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Getting a low mark on an assignment is bound to happen at some point during your child’s school years. How they (and you) handle it is incredibly important to build your child’s resilience, confidence, and how they approach their school work.

What to do when your child fails a test looks different for every family and child so it’s important to explore how to best handle it.

Bad Grades Don’t Always Mean Bad Student

When your child gets a bad grade, how you as a parent respond can have long lasting effects—whether positive or negative.

There are many reasons your child could have received a bad grade on a test or assignment but there are ways to correct it. The most important thing is to recognize that a low grade does not mean that your child isn’t intelligent. Reassure your child that bad grades can happen sometimes. Teach them that failure is a part of life and use it as a learning experience about how they can do better next time.

Keep reading to discover how to help your child get over a bad grade on a test and do better next time.

What to Do When Your Child Fails a Test (& How to Do Better Next Time)

1. Stay Calm & Take a Step Back

Your child could be feeling (understandably) upset about the grade, especially if they usually do well. The most important thing to remember is to stay calm. If you approach your child while upset they are likely to become defensive, which can lead to an argument instead of a productive conversation.

Sometimes it’s helpful to take a step away from the situation before digging in and understanding why your child got the bad grade. Go on a walk to give them an opportunity to calm down if they are upset or just clear their mind before having a calm but frank talk about the bad grade.

2. Find Out Why It Happened

Once your child is calm, it’s time to have a chat. Ask them questions but don’t interrogate them—this can lead to them becoming defensive and make the situation harder for both of you.

Ask neutral, open-ended questions that allow your child to open up about their struggle with this particular assignment or test so you can better understand why your child got a poor mark—and how to help them.

3. Review Mistakes

After getting a poor grade on a test or assignment, have your child review the mistakes they made. Use this as a learning opportunity to revisit their notes or textbook to find the correct answers and fill in any gaps in knowledge.

4. Improve Organization & Time Management

Preparing for a test or completing an assignment needs to be planned beforehand. Help your child create an organization system to keep track of due dates and organize notes, handouts, and materials in one place.

Depending on your child’s study habits, this can include:

  • An agenda or calendar with important due dates
  • A daily study schedule
  • Color-coded study notes
  • Separate binders/notebooks for each subject

5. Get Feedback From the Teacher

Your child’s teacher may be able to give you more insight into your child’s classroom habits. For example, they can let you know whether your child is attentive in class, doesn’t participate, or seems to struggle with particular material. Once you know which classroom behaviours may be causing your child to get poor grades, you can start to address any issues.

6. Explore Opportunities to Redo

In some situations, teachers are willing to let a student redo an assignment or retake a test. Talk to your child’s teacher about whether a make-up test or assignment is an option for your child. If the issue is something outside the student’s control, many teachers will be flexible. 

Teachers might make exceptions for things like:

  • Illness (the teacher may require a doctor’s note)
  • Planned or unplanned absences
  • Stress or personal matters

7. Ask for Extra Credit Assignments

Whether the teacher allows a make-up or not, asking for extra credit assignments is always a good idea. Extra credit assignments are a suitable alternative for redoing the test to improve both your child’s grades and comprehension of the subject.

8. (Re)set Expectations

A “bad grade” can mean different things to different students. High-achieving students, in particular, may be upset about receiving an average grade. Lower performing students may be happy with a grade below their full potential.

Create clear, realistic expectations based on your child’s ability, goals, and interests. If your child usually gets 65% on math tests, set the expectation for 70% on the next one. As your child improves their grades on tests and reaches these goals, set new goals to achieve.

If your child usually receives good grades but did poorly on one test, remind them that bad grades happen sometimes. Take the opportunity to talk about what they can do next time to better prepare to get the grade they want.

9. Consider One-On-One Lessons With a Teacher or Tutor

If your child is struggling in a particular subject, they may need additional instruction. Talk to your child’s teacher to see if they can work with your child outside of class. One-on-one instruction means the teacher can tailor how they explain the material to your child’s way of thinking and help them understand it better.

If this isn’t possible, explore after school tutoring options for your child.

10. Work With a Guidance Counselor

Personal issues can negatively affect a student’s ability to do well in school. If your child has told you about a problem they’re having like being bullied or not getting along with a teacher, get in touch with the school guidance counselor. The counselor can help your child work through any troubles they’re experiencing that are impacting their performance.

Bad Grades Do Not Define a Child

There are many factors that can contribute to bad grades like attendance, poor study habits, or even struggles in their social or home life. Having open, honest communication with your child is key to helping them through whatever challenges they are facing. With your help, your child can get over a bad grade and continue to succeed at school.

If you notice your child is getting poor grades in one or two subjects, they could benefit from a tutor. Scholars offers flexible online and in-person tutoring sessions for all subjects. Find a location to get started!


Dr. Danielle, PhD


June 8, 2020