I'm a master electrical engineering student in a state university and I just took my very last final exam on Wednesday. I totally screwed up. I could not solve any of the problems (4 problems). It has never happened to me before. I thought I studied enough for it but I guess not. I'm looking at like 20 on the final which is 35% of the total grade. I had about 80% before final. What's sad is that I did study for it and I feel crushed that I couldn't do it at all.

I had a 3.5 GPA before this. Since there are only 10 classes in masters, if I fail 1 class would be fatal to the GPA. My main concern is I'm about to graduate and look for a job, but this is going to ruin my GPA. I sent an email to professor yesterday saying:

I know I did very poorly on the exam. I thought I understood the material and would be able to perform similar like the midterm but clearly I was wrong. I spent a lot of time doing homework and study but I really don't have excuse for this kind of performance.

Would you please consider withdrawing me from the class if you are able? I really can not have a D or F. . . . I understand this is my own responsibility and thank you for the semester.

I sent it Friday 9 am. Of course, I haven't heard back from the professor. My question is: should I just wait for the grade to show up on Wednesday next week and see what happens or go talk to the professor?

  • 52
    Does your university actually allow a professor to withdraw a student from a class after the final exam? My experience is always that only the student can initiate a withdrawal, it's handled by the registrar instead of the professor, and it has to be much earlier than the final exam. If you've asked her for something that's impossible or forbidden, then you certainly shouldn't expect a positive response. Dec 9, 2017 at 21:31
  • 2
    @NateEldredge: As you might guess, it depends on the institution. Some locales expand and encourage W's as a way to juice statistics to show fewer failures. At my institution we currently have 4 different varieties of W, one of which can be given by the instructor at the end of the semester. Dec 9, 2017 at 23:59
  • 5
    It might be that the OP was upset, but I think it's a bad sign that they have at least 4 grammatical errors in this short email to the instructor. Dec 10, 2017 at 0:01
  • 8
    Since you seem to be freaking out, a bit of perspective: you're doing a master's in electrical engineering. There are companies and governments who will pay you six figures for just the bachelor's degree in that subject, once you've got a couple of years of working experience, and your grades are barely relevant (in that they will check whether you passed. that's it).
    – Nij
    Dec 10, 2017 at 6:14
  • 3
    @DaveL: Probably the only thing the instructor could do is give you an incomplete. He can’t withdraw you from the course.
    – aeismail
    Dec 10, 2017 at 17:07

8 Answers 8


As Nate Eldredge cautions in his comment above, it's probably up to you, not the instructor to submit a withdrawal request to the registrar. Usually, the instructor's only involvement is to approve or disapprove your request. But once you've taken the final and depending on your school's policies, it's probably too late to withdraw anyway.

That said, your life is almost certainly not ruined. If you wrote anything at all, you will likely get some partial credit. And who knows how your instructor will curve the results. If you had trouble even after doing your best to prepare, it's quite possible others did as well and that the curve will be much easier than either you or the instructor expected. Sometimes instructors accidentally write a test that's too hard or has errors that make a problem impossible. (I taught EE at Washington and now teach CS at Michigan, so think about how I would know this happens! :)

Finally, even if your final grade is low enough that you need to repeat, this is still not fatal. Students are rarely aware of just how many of their peers have to repeat classes. And guess what, they still get jobs. Yes, of course I understand why you're upset. But you're not dead yet.

  • 1
    Thank you. I will see what happens and act accordingly. This is just rather depressing.
    – DL72
    Dec 9, 2017 at 22:52
  • 3
    I agree. If you didn't cram and you genuinely felt confident you understood the material well, the final was probably designed to be as difficult as possible. The grade will probably be curved on grade distribution of the class, in which case, partial credit will mean everything.
    – James Choi
    Dec 10, 2017 at 10:38

Wait for the results, then go and see the relevant people - everybody can then act on a real situation instead of "well this" and "well that"...

You don't know what the marking scheme was so what you think you should have put and what is being looked for may be two different things.

I messed up a double compressor output temperature - expected zero and was panicking.... Grades came out with 18/20 : turned out the process was worth more than 1 temperature...

  • 1
    This may possibly be bad advice. It's certainly harder to change a grade after it's been registered than before. Dec 10, 2017 at 0:02
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    @DanielR.Collins Perhaps this depends on the institution. I've changed grades many times for many reasons and no one has ever questioned any change I submitted. It's usually just an online form that takes 5 minutes. Instructors typically have a lot of academic freedom to decide how to grade and whether to reconsider. Dec 10, 2017 at 0:49
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    Do NOT wait for the results unless you know what deadlines need to be met. If you need to submit your withdrawal form on Thursday and you get your test results on Friday then it will be too late.
    – Readin
    Dec 10, 2017 at 3:55
  • Twice in my student career I was sure that I had failed final exams. These were at different institutions with different professors. I received grades of A in both courses. I asked both professors about my course grade. The first one said, "You knew more than you thought." I suspect a serious curve in that case. In the second case the professor just replied, "Your grade is correct." I think he made an actual mistake, but chose not to correct it.
    – Bob Brown
    Dec 10, 2017 at 21:26
  • 1
    @Pharap the calculation had several parts and the temperature was only an interim result for one part, so points were scored for the other parts...
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 12, 2017 at 0:47

First off, generally nobody cares about your GPA other than your school and any school you want to go to.

