How To Catch-Up In A Class After Falling Behind

Have you ever needed to catch up in a class after you’ve fallen behind?

You miss a day or two of class because you were sick, there was bad weather, or you were out of town (you could have just been tired, but that’s not as good as an excuse). Then, you show up the next week to class and are overwhelmed.

You feel so far behind that you think your only option is to drop the class and start over next semester. You justify dropping the class because it’s better than getting a D, and you don’t consider stepping it up to get a good grade.

But, the decision to drop a class brings many other potential problems. You probably will have to take extra credits the next semester, which will make for a difficult and potentially stressful time. Or a worse case is, you need to graduate a semester or two later because you dropped classes and didn’t make them up in time. That’s more tuition money and unnecessary frustration.

So, I believe the better option is to call what happened a loss, and then stay in the class to makeup work, and turn it around to achieve a good grade.

Action Plan To Makeup For Lost Time


To be completely honest, I haven’t been in this situation many times, if any. But, I know these strategies work in general, and I’m confident they can help you if you missed class and need to makeup work to get back on pace.

First and most important, is that you have a positive attitude through this process. Give yourself some slack about missing class, and then move forward. If you drown in your sadness, then you won’t be motivated to do the next steps.

You’ll want to make a checklist on a loose leaf paper that has all the assignments, notes, etc. that you missed. Then write out these activities in your planner. The act of dividing tasks by individual days will make it easier to focus on each activity and your makeup work will seem smaller than it is, which is what we are looking for.

It’s a good idea to ask your classmates what you missed, so you can pick up on the big news, if you don’t already know. (This is why it helps to make friends in the class.) But don’t stop there, because classmates aren’t as likely to know the smaller, important details as your teacher.

Next, go to your teacher’s office hours. Be honest and explain why you missed class. Then say you’re working hard to get back on schedule, and would like to know if you missed any important news.

Most times they will appreciate your effort to come into office hours and your honesty, because it shows you care. Also, if you can communicate that you care about your GPA, then it puts the thought in your teacher’s mind that you want a high grade. This can be helpful later.

If you find it hard to get started on the makeup work in a logical order, then do some small tasks that will build momentum until you’re ready to be productive. The act of starting can get you positively sidetracked on the task, instead of wasting time thinking about how long it will take.

If you’ve missed class, then hopefully your professor didn’t mark attendance or give a quiz. If you had bad luck and this happened, then it’s likely that you missed out on one or two percentage points of your grade at the most. To catch-up in strong fashion, start preparing for the biggest weighted grade, at least a week in advance. The most weighted grade is usually anywhere from 10-30% of the final grade. So, it’s worth at least five times, and sometimes 10 times, as much as the attendance or pop quiz you may have missed.

You can use the small losses as motivation to do well and get a big win in the class by excelling on the large exam. Follow the Chip Away Strategy, use focused preparation, and avoid dumb exam mistakes to ace the next exam. 

Then you’ll put yourself in position to get a high-grade regardless of your bad start.

During this catching-up process, please don’t miss current assignments and get behind on those, because that defeats the purpose. Yes, it’s going to be difficult to do last week’s work and this week’s work, but that’s the situation you are in. Put in an extra hour a day until you’re caught up, and you’ll be thankful.

Rethink The Idea Of Class

Although it’s too late at this point if you’ve already missed class, you can learn how to rethink the value of class for next time you consider skipping.

Going to class is practicing responsibility for your future work and career. By scheduling a class, you’re committing yourself to have your butt on a seat at that time, everyday it meets. Besides rare circumstances, it’s your word that you’ll be there, and there’s a saying that nothing is more important than your word.

Also, think about it this way: how are you going to get into the office at 7:45 am everyday if you are struggling to make it to your Tuesday, Thursday 10:00 am class? Spending 80 minutes in class is less painful than missing class, only to later spend 120 minutes trying to contact the teacher, other classmates, and get caught up.

If the professor hasn’t seen you in class on regular occurrences, it’s going to be hard in office hours or emails to convince your teacher that you’re putting in necessary effort. Now, your teacher is less likely to be helpful and you could lose the benefit of the doubt (possibly when it comes to borderline grades, too).

Almost no one thinks of this, but going to class provides many learning opportunities from your peers. Listen as they ask questions, and engage in discussion with a different perspective than yours. Odds are, listening and interacting will help you formulate your thoughts and grasp the content better. You’ll be thankful when you thought you were right about a topic, but obnoxious Joe in the front helped you understand that you were wrong. Now, you have that bonus information for the exam.

Speaking of the exam, teachers are known to give little tidbits of information in class (many times at the end) that helps your exam preparation. If you’re not there, how are you going to hear that? It’s not on the notes or Powerpoint. And your friend is probably not going to remember to tell you.

Lastly, college courses are expensive. In the standard three-credit hour class, each class period is around $50-100. For those of you paying for college by yourself, knowing the individual cost of a 80 minute class period can be extremely motivating to get the most out of your money.

Want other strategies to ace college? Order my book How To College!

Brian Robben

Brian Robben is the founder of Take Your Success, a site dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs grow a profitable business and reach freedom. For in-depth training, visit: