When Bart presents his book report at school on Treasure Island, it is clear to everyone that he has not read the book, instead commenting on the cover. Mrs. Krabappel tests Bart by asking him to name the main pirate in the book, which he cannot do. She warns him that his grades have gotten steadily worse since the beginning of the term, and that there will be an exam on Colonial America the following day. Bart, however, does not pay attention to a word she says. He tries to study, but he repeatedly procrastinates until late at night, whereupon he falls asleep over his textbooks.
When he wakes up the next morning, he is worried he will flunk. He goes to Sherri and Terri for help while riding to school, and they offer him false answers in hopes that he will fail the test. Martin warns Bart of the faulty information he has received, so, right before the test, Bart "collapses". He goes to see the nurse, who diagnoses Bart with amoria phlebitis (loss of vision), and sends him home. At home, Bart procrastinates again and calls Milhouse to copy his answers on the test. When he takes the test, Mrs. Krabappel tells him that he did worse than Milhouse. Homer and Marge have an interview with Mrs. Krabappel and the school's counselor, Dr. J. Loren Pryor, who sees Bart as an underachiever and suggests that Bart will be held back a grade if he doesn't shape up. Bart, however, is strongly against this idea and proclaims he could pass fourth grade. Homer replies that he may have to repeat the fourth grade as warned.
With Bart worried he might be held back, he looks to Martin for help. He helps Bart study, and Bart reciprocates by showing him how to be more popular, which encourages Martin to take on some of Bart's bad attitudes. Bart reminds the "new" Martin about the test the following day, but he ignores it, and now Bart must study on his own. He prays to God that something will happen to make him miss school the next day so he can have more time to study. That night it snows and schools are closed the next morning. Bart immediately rushes downstairs to go outside and play in the snow. After Lisa reminds him of his wish, he plans to study for the rest of the day, while everyone is outside having fun. However, even Bart's studying is a distraction; as he tries to picture himself as a member of the First Continental Congress on July 4, 1776 witnessing the signing of the Declaration of Independence, he then pictures it somehow snowing in July, to which the signers then go out and have fun in the snow. Bart forces himself to pay attention by slapping himself in the face repeatedly.
The next day, as soon as he finishes the test, he asks Mrs. Krabappel to grade it immediately. She gives it back to him and he sees that he got 59%, another F. Agitated at this failure after having made a bigger effort, Bart breaks down in tears. However, Mrs. Krabappel always assumes he was used to failing her class. While she tries consoling him, Bart laments that now he understands how George Washington felt when he surrendered Fort Necessity to the French in 1754. The stunned Mrs. Krabappel, realizing that he did study after all, gives Bart an extra point for demonstrating applied knowledge, pushing his grade up to 60%, a D-, the lowest passing grade. Bart becomes so joyful about passing that he gives his teacher a kiss on the cheek and runs throughout Springfield shouting out about passing, then realizes that he kissed his teacher and spits in disgust. At home, Homer proudly hangs the test on the fridge and Bart states: "Part of this D- belongs to God."
When the FOX network chose to show The Simpsons on Thursday at 8:00 P.M. EST against the highly-rated NBC sitcom The Cosby Show, many were expecting this to be a war for ratings. Surprisingly, this episode of The Simpsons drew higher ratings in its first airing than The Cosby Show, and it would lead to the cancellation of The Cosby Show in 1992.
The episode was ranked 31st on Entertainment Weekly list of the 100 Greatest Moments in Television.
It marked the first time that The Simpsons aired at the same time as The Cosby Show on NBC. It averaged an 18.4 Nielsen Rating and 29% of the audience. In the weeks ratings, it finished tied for eighth behind The Cosby Show which had an 18.5 rating. However, an estimated 33.6 million viewers watched the episode, making it the number one show in terms of actual viewers that week. At the time, it was the most watched episode in the history of the Fox Network. At the time, NBC had 208 television stations, while Fox had only 133. It is still the highest rated episode in the history of the show.
This episode marked the first time that the second version of the opening sequence was used, which was different from the opening used in the first season. However, this episode had slightly different colors and brightnesses.
The Simpsons logo is in a lighter blue sky and is surrounded by clouds instead of mist and all dies down.