Consequences and Rewards for Bad Grades: What Works and What Doesn’t

Parents and educators often find themselves at a loss when motivating students to do their best in school. Punishment for bad grades may seem like the obvious solution, but research has shown that this is only sometimes effective. Rewards can also be used as an incentive, but they, too, come with drawbacks. So what works when it comes to consequences and rewards for a bad grade? This article will explore the different methods of motivating students and discuss which ones are most successful in encouraging academic achievement.

Common Causes of Bad Grades

Before considering any reward or consequence, it’s essential to understand the root causes of a student’s poor grades. Even though a bad grade on a test is the main reason for the situation, it can be caused by the following things:

Lack of Understanding

Poor grades often result from insufficient understanding of the material. If you are struggling to comprehend something, it is your responsibility to find a way to overcome this difficulty.

Poor Study Habits

Studying by reviewing vocabulary lists, re-reading chapters, and looking over notes is ineffective and not considered a valid study method. Many individuals are taught to employ such techniques, resulting in poor grades. However, you can improve this as it is within your control. To succeed in high school and college, it is crucial to learn how to study. Two essential techniques you should be utilizing are spaced repetition and active recall.

Learning Disabilities

In the 2019-2020 school year, 14 percent of students aged between 3 and 21 were getting help for learning disabilities, as the National Center for Educational Statistics reported. This percentage does not cover students with learning disabilities who are not receiving support or those with undiagnosed disabilities. If a child experiences difficulty accessing their curriculum due to a learning disability, poor grades are often an early sign of a problem.


student playing on his phone while in class

Low grades are caused by distraction, which includes having too many things to do, caring about the wrong things, improper prioritization, getting involved in social drama, being too cool for school, and dependency on phones and technology.

Lack of Motivation

Improving motivation can be challenging since it involves emotions and brain chemistry, but lacking motivation may contribute to poor grades. Some helpful strategies can enhance motivation. But the most effective suggestion is relying more on discipline than motivation. Being disciplined focuses on taking action, which is within your control, unlike emotions.

Physical or Mental Health Issues

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) law, anxiety and depression are classified as emotional disturbances, one of the 13 disability categories. These disorders affect various areas of the brain responsible for learning and motivation. If a student experiences anxiety or depression, their grades are likely to suffer. It’s important to note that chronic anxiety is distinct from episodic anxiety (such as test or performance anxiety).

Teacher-Student Dynamics

If you are a passive student, you avoid participating, asking questions, and seeking help when needed. You may also blame teachers when things go wrong and expect help whenever you need it. However, the school works differently, and you must take responsibility for your learning by being more active and seeking out information yourself.

Personal Circumstances

If you delay studying, writing essays, doing assignments, and completing projects until the deadline, it will adversely affect your grades. Procrastination results in hurried and haphazard work, and it is scientifically proven that it’s not an effective way to study as it does not allow for spaced repetition.

Lack of Support

A student may receive poor grades if they don’t have enough support or resources. It’s essential to have mentors and peers to help you stay motivated and on track. Contact your school counselor for assistance if your family cannot provide the necessary support.

Now that you’ve identified some common causes of bad grades, you should explore how to address them.

How to handle the news of disappointing bad grades?

When receiving news of a bad test score, the initial reaction is disappointment, anger, and frustration. Instead of immediately punishing or rewarding your child, step back and focus on problem-solving. Here are some tips to help you handle a bad report card when you receive it for the first time.

Take a Step Back

It is important to avoid reacting immediately. Even though it might be tempting to express your frustration, especially if it is an ongoing issue, it is not advisable.

Find a Suitable Time to Talk

mother and son conversation

It would be helpful to wait until you have regained your composure before discussing the matter with your child. You could suggest a specific time to talk. Engaging in a screaming match would only lead to an unproductive outcome, so it’s best to avoid that.

Discuss the Issue

Having a calm and rational discussion can help your child understand the gravity of their situation. Talk about why they received poor grades, ask if they need help with anything, and provide support.

How to Help Your Child Improve Their Bad Grades

Now that you have discussed the issue, it’s time to figure out how your child can improve their grades. Here are some methods that may help:

Create an Action Plan

Work together with your child to create an action plan. The plan should include a realistic timeline and achievable goals. This plan will help them stay focused and motivated during their studies.

