Is there a word in English for a student who is repeating a grade at school or a (university) student who hasn't completed a mandatory course successfully the first time and is retaking the class?

  • I would hazard to guess that folks tend to tiptoe around terms for this, as saying someone has "flunked" a class or grade is pejorative. You'll most likely hear a flock of nebulous terms which obfuscate the situation rather than specify it.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 9, 2015 at 1:28
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    There can be a lot of reasons for failing a class. It shouldn't always sound pejorative. Maybe a bright student had an accident and spent too much time in the hospital which kept him from attending class.
    – stillenat
    Oct 9, 2015 at 1:48
  • "retained student" seems the usual term, at least in this academic paper direct.mit.edu/edfp/article/12/3/312/10274/…
    – Stuart F
    Jul 19, 2021 at 16:42

4 Answers 4


I already heard the term holdback used for "repeater."

hold back: (idiomatic) to delay, especially in school. He's a year older than his classmates because he was held back in second grade (Your Dictionary)

Middle School Holdbacks Banned from Athletic Participation

Last week, the Kentucky Board of Education approved a new statewide rule recommended by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association that, beginning in the 2015-2016 school year, middle school students who repeat a grade for any reason won't be able to play on a school athletic team in the year they are repeating. (BlueGrassPreps)

  • The definition you cited is for the verb form thus the noun is ostensibly a neologism. Citing one article from Kentucky hardly validates the term as a standard usage in English which as I have been told is required for any answer around here. Jul 19, 2021 at 11:25
  • I checked all the major dictionaries offered on the first page of Google and none provide a definition for ‘holdback’ as a noun. Merriam-Webster does refer to the verb form holding back a grade. Thus the noun form appears to be a neologism that is the furthest along in potentially being established as standard English, but not yet standard usage. My problem with it is that the term has a much more common meaning about held back funds which may cause confusion. A more coherent neologism might end up as the standard usage. Jul 19, 2021 at 11:41

repeater (n.)

Education (originally and chiefly U.S.). A student who undertakes a grade or course again.

1909 Cleveland Public Schools Ann. Rep. 32 Dr. Ayres affirms that every sixth child in the elementary schools of American cities of size is a ‘repeater’.

2004 Washington Post (Nexis) 12 May a1 Many of the repeaters had failed English, which students must pass before they become 10th-graders. OED

A student enrolled in a class or course for a second or subsequent time. m-w

In the recovery system at my school, I teach the ninth-grade repeaters English 9 every day for the first and second quarters. If they pass the class during the first and second quarters, they are eligible to take English 10 during the third and fourth quarters. If they pass both English 9 and 10 through the system, they will have recovered two English credits in one year. Gary Hughes; Powerful Language for Reluctant Learners (2020)

Two of my classes had several repeaters in them, and I wouldn't have known this fact; except the teacher made it public knowledge because he couldn't control them at the time. My thoughts were, "God why are you punishing me? First, you did not allow me to become gifted and now you have me in a class with misfits?" Jane Green; Life (2017)


the used expression in this case is "resitter" for the students who fail in one class or more in the first sitting

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    – Community Bot
    Dec 30, 2021 at 6:43

I propose a neologism:


remediate + -ee (from remedial education)


re·me·di·al /rəˈmēdēəl/ adjective: remedial

giving or intended as a remedy or cure.
"remedial surgery"
    provided or intended for students who are experiencing learning difficulties.
    "remedial education"
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    Hello, Shelby. The 'U' in ELU is for (standard English) usage/[/s]. DIY proposals are specifically off-topic, as not being endorsable. Please delete, or I will have to downvote. Jul 19, 2021 at 11:02
  • @EdwinAshworth I would prefer the conformance police downvote than to remove my creativity. I really don’t care about my stats. Maybe you can take me down below 100 as a remedial action to punish me for not complying? As if any of the answers were standard usage, lol. There doesn’t exist a standard term for the question. Duh. Jul 19, 2021 at 11:07
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    @EdwinAshworth I upvoted you for the civility of commenting to explain your future downvote. Jul 19, 2021 at 11:14
  • @EdwinAshworth again I suggest you must be consistent and downvote all the answers here. Please read the comments I have added under the other answers explaining why they have provided neologisms not yet substantiated to be standard English usage. Jul 19, 2021 at 11:27
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    This isn't a neologism. Google finds quite a number of academic references which use it (although not in this sense, admittedly).
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 30, 2021 at 9:17

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