By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Bad grades don’t just come out of nowhere for no good reason. Sure, you might fail a test once in a while because of extenuating circumstances, but chronically poor grades are a symptom of something bigger.
In other words, chronically bad grades are not the real problem; they are simply the visible result of an invisible problem.
9 reasons you have bad grades
In the list below, I outline the 9 most common issues that lead to poor grades. I argue that instead of focusing so much on improving grades, we need to identify and focus on the root of the issue – which will most likely come from this list. For an added bonus, I’ve created a FREE Student Self-Assessment Checklist / Quiz that will help you identify the exact areas you need to focus on. (Free downloadable and printable pdf file – super simple.)
1. Learning Disabilities
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 14% of students ages 3-21 were receiving services for learning disabilities. In the 2019-2020 school year. That number does not include students with learning disabilities who are not receiving services or students with undiagnosed disabilities. If a child is unable to access their curriculum due to a learning disability, the first sign of an issue is often poor grades. We consider ADHD a “health impairment” and it is one of the 13 disability categories identified by The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975. Get tested if you suspect you or your child has a learning disability.t tested.
2. Anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression are considered “Emotional Disturbances,” which is another of the 13 disability categories identified by IDEA law. Both disorders impact many areas of the brain connected to learning and motivation. If a student suffers from anxiety and/or depression, poor grades are nearly inevitable. Keep in mind that chronic anxiety is different from episodic anxiety (panic disorder), which often appears as test or performance anxiety. If you suffer from test anxiety, use these strategies. If you suffer from anxiety that strikes mostly at nighttime, use these 10 strategies.
Usually, when I write about distraction, it’s in the context of ADHD or executive functions. Distraction attributed to ADHD is a health disability, which I’ve already covered. The type of distraction I’m writing about here is the other type – the lack of focus that comes from:
- having too much going on
- not prioritizing properly
- caring about the wrong things
- phone and technology dependency
- being too cool for school (yeah, I said it)
- getting wrapped up in social drama
Being a passive student means you don’t take control of or responsibility for your learning. You avoid participating, asking questions, and seeking help when you need it. Often you blame the teachers when things go wrong and you expect help to arrive whenever you need it. The reality is that school doesn’t work this way. Like it or not, you have to take an active role in your learning and make it happen for yourself.
5. Chronic procrastination
Waiting until the last minute to study, write the essay, do the assignment and complete the project is a guaranteed reason you have bad grades. Procrastination leads to rushed and sloppy work, and – according to actual cognitive science – it’s a nearly impossible way to study because it doesn’t make time for spaced repetition. Here are all my best anti-procrastination resources.
If you can’t locate your things, you can’t do the things. If you’re disorganized digitally or otherwise, you’re asking for bad grades. Here are 7 ways to organize your school notes.
Motivation is a tricky thing because it’s attached to emotions and brain chemicals. But regardless of its complicated nature, a lack of motivation could be one of the reasons you have bad grades. Here are some strategies to increase motivation, although the greatest tip I can offer you is to actually rely less on motivation and more on discipline. Again, motivation is related to emotion, which we have less control over than discipline (action). Here are 5 homework motivation tips and here are the 2 most essential motivation tips if you have ADHD. If you struggle with motivation to study, then these 13 tips are for you.
I’m stating the obvious when I say that many poor grades are directly connected to not understanding the material. If you don’t understand something, it’s up to you to figure out how to figure it out. Here is a list of my strategies to use when you’re confused. (Hint: Pretending you’re not confused is not one of them.)
9. Weak study habits and study skills
Reviewing vocab lists, re-reading chapters, looking over notes … these are NOT legitimate study methods and they do NOT work. Unfortunately, most people are taught to study this way. Of all “9 reasons you have bad grades” that I’ve listed here, this is the one you have the most control over. You need to know how to study if you’re going to make it through high school and college without losing your mind. While I explain a whole bunch of study methods here, the two most important methods you need to be using are spaced repetition and active recall.
If you’re worried about your GPA, here’s how to raise it.