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How to handle bad grades (and what to do next)

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

Have you ever stared at your child's less-than-stellar report card and wondered, "What now?"

How can you, as a parent or educator, provide the support and guidance needed for your student to bounce back?

Is a bad grade an obstacle, or can it be transformed into a valuable learning opportunity?

These are questions that plague many parents and teachers alike. This article aims to shed light on how to handle bad grades and outlines proactive steps to help your student improve and succeed.

What do you consider a "bad" grade?

  • An "F"

  • An "F" or a "D"

  • Anything a "C" or below

  • Any grade lower than an "A-"

What can a student do when they receive a "bad" grade?

Receiving a "bad" grade isn't the end of the world; it's actually a learning opportunity to address skill gaps and improve.

First, your student needs to assess why the grade was low—be it gaps in knowledge, study habits, or test-taking skills.

They can schedule a meeting with their teacher to get specific feedback on areas for improvement, then use this feedback to identify their skill gaps, and then set focused, achievable goals to close those gaps.

Some students feel anxiety around meeting with teachers, so for those students, we've developed easy-to-use templates to initiate the outreach process.

Below is a template email to help you request the guidance you'll need to turn this setback into a setup for future success.

Subject: Request for Guidance and Feedback on Improving My Recent Grade in [Course Name]

Dear [Teacher's Name],

I hope this email finds you well.

I noticed I earned the grade (insert grade) on the [assignment/test/project] for [Course Name].

Since my goal is to earn a (desired grade) on this assignment, I’d like to get your feedback on steps I can take to get closer to my goal.

My plan is to do the following:

(Student shares their action plan here)

I'd greatly appreciate your thoughts on this plan. Would it be possible to schedule a meeting during your office hours on [days], or another convenient time for you, to discuss this in more detail?

Thank you for considering my request. I am eager to take the necessary steps to improve my performance in [Course Name].

With gratitude,

[Your Name]

You can find this template and many others in our free resource guide 👇

How to talk to your child about a low grade (script included)

Confronting a low grade can be emotionally charged for both you and your child.

However, in a calm and supportive setting, this moment can transform into a constructive learning opportunity.

Below, you'll find a script designed to guide you through the discussion with your child about improving their academic performance. Feel free to adapt it to your personal communication style and the unique needs of your child.

Choose a time and place where you both can focus without distractions. Maybe it's a quiet corner of your home or perhaps during a calm afternoon drive. The idea is to create a setting where you both can speak freely and listen attentively.

Parent: Hey [Child's Name], do you have a moment? I'd like to talk to you about your recent grade in [Subject]. Is now a good time?

Child: Sure, what's up?

Parent: First of all, I want you to know that a single grade doesn't define you or your abilities. We all have areas where we can improve. What are your thoughts on this grade?

Child: (Shares feelings and thoughts)

Parent: I appreciate your honesty. Do you have any idea why you might have earned this grade? Was the material difficult or maybe you didn't have enough time to prepare?

Child: (Explains reasons)

Parent: Thank you for sharing that. I think the key thing now is to identify ways you can improve. Have you thought about talking to your teacher for feedback?

Child: (Answers)

Parent: That sounds like a good first step. How about we work on an action plan together? We can set some achievable goals and find the right resources to help you.

Child: Sounds good.

Parent: Great, and remember, everyone has setbacks. It's how we handle them that defines us. Let's use this as a learning opportunity. How does that sound?

Child: Sounds good, thanks for helping me through this.

Parent: You're welcome. I'm here to support you every step of the way.

If the Conversation Veers Off Script

Recenter the Conversation

If emotions run high, take a step back, and suggest taking a brief break before continuing.

Active Listening

If your child brings up unexpected concerns or feelings, listen actively and acknowledge them before redirecting the conversation.

Be Flexible

The script is a guideline, not a rulebook. Feel free to adapt your questions or responses based on what seems most effective in the moment.

Success tips for students when turning a bad grade into a learning opportunity

Use the word "Earn"

In your communication with your teacher, say you want to "earn" a better grade rather than "get" one.

This small tweak in language signals that you're committed to putting in the work needed to improve.

Be Specific in Your Questions

When asking for feedback, be as specific as possible. Knowing exactly what you need to work on will make your action plan more effective. For example, instead of asking the teacher, "What should I do?", describe your plan of action and ask for feedback on it.

Follow Up

After implementing your action plan, schedule a follow-up meeting with your teacher to discuss your progress. This not only shows commitment but also allows you to make timely adjustments to your plan.


At EF Specialists, we believe in the "small tweaks have big peaks" culture. Even minor changes in your approach can lead to significant improvements in your academic performance.

Addressing a low grade is just one of many challenges you and your child will face together. However, how you handle these setbacks can set the tone for future growth and success. We encourage you to apply the script and techniques we've shared to help your child turn academic challenges into valuable learning opportunities.

If you find that your child consistently struggles with grades, organization, or focus, it may be beneficial to seek external support. Executive function coaching can offer tailored strategies and tools to help your child develop essential skills like time management, self-regulation, and effective study habits.

As parents, investing in EF coaching can not only empower your child academically but also instill a lifelong skill set for personal and professional success.

Remember, setbacks can be setups for comebacks, and with the right support, your child can reach their full potential.

Drop a comment below and let us know how these strategies worked for you and your students.

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About the author

Sean G. McCormick is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered.

He also founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains special education teachers, school psychologists and other professionals to support students with AD/HD and executive function challenges.

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