Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wiley, Aunt Tex, Does This Work?

So I go to my iGoogle page, and I see this from WikiHow:

How to Get a Professor to Change Your Grade

So then I read on:

With classroom sizes increasing on many campuses and the job market becoming more competitive, students are increasingly concerned with their grades. How do you handle a case where you feel that your grade did not reflect your performance?


  1. Determine if you have a basis to ask your professor for a grade review. You have to understand things from the professor's point of view when it comes to grades. The professor has to do his or her best to treat everybody equally when it comes to grading. If a professor reads an exam or paper again, that is giving that paper or exam extra consideration which others in the class will not have. Therefore you really must have a good, solid reason for the professor to give you extra consideration.

    • Make sure that you followed the instructions in the syllabus or on the assignment correctly. If you are asked to answer an essay question on a test and you do not even address the points that are needed in the essay, you do not have a basis to ask for your grade to be reconsidered.
    • Make sure you read the professor's comments carefully. Often times confusion over grades comes from a lack of communication or a lack of understanding about the reasoning for a grade.
  2. Consider whether the change in your grade is worth the risks involved. Unless the injustice is truly profound, you might be better off accepting that, just as the candy machine sometimes steals your quarter, then later gives you two Mars Bars for the price of one, you probably have the GPA you deserve, even if you are occasionally docked a point or two on a particular score.

    • Think about the overall context of the grade. If you are challenging two points on an exam that is worth 100 points and the exam is worth 30% of your final grade, is it really worth to go through this hassle? Before you make a decision about challenging a grade, think about the bigger picture: How much do you really gain in the final analysis? If the answer is potentially a substantial amount, then go for it. If it is literally, hundredths of a point, then you may want to rethink your strategy.
    • If you challenge your grade, you will probably not be remembered fondly if you ask that professor for a recommendation, even if you're in the right. Especially if you're in the right. Professors are people--some are humble, but many take pride in their life's work and don't appreciate having their judgment questioned. No, no, that can't be right. They may not directly trash you on the recommendation letter, but you'll probably never get that glowing praise you were otherwise aiming for.
    • More damaging is the potential reputation for grade-grubbing that you will earn as your professor tells colleagues about your protest. This is especially likely if you're challenging a grade in your major, where a reputation for pettiness could cost you support and opportunity.
  3. Ask to make an appointment with the professor or assistant to discuss how you got the grade and how you may be able to avoid getting that type of grade on the next assignments. Professors generally will look favorably upon students who are putting a concerted effort into their course and doing their best to improve.

    • If the grade was made by a teaching assistant, do not bypass the teaching assistant in the process. Ask to make an appointment with the teaching assistant to discuss the matter. Bypassing the teaching assistant may make the assistant feel slighted, as you go over his or her head without even discussing it first. Likewise, most professors who have teaching assistants should tell you to discuss the matter with the assistant first.
  4. Prepare for the meeting. If the instructor has taken points off that you thought you deserved, go back into your lecture notes and text books and make a list of supporting evidence to have with you for the meeting. Be able to show the professor that you were not just making up the information, that you know the material well and that you were prepared. But remember, in using your evidence, this is not a trial. Use the evidence as a basis for asking the professor or assistant to reconcile it with what he or she wanted or were looking for in the paper or exam.
  5. Be courteous and professional in the meeting with the assistant or professor.

    • Do not be accusatory -- avoid phrases like "I don't think that you like me," or "I think I'm being treated unfairly." I always thought that worked. Tell the instructor that you are a bit concerned about the grade you received and you were hoping that they could take a few moments to go over the exam or paper with you.
    • Make sure you don't claim "I deserve a better grade." There is nothing that will draw the ire of a professor more than a student who is learning about a subject for the first time telling a professor, who has been studying a subject for years, that they should have gotten a better grade. Right, must remember that tidbit.
    • Do not approach a professor with the line "I did the same thing my friends did in the class and got a lower grade." First, most often, confidentiality rules will prevent a professor from discussing other students' grades. Second, each person's paper or exam is going to be different in some way; otherwise, there is going to be suspicion raised.
  6. Emphasize that you want to make sure you want to catch any problems before the next exam or paper is due. It will show the professor that you are not there just to complain and you have an interest in the subject matter. However, don't pretend to care about improving future performance if all you really want is a better grade now. Your professor will rightly conclude that you think he or she is a bit thick, which won't win you any consideration. For every professor fooled by such an act, ten will see right through you.
  7. Highlight specific areas of concern and ask for an explanation as to what went wrong in those areas (instead of asking him or her to reread the paper or exam). Your instructor should demonstrate clearly where you went wrong. If the answer doesn't jive with lecture notes or the textbook from which you got your information, then ask for clarification with the information. "Professor X, I think I understand what you have said, but I'm a bit confused because I thought from your lecture on (whatever subject or date) you said _____." or "I think I understand what you've said, but in the textbook, it seems to be saying something different and this is how I understood it."

