Why are my grades dropping?

Refer to the related question How can I improve my marks? for relevant discussion and examples.

Off-campus challenges

Off-campus learning is quite unique in that it can take more than three years to complete. It can be characterised by continuous semesters or by a pattern of withdrawals and commencements over the life of the degree program. In these circumstances, it is sometimes difficult to enjoy the benefits that come from full immersion in the university experience of a full study load and continuous semesters.

Students can lose track of the understandings they developed earlier as they switch year levels, disciplines and lecturers.

So, it is important to maintain a certain approach to your studies. This involves a conscious attention to disciplinary conventions and to the expectations of increasing depth in assessment as year levels rise. It involves on-going reflection on your own approaches to learning as you adapt and build your capabilities to address different tasks, different disciplines and different lecturers.

Here are some of the problems that result in dropping grades for some students and potential strategies for addressing them.

Different lecturers

Sometimes a student becomes used to the approach of one lecturer or set of lecturers and then experiences some confusion when a new one is encountered. Expect differences in your lecturers. Ensure you adapt to the approach of different lecturers as you move through different subjects.

  • maintain your awareness of disciplinary conventions and adapt your approach to the new demands
  • negotiate and communicate: contact your lecturer to clarify expectations or discuss expectations on your subject MUSO site.
  • improve your independent study skills

Different disciplines

Sometimes students take their understandings from one discipline to another. In doing so, they may inadvertently use the wrong register, for instance. An example of this might be making use of the reflective writing skills learned in Social Welfare, for example, and using personal reflection in a Psychology literature review. In Psychology, an objective register is expected. It is important to be aware of such differences.

  • Build your inter-disciplinary awareness by making a study of what is required in different areas and adapting what you already know to the new 'culture' you're in, such as in the area of referencing
  • Orient yourself to the assessment practices and criteria of each discipline you're working within

Different year levels

Recall that an increase in year level will bring with it an expectation that your academic skills and critical faculties have also increased. Students, for example, who undertake a first-year subject after a range of third-year subjects, comment on how much easier it is in that subject. You may find, though, that the demands of a higher year level can stretch your capabilities.

Different tasks

Each new subject you undertake will bring with it a potentially different set of tasks. In your first year, it may appear that everything is unrelated. However, you'll find that the skills and approaches you build and adopt will transfer to new situations, and you will begin to notice commonalities. Nevertheless, don't rely on your 'usual' approach.

  • As you gain more confidence and practice, your time spent on research will become more effective. However, some tasks will require more research time or approaches as you learn about new fields of knowledge. Ensure you build this extra time into organising your study
  • There will be differences in presentation requirements, so work on your approaches to dealing with assessment tasks you haven't seen before and different referencing techniques
  • Orient yourself to assessment, as criteria will also change between tasks
  • There is a difference between the objectives of exams and in-semester assessment. Acquaint yourself with handling examinationsand ensure you are organised for them
  • Be aware of the potential for 'cross-transfer' or the potential that you will use the understandings and conventions you have learned in one discipline inappropriately in another. Maintain your interdisciplinary awareness by making a study of what is required in different areas and adapting what you already know to the new 'culture' you're in, such as in the area of referencing

Going off-task

It can be a challenge, sometimes, to maintain your focus on your study.

  • Make a regular review of unit objectives and assessment criteria.
  • Maintain your efforts– it's only for 13 weeks at a time!
  • Choose recommended Library resources for independent learning, for example, or studying at distance to help you stay in control
  • Remember, you don't have to go it alone: maintain your contacts and connection with your learning community