Second, I have had tests in Engineering school that I felt about the same way. In most cases, the test was overly hard, and some things weren't covered. The teacher re-scaled. I had many test that literally everyone "failed", and the scaled scores meant that almost everyone passed.

You can try to call the prof, go to their office, and/or email them to see how you did in the course as a whole. Or, wait until grades come out, and appeal to the professor.

  • 12
    Not quite true. GPA does matter if you're applying for your first job out of school and some employers (e.g., Google) care no matter how long you've been out. Some of the students I've seen in my advising appointments have reported their offers are conditional on maintaining over a 3.0, for example. Dec 10, 2017 at 1:23
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    Heck, where my dad worked they continued to care about GPAs all the way through their entire career, and even posted it as part of their internal retirement announcements.
    – fluffy
    Dec 11, 2017 at 8:45

In undergrad classes, there is often a bell curve used for assigning the final grade, with the people in the middle receiving a C. In grad school, it's different. Usually, excellent work will receive an A and good work will receive an A- or a B.

Let's suppose that up until the final, you were somewhere around an A-. Of course, how the final affects your grade for the course will be influenced by how the other students did on the exam. But let's suppose the worst case scenario for the moment: you had a bad day, or you misjudged what sorts of things would be emphasized in the final exam, or the type of problem solving needed for this course isn't a good fit... but most of the other students did well enough to validate the exam in general terms. In this case I'd expect the poor showing in the final exam would bump you down to approximately a B (based on the weight of the final exam of 35% that you mentioned). (Since you said you were at around 80% going into the final, I'd be very surprised if you got anything worse than a C for the course.)

I suggest you get in touch with your advisor if you have one, or the graduate program director, on Monday to share your concern. S/he can ask the professor to take a look at your exam and provide some informal quick feedback about the exam and your overall performance in the course.

I hope you will be open to the idea of demonstrating your mastery of the material through alternate means over the break. Possibly such an option could be negotiated. But in that conversation on Monday I would just express your concern, without making any proposals. (Also, no histrionics please -- you can say you're feeling anxious, but please speak calmly.)

While you are waiting, I suggest you do some housework, get some exercise, read a potboiler, and do some practice problems from your textbook, in case everyone did badly and the class is offered a re-take -- and also for your edification.

  • 2
    In undergraduate engineering courses, the median is usually curved to around 3.2, maybe 3.3 with a long tail at the low end. In graduate courses, where everyone is already expected to pretty good else they wouldn't be there, the median is often curved to around 3.5 or better. Dec 10, 2017 at 14:09

As other answers have said, you don't know how the professor is going to grade the final. You can talk to your classmates and see how they did to see if you're the only one who had trouble. I don't know what you mean when you say this will destroy your GPA. If you're taking 10 classes and each class is out of a 4 point scale, that means that each class is .4 points in your GPA, so a GPA of 3.5 would be brought down to 3.1. It would probably be more fruitful to ask for an incomplete than a drop. Also, most schools allow you to retake classes that you get worse than a C- in.


Wait to see what mark you actually get first, then if you feel it necessary, try to have a word with your professor.

In my experience (in the mathematics department in a large university), staff are always interested in discrepancies between a student's past record and his performance on one exam.

This can of course be "negative interest" (he did surprisingly well... was he cheating?) but it can very well also be "positive interest" (he did surprisingly badly... should we give him another opportunity, for example a supplementary exam). If your past record is good, I should think the least you can expect is for your professor to give you a respectful hearing and to carefully consider if there are any options. Though do be prepared for the possibility that it is not the professor's decision and he/she may be unable to help.


Thank you everyone. I went to talk to my professor today after all. He smiled at me and said he gave me a B-. I did bad on final and he told me dont even look at it. LOL. He said I did decent on mid term and my project. It is not right to give me too bad of a grade just because of a bad exam. I can sleep better tonight. XD

Now life goes on and I shall start doing a couple EE related projects myself while looking for a job.


Where I teach, it's too late to withdrawal. You basically have two options: firstly, if you pass, you can just take the hit on the GPA. Unless your looking at a PHD program, most employers don't consider your GPA score important when hiring and after a few years work it's work performance that is important. The second option is like a withdrawal, just take the course over and the second grade replaces the first grade on the GPA.

  • 2
    You don't get hired based on a few years work on a job you haven't been hired for yet. What is your first employer going to judge you on other than your GPA unless you have a lot of relevant work experience?
    – JeffC
    Dec 11, 2017 at 1:19
  • @JeffC - Your interview? Your other results? I got hired as a programmer with a 2ii. (I had excellent A-levels, a 1st in the 1st year, a 2i in the second year, and the aforementioned 2ii in the third. The trend was not good, but I managed to convince them I could code, and 35 years later I can.) Dec 11, 2017 at 10:20
  • @MartinBonner ...and how do you get that interview? Unless you are looking for a job with minimal competition, you will be filtered out with the others that are below a GPA threshold (most likely). You won't even get the interview. What "other results"?
    – JeffC
    Dec 11, 2017 at 14:30
  • @JeffC : I wrote lots of applications. "other results": Results from the intermediate years; in my case (UK) results from the exams at the end of the school year (A-levels are the muggle equivalent of Newts, and not much like US High School graduation.) in the OP's case, the results from the Bachelor's course. Dec 11, 2017 at 14:47
  • @MartinBonner I wrote lots of applications. that would fall under what I mentioned as "relevant work experience."
    – JeffC
    Dec 11, 2017 at 15:48

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