How I Failed One-Fifth of My Course Grade and Still Scored an A

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Let me tell you about the worst presentation of my life. It was my senior year in college and in order to get credit for an internship, I was enrolled in a seminar-style class to learn how to make the most of the experience. Twenty percent of the final grade was comprised of a group presentation of me and five fellow students (we didn’t get to pick our groups).

The instructions were simple: relate an experience in the workplace to a topic in the reading for the day. Each student had to pick a different topic in the reading.

With a couple of weeks to get everything squared away, it seemed like an easy way to score 20 points to our final grade, no?

This isn’t what happened at all. Instead, a series of missteps on our part caused the whole presentation to unravel.

What happened?

Communication broke down in the week leading up to the presentation.

We didn’t meet to practice because of our hectic schedules, and we hadn’t merged our individual PowerPoints together.

Half of the group showed up at the last-minute or after class began. Some of us needed to print out our slides to hand in to the professor. We didn’t have a set presentation order.

Some in the group decided to go lone-wolf and relate whatever they wanted, which in some cases meant relating the same concepts.

We scored a 60 percent, which was a shock at the time. Looking back, I’m surprised we weren’t docked more.

While there were certainly things we could have done in order to fix these issues, we didn’t. I can’t speak for everyone in the group, but I think complacency got the best of us. We thought of ourselves as professionals rather than students. Instead of making the time to practice, we thought we could get away without practice, which would have alerted us to things like not having distinct topics.

We could have done better, but that isn’t the reason I’m telling this story. I’m telling it to share how, despite the poor grade, I was able to still finish the semester with an A.

A week following the presentation, I met with my professor and told him my side of the story. I explained how communication was poor and how, despite multiple attempts by some group members to make it clear we needed distinct topics, the advice wasn’t heeded. Am I throwing certain group members under the bus? Not at all; we failed because as a team we didn’t do what we should have. We were all guilty of something that led to the 60.

The professor was understanding and told me that I wouldn’t lose an A solely because of one poor group grade. Instead, if I put my nose to the grindstone and worked hard in each subsequent class, he’d keep that in mind should my grade border on the A/B line.

So what did I do the rest of the semester? I made sure not to be late to class, which for a commuter student during the worst winter in New England in decades was no small feat. I participated in every class, asking questions and making sure to appear engaged. I did every homework assignment on time. I took every opportunity to make the term paper the best it could be, from writing it early so I had time to have it proofread and fix the mistakes and weaknesses to even having my professor give it a proofread before handing it in.

When grades came out a few months later, I scored a 95 in the class, good enough not only for an A-, but a solid A. The hard work and the conversation with my professor had paid off.

I was able to score an A because I laid out a game plan and put in hard (and extra) work. Anybody else can, too. Failure isn’t the end, and it doesn’t have to be the nail in the coffin.

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