to find one to help you start improving your grades. It’s not just an option in the summer – ever-popular Easter revision courses are a great way to get a boost shortly before your exams.

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Image credits: banner; bright room; Maths; questions; desk; headphones; procrastinating; study group

56 Responses to “14 Ways to Improve Your Grades if You’re Underperforming”

  1. June 06, 2015 at 8:46 am, Anju Soni said:

    This is a good source of information which can help a lot of things in education.


    • July 20, 2016 at 6:42 am, jason said:

      > It was the best thing i ever saw my grades went from 7 cs to all As


      • September 20, 2016 at 10:12 am, barira said:

        well then can u help me


  2. November 30, 2015 at 1:21 am, Douglas said:

    Thank you so much! I really need this. My motivation has plummeted and so have my grades. I am a senior in high school and I have to do well for my final year. To get into a good college, to make my girlfriend and parents proud. I’ve been such a let down… This cannot continue anymore. I won’t wake up tomorrow and continue the same toxicity I’ve plagued myself in life. I know I am the enemy but I can become my own friend. I will do better, I will take control, I will prevail.


    • June 03, 2016 at 1:46 am, zaid said:

      > i believe in you


  3. December 09, 2015 at 11:50 am, Aaliya said:

    this has realy helped my daughter improve her grades


  4. December 21, 2015 at 3:23 am, Ejaz Ahmad Zia said:

    The said 14 ways seems to work for performing better of my daughter of pre 9th subjects in 8th class….. I myself was experienced most of these but don’t think as important even, know how to explain her or implement them; can plan now to work more effectively for the best results onwards:) In Shaa ALLAH; thanks dear!


  5. December 28, 2015 at 4:04 pm, Yodit getaneh said:

    I hope this will work. I’m so scared of failing that I just give up easily. Thank you for the guidance.


  6. January 04, 2016 at 8:37 pm, deborah said:

    I have always been the top of the class but this new girl has suddenly kicked me off. I hope this blog will help me prevail over my competitor.


  7. January 27, 2016 at 6:43 pm, elsa martans said:

    this has really helped me i am now getting grade 8


  8. January 28, 2016 at 8:35 pm, Sahan Almeida said:

    thanks that really helps.


  9. January 31, 2016 at 7:18 am, Cephas Moonrock said:

    Thanks for the advise, I still need more help.


  10. February 01, 2016 at 8:26 am, james said:

    This is real good and helpful.


  11. February 28, 2016 at 11:25 pm, Alyaa said:

    Really enlightining article


  12. March 09, 2016 at 9:36 am, mimahyunTZ said:

    owww that is good


  13. March 09, 2016 at 1:03 pm, mary joy said:

    thank you so much


  14. March 16, 2016 at 7:42 am, Cephas williams said:

    So helpful thanks


  15. March 17, 2016 at 10:18 am, Da Quan said:

    This is great wow, I’ve change so much, in a good way!!


  16. March 17, 2016 at 10:19 am, Da Quan said:

    This really made a change in my life, so helpful, thankyou!!


  17. April 11, 2016 at 4:47 pm, Yassir said:

    I really understand whats going on .


  18. April 29, 2016 at 11:16 pm, patrick said:

    i hope this works out. I am doing horrible in school and im in 7th. Im going to try this and hopefully i can get my grades up. Wish me luck


  19. April 29, 2016 at 11:17 pm, patrick said:

    I really hope this works. Im going to try this and wish me luck on this.


  20. May 01, 2016 at 12:39 am, Elkanah George said:

    from now forth I say No to procrastinating and No to spending precious time on social media. I am nown ready to face my academic terget. Thanks soo much… From Elkanah George Nigeria.


  21. June 03, 2016 at 1:47 am, zaid said:

    i believe in you


  22. June 14, 2016 at 9:33 pm, Gibson said:

    am Gibson yotham ,i said these ways are helpfull, when i start using these ways automatically i improved thanks .so much.


  23. June 14, 2016 at 9:36 pm, Gibson said:

    your ways are helpful, I don’t have anything to pay you than saying Thanks so much


  24. June 22, 2016 at 7:39 am, hali said:

    This is so helpful… Yet i feel under pressure because all the responsibilities are taken in place as well as school work/assesments


  25. June 24, 2016 at 11:29 am, Timothy Mwavula said:

    ts educative end realy can assist students emerge successfully


  26. July 15, 2016 at 11:47 pm, sophie said:

    am gonna make them in practice..wish gonna be best


  27. August 18, 2016 at 12:05 pm, Phumlani said:

    Thanks for advice…I hope this works


  28. August 31, 2016 at 6:00 am, Diya said:

    Ur views are very helpful for me thanku so much


  29. September 04, 2016 at 3:17 pm, franklin blaise said:

    Thanks for this articl.hop i will perform better than i used to do in my academic work.


  30. September 07, 2016 at 10:22 am, Paakwesiarkoh said:

    I love your teachings and i would like to be there personal


  31. September 10, 2016 at 10:07 am, tolu adeniyi said:

    I am doing so bad at school, I’m scared to my bones, I feel like so much of a failure, I’m disappointing my parent’s, my girlfriend, my self. I need to ge better. I’m in my 3rd year and I need to leave with a 2’1 at the very least. I really want to do well in school. I know this will work with hard work on my part. God please come through for me.


  32. October 18, 2016 at 2:57 am, Anna said:

    Thanks for the great advice! Recently, I’ve gotten pretty low scores on my Math tests, and I’m looking for ways to improve. Fingers crossed that my grades improve… 😉


  33. October 18, 2016 at 5:05 pm, OsinoCharles said:

    These are wanderfull steps.. Thanks for them.


  34. November 12, 2016 at 5:55 pm, rawal aditya said:

    Ya its affective


  35. December 10, 2016 at 5:33 am, sarah said:

    thanks it really helpful


  36. January 06, 2017 at 4:28 am, imabong effiong-akpan said:

    Thanks for the advice I’m in my 4th year and I really need so much help to graduate with at least a 2’1. I hope this happens.


  37. January 06, 2017 at 8:09 am, Archie said:

    this info would be helpful if my teacher could actually teach, he just rushes through everything expecting us to know it and doesn’t stop to explain


  38. January 28, 2017 at 6:13 am, Merhawi zerabruk said:

    thank for your great advise


  39. February 02, 2017 at 4:37 pm, Evans said:

    I started as a first class student and now i’m no longer there, i really love wat i read here.. I hope to apply them and get better grades


    • May 26, 2017 at 7:20 am, Shachee said:

      > I am the same as you. I hope it works well for you and wish you good luck.


  40. February 08, 2017 at 12:44 am, Me myself and i said:

    Nice I love it


  41. April 27, 2017 at 3:05 pm, Becky said:

    Thanks for the info it has helped me a lot.


  42. May 07, 2017 at 6:17 pm, wudu said:

    thank you that is very very great recommendation.keep on in advising students who want to change himself


  43. May 13, 2017 at 7:28 pm, Emmanuel Mensah said:

    that you for the advice given to we the student to follow Goe richly bless you


  44. June 21, 2017 at 7:36 am, Antonio said:

    Good Morning;
    My son didn´t do well during his first year of IB (29). He is Smart and he can do better, he realice now want to improve his grade during his second year. My concerne it´s that how much he can obtain at this stage?. is it posible to make a leap forward to 35 maybe?. Thanks.


  45. July 03, 2017 at 5:40 pm, Lebohang said:

    I did not perform very well for my 2nd term. I am one of the brightest students at my school. I studied and persevered but I guess it was not enough. I think it is really important to understand core of each subject your doing and find fun in studying it.I think it is lack of this ability that lead to a decline in my grades….., anyway #great advice (gonna do great from now going forward)


  46. July 11, 2017 at 8:41 pm, milly said:

    For me its hard like to understand maths and science I’m good at English I am quite a shy person , I don’t actually like asking questions in maths especially my grade in science is very low and I cant think of my maths test results it was very bad. My family are really upset with my report because of my grades hopefully at least one tip will help. Thank you, wish me luck.


  47. July 12, 2017 at 7:20 am, Micheal Angelo said:

    Although most of the parents try to help their children in homework but they are not experts in all subjects. For this reason they always need a well qualified tutor for a little extra help.
    To me children learn better as they do not feel any pressure and tutor helps them to set goals and objectives.


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