With classroom sizes
increasing on many campuses and the job market becoming more
competitive, students are increasingly concerned with their
do you handle a case where you feel that your grade did not reflect
- 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
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
- 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. You have to make sure that you have followed
instructions, otherwise, you again are asking for extra
consideration that places the professor in an awkward
- Make sure you read the
carefully (if you can decipher them!). Often times confusion over
grades comes from a lack of communication
or a lack of understanding about the reasoning for a grade.
- 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. 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- Be courteous and professional in the meeting with the assistant
- Do not be accusatory -- "I don't think that you like me." or "I
think I'm being treated unfairly." 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (despite how much the subject may
put you to sleep!). 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- Generally, no one else can change the grade a professor gives:
not the Chair or department head, and not the dean or
- 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
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
- 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 show the professor that you can't stand up for
yourself and will reflect poorly on your reputation and
- 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
- Honestly, you have to accept the grade the professor gives you.
You can talk to them about it, but do not expect them to change it.
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.
College is not for sissies. You have to do substantially more work
to earn an "A" in college than you might have in high school.