    • If the professor is clearly in the wrong and a mistake was made, most often the professor will concede.
    • If the professor makes her or his point and it is consistent with all the information you have written, point out to the professor the consistency between the lectures, books, and the information you just received in the discussion. Let the professor try to elaborate on any information that you may be missing or let her or him justify the grade in light of that information.
    • If you show that there is strong consistency with your learning materials (lectures and notes) and what you wrote, then ask the professor if they will reconsider reducing the point deduction or the grade itself.
  8. Take it to a higher level as a last resort. If all else fails, most departments have processes in place to appeal grades to committees. This process usually starts with the Undergraduate Director or Chair of the Department. Keep in mind, it is rare that other professors will overturn another professor's grade. However, if there clearly is a miscarriage of justice, a good compromise can often be worked out, or a committee hearing can be scheduled to review the grade complaint. Just remember if you go down this road, you are entering a political process. Make sure you are absolutely convinced that you have been wronged and that there is evidence for it. The best outcome is that the situation is resolved amicably and all parties are happy; the worst is that you will feel uncomfortable taking courses with that professor again and that professor may not appreciate the challenge to his or her teaching and grading. Again, weigh the costs against the benefits and decide if this is something worth doing.


  • Distinguish between objective and subjective errors. If you are, say, in freshman biology and definitely got a multiple choice question right, that is very different from an essay exam. Even if you clearly will pick up a few points on the exam, it may not make a difference in your grade. The first thing to do is to meet with the professor (Don't just wander in; either make an appointment or come during office hours.) and say something along the lines of "I think I got a few questions right that were marked wrong. But it may not make a difference in my class grade. Is there a time limit to report these? I don't want to waste your time if it doesn't make a difference in my grade." Note the solicitude that you show for your professor's time (and they never have enough of it). On an essay or short answer exam or paper, always start with something like "I must not understand this as well as I thought I did. But I reviewed it against my notes and the textbook/readings (note: here you are pointing out that you already did the footwork to try and understand) but I still can't figure out what my problem is. Can you help me with the material?" Then as the professor goes over it with you, you can suggest that maybe the points taken off were excessive. Regardless of how thing go, be sure to thank the professor for his or her time. The very worst thing that will happen is that your professor now thinks you are better mannered than the average student and want to learn his or her material more than the average student. That is no small achievement even if you get no better grade.
  • Some professors will ask you to write out your reasons for challenging the grade. Professors are doing this so that they do not spend hours on end with students debating grades. The issue is in front of them and they judge it on its merits. This procedure can discourage students from challenging their grade without good reason, but it also gives students who have valid challenges the opportunity to present their cases clearly.
  • Understand that each discipline has its own way of doing things. Writing an English paper is very different than writing a paper for Economics or Political Science. Don't approach your professor and tell her or him that they do it another way in some other discipline; it is your responsibility to adapt to the requirements of this professor and department.
  • Many elite colleges and universities forbid the changing of final grades, except in cases of "computational error." The reason for this prohibition is that disputes over grades are an enormous waste of faculty time.
  • Professors have very little time to devote to grade disputes and most will not be happy to have to regrade your exam. Be organized, efficient and be able to make a good case for yourself.
  • Sadly, every once in a while, you have to be the adult, and the professor acts immaturely. If a situation like this persists, then find another professor to talk to, if possible in the same department. First, describe what is going on as objectively as possible. Then ask how this professor feels about the situation (and be sure to mention that you may not be describing it objectively, even though you are trying to do so). Also, ask for advice. The advice might be to "just suck it up" or to drop the class. If it is serious then this professor may be able to either talk to the 'bad' professor or initiate disciplinary action. It probably will not help you directly however.


  • Some professors will have a policy that if they review your test or paper, they will not review just the information that you want them to review; instead, the entire exam or paper is up for reevaluation. This can have its positives and negatives. The positives are obvious, but the negatives can outweigh the positives because a professor can then find other things wrong with the paper or exam and use it as a basis to lower your grade further. You have to think about how serious the grade change is to you in this case.
  • Do not act like you're the boss of the professor just because you pay tuition. This will not fly well.
  • Do not get your parents to call or threaten to have your parents call. This shows the professor that you can't stand up for yourself and will reflect poorly on your reputation and credibility. Federal privacy law prohibits professors from discussing grades with anyone but the student.
  • Do not make the mistake of thinking that all instructors will grade your work fairly. For example, if you write a paper knocking the writing of someone your instructor idolizes, expect at least a one letter grade deduction for your impertinence. That's the bad news. The good news is that such an instructor may also be fearful that you will take a complaint to someone higher up the food chain -- and raise your grade as soon as you point out the inequity rather than take a chance. Just be sure you have standing for your complaint.
  • You may have to simply accept the grade the professor gives you. You can talk to them about it, but do not expect them to change it unless they made an error. Keep your own grading records so you have documentation if you need to challenge something, but asking to have a grade changed will not go over well at any institution. The best idea is to speak to the professor about what you can do to improve in the future. Find out why you missed the points that you did and where you fell short. You have to do substantially more work to earn an "A" in college than you might have in high school.
So now I ask Aunt Tex and Wiley if this really works. What say ye, Doctor and Doctor Upandcomer?

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