Struggling After Midterms? Three Surprising Ways to Get Back on Track

We’ve passed the midpoint of the semester! You’re most likely done with midterms and now you’re focused on class projects and finals. Most of us fall into one of two categories:

  1. We’ve earned the grades we want so far and just need to finish strong.
  2. We’re not thrilled with our grades at this point and wonder what to do to fix them.

These surprising adjustments will help you, no matter which group you fall into. It’s not too late to make this your best semester ever!

1. Make New Friends

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn

Who do you spend time with? Are your friends stressed? Struggling with their classes? Just trying to get it done? We were all warned by our parents about the power of peer pressure. It’s real. Most of what you believe is normal is dictated by those around you.

I am not telling you to ditch your friends or family. But you might consider compartmentalizing a bit. Spend study time with people who win at school, and winning will become natural. Positive peer pressure is real too. Their mindset will rub off on you just as powerfully.

2. Change seats

“People often say motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” – Zig Ziglar

You may not like to hear it, but the rows in a lecture hall act like a bar graph for students’ grades and depth of learning. The closer you sit to the front, the higher your grades. Not exactly, but on average.

The people who do the best tend to sit close to the front, lean forward, and dial in to what the class is doing. If you’re trying to be a top performer, why not mimic the behaviors of other top performers?

There are a few real reasons why sitting in the front row helps so much:

  • In order to sit near the front you’ll need to arrive early. You’ll be less stressed than the flustered student who is running down the hall trying to sneak in late. Stress shuts down your brain, so you should avoid it.
  • Large class size has been shown to be detrimental to learning. The closer you are to the front, the smaller the classroom that you’re sitting in. You’ll experience fewer distractions and be able to see and hear clearly.
  • It is significantly easier for the instructor to see you and make a connection when you’re close to the front.
  • Most importantly, it makes you look motivated. Often, the best way to become something is to look like it first. Put yourself in an environment that is filled with motivation and you just might get motivated…

3. Get a Job

“Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” – Newt Gingrich

My old approach to schoolwork was to make a list of the tasks that I needed to do today and then go to a study lounge or coffee shop until the tasks were complete. I ended up staying for hours and hours and not finishing the list.

One semester I needed some extra money so I took a job slopping trays in the dining hall. Strangely, my grades improved! I actually learned more but I spent less time doing it!

Why? When I knew I was “staying until its done,” I would allow myself to get distracted. I took breaks whether I needed them or not. “What’s the difference? I am going to be here all night anyhow…” External demands – such as employment – require you to focus and use your time efficiently. With too little responsibility we tend to drift through our days.

When I sat down to study, knowing that I had to go to my job at a certain time, I focused and completed the tasks faster – and at a higher quality. Focus is amazing.

Another benefit to taking an easy job is that it is therapeutic to have something unrelated to school to work on. When we go to work we are forced to give ourselves permission to completely focus on something other than homework and tests. We “have” to be at work, which loosens the hold that class has on our psyche.

Getting a job has one final benefit: you earn money! Contrary to what Biggie says, having more money can lower your stress levels. Any time you lower your stress you actually make yourself smarter. The lizard shows up when you are stressed.


Are you already doing these things? Reframe your thinking: these tricks can be stress points or simple hacks to improve your life. Take the positive view and leverage them.

4. Bonus: Focus on the Process, not the Result

I’ll expand on this in the future. However, you need to know a simple fact: the people at the top of their game in ANY field are at the top because they focus on the process rather than the results.

Contrary to popular belief, you aren’t assigned homework because the faculty hate the idea of students with free time. The homework isn’t just a task to be checked off a list. It is an opportunity to get paid (in the form of credit) to improve your process.

Don’t solve that physics problem. Figure out a process for solving physics problems that works in chemistry class too. Don’t write that paper on American History. Create a process that you can follow to write any paper. The process doesn’t need to be perfect (this isn’t your last chance to try it).

Now that you’ve identified your process, apply it somewhere new. Did it work? If so, great! You just took a step closer to being a master. Need to adjust? Great! You just took a step closer to being a master.

What are your hacks for winning at school? We often win one inch at a time, rather than big victories. Share a tip below to help your fellow student!

6 Replies to “Struggling After Midterms? Three Surprising Ways to Get Back on Track”

  1. Thank you Dr. Ferrar for taking the time to write all of this out! I find myself in the position where I am not content with myself and the grades I have earned. I definitely plan on taking these recommendations into consideration in order to change ways for the better.

    1. You’ve got this!!! Fix a few of the simple things and you’ll be amazed at the result. Better output comes from better input and better processes!

  2. Right now, I need the advice more than ever. Above all, I appreciate the point about making new friends. I often find myself doing work alone, which is not ideal; however, it’s difficult to work with friends sometimes, considering the distractions, on their end and my end as well. Between bouts of productivity there is too much “white space” so to speak.

  3. I can confirm that getting a job really improves your focus. In my freshman year at Temple, I was very unmotivated and unfocused in my studies. I got poor grades on what should’ve been the easiest courses in my academic career. The summer after my freshman year, I got a job at UPS and when the next semester started up, I found that I was a lot more motivated to study and do well in my courses. I used the job as a reason to get my assignments done. The job also gave me so much more. I was able to buy my first car and move away from home. I also improved my leadership skills working as a supervisor. On top of that, the job paid tuition assistance. Overall, having a job gave me focus and motivation.

    Also thanks for all of the advice in this post. It really motivates me to improve myself.

    1. Wow thanks for sharing! It never ceases to amaze me how much a job can help give focus while also reducing stress in our checking accounts. It’s so helpful for people to see this stuff in action with real students. Thanks again!

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