Bad grade in Grad School

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

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Bad grade in Grad School

Post by sumith85 » Fri Nov 04, 2011 11:55 pm


I am a new grad student at a US school. Well , I am struggling with one course and did pretty bad on midterm exam. I have to maintain a 3.0 cgpa to maintain my assistantship. If I do get a C in that course, what can I do or what I should do now not to get a C. Please give me some advice if you had gone through such situation.

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Re: Bad grade in Grad School

Post by CarlBrannen » Sat Nov 05, 2011 12:44 am

Get an "A" in another course, so your average is "B".

Or better, study more realistically for the final.

Now that you know what kind of test you're going to see, start giving yourself practice tests of the same sort. I.e. if they're open notes, start giving yourself tests in open notes situation.

For this to work, you have to make the practice tests as stressful as the real test. You have to really, really, really, care how well you do on those practice tests. You need to really sweat them. Convince yourself that your failing those practice tests could cause your genitals to fall off. (Hey, it's rare, but it's been known to happen.) Then, when you take the real test, spend a little effort to calm yourself down. The objective is to make the practice tests and the real one have the same level of stress. (And that way your brain gets accustomed to working at that stress level.)

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Re: Bad grade in Grad School

Post by bfollinprm » Sat Nov 05, 2011 11:55 am

It can't have been worse than my last midterm...I wouldn't worry about it so much. If it's your first year, you have no idea what the cutoffs are, or the grade average is. Make sure, like Carl says, to work hard on preparations for the final.

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Re: Bad grade in Grad School

Post by wavicle » Sat Nov 05, 2011 12:02 pm

I think Carl's advice might be overkill. I have been in your situation. When I was a Masters biomedical engineering student I failed my first "quantitative physiology for engineers" exam. Next exam I got one of the top scores. I ended with a B+.

The way I studied is I went through all the lecture notes, and made sure I understood everything. And there were tons of lecture notes (powerpoint slides). It all builds on itself. So I started at the beginning and moved forward. If I wasn't 100% sure why something in the notes was true I went back and reviewed. Everytime a new concept was introduced in the notes, I made sure I could understand it in the context of everything else I've learned (where applicable). I also wrote a condensed version of the lecture slides, as a document. That way I could easily see the similarities/differences between the various concepts on the same page versus having them spread out over 10 slides.

The merits to Carl's advice, as I see them, is practicing remaining calm with surprises. My method is to reduce the surprises by familiarity with all the material (or material that reasonably could be tested over). In some cases, you may need to implement both methods. But I think if you understand the material and the general reasoning you'll be fine. The general reasoning is for example:

"this problem gives A and B and asks for C. I know the equation/concepts that relate A,B,C (even though the notes only demonstrate solving for B given A and C)...Piece of cake!"

whereas the specific would be

"this problem gives A.1 and B.3 and asks for C. ***, I've only studied how to solve for C when given A.2 and B.1. What am I to do?"

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Re: Bad grade in Grad School

Post by clarizaB » Sat Nov 12, 2011 5:24 am

Well, its not yet end of the school year or semester. Maybe you cam study more and pass the exams.

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Re: Bad grade in Grad School

Post by midwestphysics » Sat Nov 12, 2011 1:49 pm

I agree with Wavicle's advice here, it's an all but full proof method. Time consuming without a doubt, but if you can find the best sequencing and time frame to fit your style of absorbing information you'll not only be a damn rockstar on the exams but also when problems arise in research. I always rewrote my lecture notes as well, added things, and tried to nail down all the concepts from every possible angle. Like Wavicle said, the stress just disappears when you're familiar with everything a problem involves and how they work together instead of how a very specific problem should be solved. Really, if you think about it, without doing it that way you really haven't learned physics, just how to solve a certain physics problem and that doesn't benefit you in the long run. Practice tests are useful for recognizing the style of tests given by different professors and what they expect, but if you've really taken the bull approach to the material it won't matter what they ask or how they ask it. One way I used practice tests was to make sure I had every concept completely covered. I would look at a problem, write down in words and with equations what every piece of it meant, how it interconnected within the problem, and how and why certain aspects might be included or excluded in a problem. If I couldn't comfortably and concisely put that all down in words I went and studied that concept until I could. I know it can be a pain, but it always proved to be worth it.

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