11 Tips for Retaking a Class in College

Students listening a lecturer in an amphitheater
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When retaking a class in college, it is important to remember that classes are not necessarily easier the second time around, so you need to do what you can to set yourself up for success.

Students can set themselves up for success when retaking a class in college by reflecting on why they did poorly the first time, taking the class as soon as possible, and reviewing the material. They should also get help from their professor, peers, and tutoring and practice good study habits.

If you haven’t yet decided if you should retake a class, check out my post: 5 Reasons You Should Retake Classes (& 6 Reasons You Shouldn’t)Opens in a new tab..

If you know that you will be retaking a class in college, let’s review these 11 tips for retaking a class.

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1. Stop catastrophizing

The first thing that you need to do is to get some perspective. Whether you failed the course or just didn’t do as well as you would have liked, it can be common to view having to retake a class as the end of the world! It is not. 

Will failing a class ruin your life? 

Failing a class will absolutely not ruin your life! Failing a class will hurt your GPA, but usually, students can retake the course. You can get help and move forward with your academic career. Failing a class will have little to no impact on your life after graduation. 

Talk to your academic advisor if you are concerned with how failing will impact you academically.

Many employers do not even look at potential employees’ transcripts, and those that do will most likely overlook one bad course or semester if you improved afterward. If you are still concerned about how failing a class will impact your job search, talk to your school’s career counselors or check out my post on What to Do if You Graduate With a Bad GPA (Your Next Steps)Opens in a new tab.

Failing a class can be a necessary wake-up call that you need to be more serious about going to class, doing your assignments, and studying. It could also be sign that you need to reevaluate if your major is right for you. 

You have the power to turn this failure into a learning opportunity that allows you to become a better student. 

Is retaking a class normal?

Retaking a class is not the normal—most college students graduate without retaking any courses. However, retaking a class is not uncommon. At Ohio State, around 10% of college students retake a class for grade forgiveness each year.

That statistic comes from The AtlanticOpens in a new tab., and I would imagine that it would be a good indicator of how many students retake college classes at different universities each year. Clearly, you are far from alone. 

Look, I am not saying that failing or having to retake a class is no big deal, but a few years from now, once you have your degree, the specific grade you got in any particular course will not matter. Don’t let your thoughts run wild, and make this out to be life-altering.

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2. Take the course as soon as you can 

Once you know that you are going to retake the course, take the course as soon as you can so that the material is still fresh in your mind. Even if you failed and feel like you learned nothing, you learned more than you think you did. 

At the very least, the concepts should be familiar to you. Capitalize on this familiarity by retaking the course before you forget everything.

3. Understand why you did badly the first time

Reflect on why you did badly the first time so that you can know what you need to do differently. Be honest with yourself. 

You need to understand if you lack some prerequisite knowledge for the course, such as taking Algebra 2 and forgetting what you learned in Algebra. If this is the case, you will need to review previous courses and/or get tutoring before retaking the course.

If you slacked off and didn’t do your assignments or go to class, then make a plan for how you can spend more time studying and make sure to schedule time for class. 

Most of the time, you will know why you did poorly, but ask your professor if you don’t know what you did wrong.

Understanding why you did badly the first time will help you address any feelings you have about retaking the course, such as embarrassment, frustration, or confusion. It can help you create an action plan for retaking the class.

4. Address extenuating circumstances that contributed to your poor grade

Part of understanding why you did poorly is identifying any extenuating factors that contributed to your low grade, such as an illness, a full-time job, family obligation, the death of a close friend/family member, or even just the time of the class.

Once you identify these factors, you will need to address them:

  • If an early class time contributed to you missing class or not paying any attention, schedule your class for a later time.
  • For grief or mental health issues, consider seeing a counselor. 
  • Talk to your family or your boss to see if you can develop a schedule that allows you to meet your current responsibilities and still carve out time for school (this is where the flexibility in online classes Opens in a new tab.becomes invaluable). 
  • If you have health issues, consider talking to the Disability Office about any accommodations that you need to be able to succeed, such as extended time on tests.  

Address any extenuating circumstances before you start the course. 

5. Review what you learned the first time

While the class may not be easier the second time, you have the advantage of having seen all the material before. Capitalize on this by reviewing any notes, assignments, and exams you have saved.

6. Think about if you want the same professor again

Lecturer and multinational group of students in an auditorium.

The benefit of having the same professor is that you know their teaching style and expectation. This would be a big positive, but a negative may be that they will know that you are retaking the course. 

If the professor’s teaching style made it difficult for you to learn, try to take the class with a different professor.  Ask around or check out Rate My ProfessorOpens in a new tab. to learn more about the other professors that teach the course.

7. Get help from the start 

You already know that you may need help with the course, so this time be proactive:

  • Talk to your professor or TA. Ask them for advice on how to succeed and any questions you have. Most professors want to help you succeed. 
  • Go to office hours.
  • Join a study group or form a study group of your own.
  • Get tutoring. Your school probably offers free tutoring. Take advantage of this. 
  • Use Grammarly if the course is writing intensive.

Learn more about how you can start your semester off strong with our posts What to Do Before the New Semester StartsOpens in a new tab. and New Semester Checklist: How to Start the Semester Off RightOpens in a new tab..

8. Make connections with your peers

Make connections with your peers. Beyond the social aspect, befriending your peers allows you to have someone to ask for notes if you miss a class and study with before tests.

9. Always do extra credit 

Extra Credit words and A Plus grade on a lined paper for school homework assignment or test where bonus points are awarded for additional effort and results

You know that the assignments/exams are hard for you, so make sure you always do any extra credit offered. You need the buffer for your grade.

10. Plan your time 

Attending class and spending time on your coursework and studying will be required. At the start of the semesterOpens in a new tab., get a planner and write down every class and the due date of every assignment. Then plan out when you will do your reading, assignments, and study. 

11. Practice other good study habits

Practice all the other traditional good study habits:

  • Read the required material 
  • Do your assignments and spend extra time on those that are worth the biggest portion of your grade.
  • Take notes. 
  • Study for exams.
  • Don’t procrastinate.
  • Make studying a part of your daily routine.
  • Study a little every day instead of all at once before an exam. 
  • Remind yourself of your goals.

There is a reason these things are said again and again; they work!

Use these tips for retaking a class to go forth and ace your course!

For more tips, check out our post: How to Mentally Prepare for a New SemesterOpens in a new tab..

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