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More ways to take control in a challenging class
  • Calendar Oct 01, 2021
  • User Jared Wells
  • Category In Uncategorized
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Parents, if you've come across this article, please share with a son or daughter who is struggling with a class!

In Part 1, we discussed trying something new, asking questions about what the source of the challenges is, and writing (to be more active in your studies). Here are a few more tips to help you regain control when you feel like you are spiralling.

Ask for help

You aren’t alone. There are people in your life who care about you and want to help you succeed! But you have to ask.

There are several reasons that a student who needs help might not ask for it:

Low engagement in the class.

If a student isn’t engaged in the class, it’s likely that if he comes across challenges in the class, instead of leaning into them or getting assistance, he’ll say, “I’ll do this later” and not come back to it. He’ll leave the problem as an “open loop” to clutter his mind (or just forget about), and the challenges will pile up.

Of course, having a challenge in a course IS completely natural, and the student is right (in a sense) to believe that this is, on its own, not a cause for concern. But because the student doesn’t address the issues, they snowball and turn into a problem that eventually overwhelms.

What these students need help with is accountability. The help they need is to make sure that they don’t shy away from these challenges, and instead tackle them as they come.

They don’t know that they need help.

This is the case most often for “passive studiers”. Students who do the reading and answer the homework problems, but aren’t putting themselves to the test before the test. These students go into tests feeling confident, but their confidence is a result of their having taken action like reading that they believe SHOULD prepare them, rather than being able to demonstrate and articulate a clear understanding of what they are being tested on. They are surprised by poor test scores because, “they knew the material.”

What these students need help with is assessment. They need to demonstrate that they can explain concepts simply, solve a variety of problems (including trickier ones than those they’ll be tested on), 

Shame about needing assistance.

This is something we sometimes see with students who have always been successful in school, and don’t see themselves as “someone who needs extra help.” The idea that they might need assistance is embarrassing to them, and so these students will wait far too long to get the help they need, making the problem much worse. 

When I work with these types of students, I remind them that all kinds of high level performers have coaches. Lebron James doesn’t have coaches and personal trainers because he is bad at basketball! He has them because he wants to squeeze every last advantage he can out of himself! High achievers want to get as much efficiency as they can out of their time, and getting help. No one can be an expert in everything, and we all need help sometimes.

There are so many sources of help!

Your teacher

Are you

  • asking questions in class (you need to be prepared for your lecture to do this)?
  • going to your teacher’s office hours?
  • using all the information on your teacher’s website?

If not, you aren’t getting as much value as you can from your teacher. No one knows better than your teacher what it takes to succeed in their class, and as a bonus, by using your teacher as that “extra help” resource, you are demonstrating to the teacher that you care about succeeding in their class.I recommend going to your teacher’s office hours for ANY class at least every other week with questions to give you a chance for 1-on-1 time with your teacher. More often (weekly or more) for classes you are struggling with.

And don't go to office hours to sit at a desk and silently do work. Talk to the teacher. The teacher has set this time aside for you, so use it!


Get contact info from a few students in the class you are struggling with, and make a habit of asking them questions. A group chat for the class is even better. A study group is even better than that. As a side benefit, you’ll sometimes be called on to help, and nothing accelerates learning like teaching!

The internet

It’s amazing what an internet search on your problem can do. I just DDG’d “how to solve quadratic inequality” and saw videos, text explanations, practice problems, and more. You’ve literally got the wisdom of the world at your fingertips...why not see if it can help you? I’ve worked with students who were struggling with a problem or concept, and asked them to type their question into DuckDuckGo, and found the answer to their question. Now, sometimes this is not enough...but you might as well try right?


A good tutor can take what might take hours for you to struggle through and condense it into minutes. They know the tricks and traps, can assess you, and can help you unlock your creative and critical thinking skills. They can find patterns in the mistakes you make, and help you deal with issues with planning and organization as well.

And sometimes you just need to have it taught from a different perspective.

Be consistent

If you are struggling with a class, are you taking daily action to succeed? When there is no homework or reading assigned that day? Even just 15 minutes? Including weekends?

