Schools out. Grades are in.

Calyn Pillay
4 min readDec 10, 2020

Do this to continue achieving your academic goals.

Empty hallway, Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics.

Don’t sit with your disappoint or let it cause you to feel indifferent towards your academics. You could still achieve your academic goals, even if you failed to achieve them this academic year. Read on to find out how.

What does this actually look like?

Step 1: What were my goals?

Going into this academic year you probably had goals in mind — you could have written these down, spoken to your support network about them or internally acknowledged your desire to achieve X. Now, you must relook at these goals.

My goals for this semester were to achieve 75% in every assignment and test. Achieving this would move me towards my bigger goal of graduating with distinction.

Step 2: Take Stock — what did I achieve?

With your goals in mind and with them acting as a reference point, look at the grades you have achieved in the year. This could mean running calculations, that take in your raw grade, apply your programme’s weighting criteria and put out the percentage that you achieved in each course.

For me, at this point in the year, we only have our provisional grades. These can change depending on external moderators; however, I’ve still used these as a rough guide to let me know where I am and where I need to go. Currently, my cumulative grades +-69%. Which means I have unshot my goal by 6%. (I recommend that let yourself feel the emotions of not achieving or achieving your goals before moving onto step 3).

Step 3: How can you pivot in the next year to achieve your goals?

You may need to go back to your course outline or your year breakdowns to check how the marks you achieved contribute to the whole of your final grade.

In my case, all of the courses I have completed thus far contribute 40% to my final grade. Therefore, depending on what I score in the last 60% of my course, my bigger goal (graduating with distinction) may still be attainable. After running some calculations, I realised that I would need; at least 85% in my last course and 77% in my thesis.

At this point, you should be able to answer important questions:

  • What is the weighting of the grades I have to my overall academic goal?
  • What do I need to achieve to achieve this academic goal still?
  • Do I need to retake courses? Does my department allow this?

Step 4: Speak to your professors about what you could do over the break to come back to achieve this goal.

At this point, I recommend that you email a top student who completed the year you are about to start and that you email a professor that you have a good working relationship with. In this email, you should let them know what your goals are and ask them what they recommend you do over the break to achieve your new goals.

In my case, my professor emailed me a list of journals I should read over the break to understand how I would be expected to argue in my thesis.

Step 5: DO IT

After you have received some advice you can act on, you need to sit down with your holiday calendar and schedule in time to do the tasks that were recommended. For me, it meant scheduling in time to do readings. For you, it might be doing extra practice examples or revising material you didn’t score well in the previous year.

Some notes on the suggestions above:

  • Articulating your grade-goals can make you feel as if you ‘only care about grades’. However, remind yourself that getting the grades you want is about putting you in a position to get the opportunities you want.
  • If like me the grades you need are daunting, sense check them with your professor and your support system. If needs be, after their input, we will adjust again.
  • Email the secretary of your faculty and ask her for the names of students you could speak to. Alternatively, when you are speaking to your professor, ask them if there is a top student they would recommend for you to speak with.

Lastly, if you read this article and you can’t pivot to achieve your grade goals still — that is okay. You are still worthy. Your performance this year does not determine your value. Remember going to school is a means of achieving a larger life/ career goal. Think about what you can go to still work on over the break, with your professors and support-network to keep you moving towards and achieve that larger life/career goal.

Pictures of the Phillip V. Tobias building (my lecturer venue).



Calyn Pillay

is a MSc Med (Bioethics & HealthLaw) candidate at Wits. Interested in Effective altruism, Human Rights and Parity.