Improve Your Child’s Organization Habits

The principle of a cluttered desk representing a cluttered mind holds for backpacks, binders, and lockers. Disorganization can contribute to academic struggles for students. Fortunately, the end of the quarter presents a great opportunity to get organized.

Provide Resources for Learning

online courses on the laptop screen

If your child needs assistance with a particular subject, it would be wise to provide them with resources such as tutors, online courses, and study materials that can help them improve their grades.

Teach Good Study Habits

Encourage your child to adopt good study habits. For example, have them create a study schedule and reward them for sticking to it. Guide how to study efficiently, such as time management and active recall.

Pomodoro Study Technique 

The Pomodoro study technique is helpful for managing time and increasing productivity while studying. It involves dividing your to-do list into short time intervals with breaks in between rather than trying to multitask. This helps you avoid exhaustion from studying for long periods.

Rewards and Consequences in Academic Motivation

Rewards and consequences are often used to motivate students in academic contexts. But it is important to remember that punishment and rewards are not the only methods of encouraging students. Consequences can involve taking away privileges, assigning extra work, or putting additional responsibility on the student. Rewards can include verbal praise, tangible rewards such as gifts, or fun activities the student enjoys.

Learning Process and Academic Performance

It is important to note that rewards and consequences can be effective, but they should not be used as a substitute for teaching. Any rewards or punishments should aim to help the student learn how to take responsibility for their learning process and academic performance.

The type of incentive you choose will depend on the individual student and may require trial and error to find the most effective method. Ultimately, the best approach to academic motivation is creating an environment that encourages learning and fosters a positive relationship between students and teachers.

This will ensure that rewards or consequences are seen as part of a supportive system rather than punishment or bribery. Any student can achieve their academic goals with the right mixture of encouragement, guidance, and support.

Alternative Approaches to Encourage Academic Improvement

If rewards and consequences are not working for your student, there are other approaches that you can take. For example, setting a goal-oriented challenge can be highly motivating. This involves assigning the student an achievable task or project with a deadline and specific criteria they need to meet to succeed.


You can also consider offering incentives such as a break from homework or extra computer time if they meet their goal. Additionally, setting up a reward system outside of academics can help motivate students to stay on track with school work and progress in other areas.

Regular Evaluation

Finally, it is essential to remember that each student is different, and one size does not fit all when it comes to motivation. Be sure to evaluate your approach regularly and adjust as necessary to provide the most effective incentives for your student’s success.

Finding the Right Balance: Combining Consequences, Rewards, and Other Approaches

Although rewards and consequences often motivate students to do their best in school, they should not be the only methods employed. You must balance these approaches and other alternatives, such as goal setting and incentives, to encourage academic improvement. This will help ensure that your student has the tools necessary to achieve their academic goals.

By considering the different methods of motivating students and understanding which are most effective, you can ensure that your child has a positive school experience and can reach their potential. With the right approach, any student can become an engaged, enthusiastic learner – regardless of their grades.


Here are some frequently asked questions about consequences and rewards for bad grades.

Is it okay to have bad grades?

Yes, it is okay to have bad grades. Everyone has their learning style, and it can take some time to figure out the best strategies for success. What matters most is trying your best and learning from your mistakes.

What are the effects of bad grades?

The effects of bad grades can range from feeling embarrassed to being at risk of not achieving your goals. It is important to remember that mistakes can be turned into learning opportunities and should not prevent you from trying your best.

Should I punish my kid for bad grades?

No, punishing your child for bad grades is not recommended. Instead of punishment, focus on problem-solving and identifying the reasons behind their struggles so that you can work together to find a solution.

It is important to remember that grades are not the only measure of success; many other factors can contribute to a person’s academic performance. Instead of punishing your child for bad grades, focus on problem-solving and helping them develop better study habits to achieve their goals. By understanding how rewards and consequences work, you can create an environment where students feel supported while striving towards their objectives. With the right balance between incentives, guidance, support, and encouragement, any student can become an engaged learner – regardless of their grades.

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