If you are struggling with something in your life, taking daily action can be a big part of the solution. Every day you don’t take action, you atrophy. You lose momentum. You forget what you learned. And worst of all, you make it easier to not take action tomorrow. Every day you don’t take action is a lost opportunity to solve the problem. Going several days without thinking about a class (or about any important goal of yours) means every time you sit down to study you are going to have to spend time remembering where you left off, review things you forgot, etc.

On the other hand, sometimes the most difficult problems just take a good night of sleep and a fresh look the next day to discover a solution, or see the problem in a new light. Every day you take action, you make it easier to take action the next day, too. And you learn what actions do (and don’t) help.

If you don’t have assigned work to do in a class, you might have to be a bit creative, a little proactive, to figure out what you can do (which is what this and Part 1 is all about). But keeping a challenging class in the forefront of your mind, and chipping away at it daily, is going to make a big difference in a class you’re having trouble with.

So if you are struggling with a class: what will you do TODAY to make progress? Keep at it daily, and don’t break the chain! If you have a test coming up in two weeks, imagine what 14 consecutive days of taking action on that class will do!


As mentioned above, many times students struggle with a class because they are doing the work the teacher asks them to do, and they believe that this necessarily means they are ready for the test.

I assure you, it doesn’t.

  • Do you think that merely listening to a lecture in class means that you now understand what has been taught?
  • Do you think that merely reading a chapter means that you can put what you read to use?
  • Does working through a homework assignment 10 days ago mean that you are ready to be tested on the material that assignment covered?

Of course not.

And yet, many students use the fact that these tasks were completed as evidence that they are adequately prepared for exams. “I did the homework, so I must be ready”. I've worked with student who told me they were prepared for a test on logarithms, and who couldn't explain to me what a logarithm is. Does that sound like a prepared student to you?

I’ve also had students struggle to explain a concept, struggle to work through a problem successfully, BARELY get through it, and breathe a sigh of relief. Getting through by the skin of your teeth is not enough! When you see that concept on an exam, it might look different. It will be in a higher pressure situation. You can’t stop practicing once you barely get through. You need to practice until you can’t miss.

What does this mean?

  • Can you comfortably and concisely explain the concept to someone?
  • Can you work through multiple problems, in a row, without making a single error?
  • Have you answered the review questions at the end of each section of your reading? At the end of the chapter?
  • Have you worked through the “challenge” problems at the end of the chapter?

If you can’t do/haven’t done these things yet, you may not be as ready as you think you are.

Remember Bloom’s Taxonomy? One way to tell if you are ready for an exam is if you have mastered the material at one or two levels higher than what you are being tested on.

From the article:

“So, for example, if you have a vocabulary test in Spanish (level 1) using the words you are studying in conversation (level 3) is good preparation, and a good indication of preparedness.

If you have a chemistry exam on balancing reactions (level 2 or 3) being able to teach your friends how to do it (levels 4-6) is good preparation, and a good indication of preparedness. 

If you have a math test on solving systems of equations (level 1 or 2), being able to solve the “challenge” word problems at the end of the chapter (level 3 or 4) is good preparation, and a good indication of preparedness.“

Create a study group

Here is an article I’ve previously written on study groups, but I bring it up here because being in a study group ties many of the things together that I discussed in this article and in Part 1

  • It makes it easy to ask for, and receive, help from a variety of people, in an environment where working together is encouraged and expected.
  • If you read something you don’t understand, or are struggling with a problem, it’s completely natural to ask a question right at that moment.
  • It creates a consistent schedule of study. Even if it isn’t daily, meeting once or twice a week for your study group creates scheduled check-ins that you’ll feel social pressure to be prepared for. 
  • People will ask you questions, giving you an opportunity to test yourself, and discover that you don’t understand something quite as well as you thought you did.

If you are struggling with a class right now, don't feel defeated! More importantly, don't bury the class in the back of your mind. Take action today!

Are you looking to help your son or daughter take control of of a challenging class? Give us a call at 858.551.2650 or email We'd love to help!


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