How to Fail a Class Spectacularly: Advice For College Students

As August meanders towards fall, students across the country are packing up piles of crap their parents bought them at Target and figuring out how to Tetris it into their dorm rooms. Soon-to-be freshmen are stepping tentatively into the gaping maw of college bookstores, scanning seemingly endless aisles for their course numbers and professors’ names.

Students who plan to commute are figuring out if they can get away without buying a parking permit, and wondering exactly how vigorously the meter maids enforce the two-hour limit on the streets closest to campus. Students are hefting backpacks and skateboards and bike baskets and U-locks, and a particularly clueless few are rolling out “hoverboards,” which will hopefully catch fire before the semester begins and mercifully save us all from the secondhand embarrassment of watching people pretending to enjoy themselves as they awkwardly wobble down the hallways.

And then there’s you. You’ve got a different kind of dream. You’re an iconoclast. You don’t want to work, you don’t want to persevere, and you certainly don’t want to succeed. You want to fail your classes, and fail hard.

And this dream is definitely within reach!

Here are my tips on how to fail a college class as spectacularly as possible. In an ideal world, following almost any one of these tips ought to get you there, but if you’re faced with a particularly generous or inattentive professor, a combined approach should guarantee that sweet, sweet “No Credit” on your report card. I’m writing particularly for those of you about to enter the composition classroom, since that’s my home turf, but this advice on how to fail can more or less apply to any class.

Don’t Show Up: Not showing up is an excellent way to fail a class. If you must attend, showing up late is a good alternative, since it ensures that you torpedo your participation grade and disrupt what everyone else is doing. Arriving late guarantees that you have no idea what’s going on, which means you will have to ask the people sitting around you what’s going on, which will annoy the shit out of your neighbors and your instructor. Some students prefer the more subtle approach of leaving in the middle of class for extended “bathroom breaks,” or ghosting before class ends. Both are terrific ways to miss important information about assignments and class activities.

Don’t Get Your Shit Together: Often, students can pick up required books even before the course begins, because the bookstore will have them in stock. If failure is your goal, then avoid the bookstore like the plague. Definitely do not check the “required materials” or “assigned texts” section of your syllabus on the first day of class. If you must get your books, wait as long as possible, and order them online using the slowest possible shipping method to ensure that you don’t get them until long after readings from that text have been assigned.

Speaking of the Syllabus, Completely Ignore It: You don’t want to pass, so why would you care about how much different assignments in the class are worth, or when they’re due? Why would you need to know about possible extra credit opportunities, when you aren’t going to bother with regular credit? Some nefarious instructors force students to read the syllabus by going over it in class. If you’re faced with this kind of underhanded tactic, skim the syllabus begrudgingly, absorbing as little information as possible, and then do your best to forget everything in it as quickly as you can.

Avoid Office Hours At All Costs: Professors set aside time to visit with students who have questions, want feedback on drafts, or just want to chat. Crazy, I know! If you want to fail your class, steer clear. The last thing you want is a kindly professor trying to show you the value of the assignments the class is doing.

Give Tutoring a Wide Berth: At the university I teach at, tutoring services are readily available for free. There’s even a tutoring service specifically for students taking English classes! Students can even earn a course credit in some cases for weekly tutoring. I’ve seen similar programs at many community colleges. It’s a conspiracy to try to get students to pass their classes, and you shouldn’t fall for it.

Don’t Do Your Assignments: Now, in a writing class, you’re going to be expected to do some writing. Don’t give in to the temptation! In fact, if you want to make your professor wonder “WTF is up with this kid?” in addition to guaranteeing you score that failing grade, I suggest the strategy of showing up to every class, participating in class discussion — but never doing a single assignment. It’s guaranteed to create maximum confusion in your instructors while still putting you in zero danger of earning enough points to pass.

If You Must Do the Assignments, Don’t Actually Do the Assignments: Now, obviously turning in work is a bit more work than not doing any work, so I can’t really recommend this strategy if you’re really dedicated to failing the class. But if you really want to turn something in while still ensuring that you inflict maximum damage on your overall grade, here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t read the assignment sheet. Just write whatever you feel like writing! Maybe take your inspiration from what you half-remember from the class a few weeks ago when the instructor first handed out the assignment sheet, if you’ve got some peer reviewers breathing down your neck.
  • Guess at the required page length for the assignment. Aim to turn in something about half as long.
  • Copy and paste some random shit you found on the internet. Don’t spend more than a few minutes on a Google search. Actually, use Bing. Specify in your writing that you used Bing to get a “different perspective.” Definitely don’t bother citing anything that you copy and paste into your essay. Figuring out what sources you plagiarized will be like a fun little detective game for your professor!
  • Wait as long as possible  to start writing. And when you do — never look back. Never revise. Just forge ahead. Dance like no one is watching, and proofread like no one will ever read your writing. In fact, skip the proofreading.
  • If given the opportunity to revise for a better grade, find something else to do. Anything. Pokémon Go. Hackey sack. Macramé.

Fully Commit: Now, some students really seem dedicated to failing the class, and then have a change of heart at the very end of the semester. Sometimes the change of heart comes even after grades have been submitted. These students come in well after the opportunity to pass has passed, asking about extra credit, revisions, whole fantastic new assignments of their own invention, which will somehow pull them back from the brink. This demeans us both. If you want to experience that kind of shame, just buy yourself a hoverboard.


Now, as a professor, I’d much rather help you pass my class than watch you fail it. So if on the whole you’d rather not fail if you can help it (and indeed you can!), I put together some tips for you here.


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