Have you ever been surprised by a bad grade on an essay or research paper? What a terrible feeling that is!


We can work really hard on a paper and turn it in with complete confidence, only to be shocked when the teacher gives it back covered in dreadful red marks and comments.


How do you react when this happens? It’s normal to feel frustrated and disappointed, but you must avoid dwelling in a state of negativity. As hard as it seems, you’ll need to turn things around and move on to take a constructive approach. Don’t try to pass the blame to somebody else, and don’t get angry: neither reaction will result in anything positive.


When you’re surprised by a bad grade, you must take steps to discover what went wrong and make sure this bad experience doesn’t happen again!


There are a few ways to go about this.


Talk to the teacher. If you don’t understand (or don’t agree with) the comments that are written in the margins of your paper, you should definitely set up an appointment to talk with your teacher. During the meeting, be positive and open to the guidance the teacher offers you. He or she will clarify any questions you have and help you avoid any mistakes you’ve made. Teachers like to know that students are willing to improve. You may find that the teacher is willing to let you turn in a revised paper.


Look for problems and patterns in your writing. Look over the comments you see and determine whether you are repeating mistakes. You may have an issue with subject-verb agreement, or you may be mixing up words that we commonly confuse. Identify any weakness in your writing and take steps to make improvements.


Take a deep breath and see the big picture. A final grade in a course is made up of many individual grades from papers, projects, and tests. Students must remember that some of the assignments carry more weight than others. For example, a quiz grade may count for 10% of a final grade while a test grade may count for 25% of your final grade.


Review your process. One thing that surprises students is the amount of work that should go into a paper. Some students are naturally talented, and they go through middle school writing great papers with one or two drafts. This changes as you progress into higher grades! Even the most talented writers will need to increase their number of drafts and rewrites to finish with a really good paper. And it is important to start early on your paper.


Expectations will increase when it comes to formatting your paper, using evidence and good arguments, using transitions that make your paper flow, and tapping in to your creativity. As these expectations grow, so will the required time commitment—if you want a good result.


Students must get used to writing multiple drafts. You should never turn in a paper until you’ve written at least three drafts!