This is from TOEFL speaking TPO3:

In my first year in high school, I was addicted to video games. I played them all the time, and I wasn't studying enough. I was failing chemistry. That was my hardest class.

It doesn't make sense to me why it is "was failing." I mean if I took the exam and failed it, it should just be "I failed chemistry." Or does it mean I wasn't doing well in chemistry and probably going to fail it in the exam that hadn't come yet?

  • 1
    In the US educational system, the final grade is not based solely on the final exam grade. In this case, the student's grades throughout the year were below the minimum threshold, consistently. Commented May 19, 2022 at 6:26
  • Why did the speaker prefer "wasn't studying enough" over " didn't study enough"? Are both answers natural here? I understand that " I failed chemistry" would be a significant change in meaning compared to "I was failing" but "didn't study enough" and "wasn't studying" seemed to me to mean pretty much the same thing? Is it because by using negation in Past Simple I imply that there wasn't a single instance of studying throughout the whole semester and that cotradicts the idea of "not enough"? (the latter implying that there were some instance of studying just not enough of them) Commented May 19, 2022 at 11:28

1 Answer 1


If a course entails multiple graded tasks— homework, quizzes, tests, projects— then failing might very well entail a lengthy process. That's why the word "failing" is correct: it reflects the ongoing nature of the student's unsuccessful performance.

  • Is it possible to say "I didn't study enough" in this context? Commented May 19, 2022 at 11:37
  • Yes, that would be perfectly apt, particularly as an amplifying remark. The sentence referring to falling is effective because of its reference to a protracted, ongoing series of difficulties. Commented May 19, 2022 at 11:49
  • is there any particular reason why the speaker chose "wasn't studying enough" over "didn't study enough? Or they are pretty much equal here? (in terms of meaning) Commented May 19, 2022 at 11:53
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    @Mr.PastProgressive similarly to the way "was failing" indicates a consistent and sustained unsuccessful performance, "wasn't studying enough" indicates that they consistently didn't study enough, rather than that they didn't study enough once.
    – Esther
    Commented May 19, 2022 at 15:31
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    @Mr. Past Progressive. I'm sorry that I misunderstood your question. I don't agree entirely with what Esther says. I do agree that wasn't studying enough more clearly shows an ongoing level of poor performance than didn't study enough does, but I nevertheless think that didn't study enough can refer to a lengthy period of poor performance, not just one or two instances of it. Commented May 19, 2022 at 17:24

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