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How do I dispute my final grade with a professor?
December 20, 2011 12:34 AM   Subscribe

Is it okay to dispute final grades? Can I ask certain assignments to be re-evaluated if I did not ask earlier? How do I go about doing this?

I took a course where there were three essays. I did poorly on one of them, but I didn't dispute them even though I thought he had completely misinterpreted my understanding of the theory. I didn't want to argue it because I felt like it might have been my writing that confused him. I also didn't want to offend him. However, I recently spoke with a fellow student who wrote an essay that interpreted the theory the same way I had, but received a much higher grade. I know it's not my writing because he said it wasn't my writing that got me the low mark, but my ideas. Certainly, I cannot compare my fellow student's work and mine without truly understanding hers, but I don't think we were so drastically different in our understanding that she got an A and I nearly failed.

My second essay was also pretty horrible, but I did some bonus work that made up for how bad it was. My third essay got a really good mark but my professor marked it, and not my TA because she came around to see our presentations on it and took an interest in mine. It was also the one that was worth the most. I also feel like I did pretty well on the final although I have yet to see it.

We got our final marks back, and basically, I'm not where I want to be. I'm at a 77% and I don't feel like it reflects my work and understanding at all. I know I should have spoken with the TA beforehand about my essays but I didn't want to come across as a complainer.

Can I talk to my professor about this now - after I've seen the final? I did some rough calculations and I would've have to done horribly on the final and gotten very little participation marks to not make an 80. I go to all the classes, do all the assignments, participate regularly and I worked hard for this. How do I talk to her about this? Is there a chance that my mark can be changed?

I am not complaining or whining about the 77 without justification. I did poorly on some assignments, and I accept that I did bad on those, but there were a few assignments that I failed to explain myself because I didn't want to be difficult. Now, I feel like this mark is unfair and it doesn't at all reflect my abilities.

Is it too late to talk to her about these assignments now? Or should I accept it and move on?
posted by cyml to Education (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
A rather bad idea - you might want to start by reading the following forum thread to get a sense how bad of an idea it is, actually:
Grade-Grubbing Hall of Fame
posted by coffee_monster at 12:57 AM on December 20, 2011 [10 favorites]


Accept and move on.

I'm not a professor or TA but a lot of my friends are. The past two weeks their Facebook updates are filled with rants about students waiting until its far, far too late to ask them to consider grade adjustments, some indeed begging for it.

Overriding sentiment is that they should have reached out much sooner.
posted by SoulOnIce at 1:11 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


What country are you in? In the UK and the environment I'm accustomed with, a 77 would be pretty darn great, certainly after two bad essays out of three. I'd let it slide; you're just going to cause grief.
posted by Namlit at 1:17 AM on December 20, 2011


Accept and move on. If you didn't want to come off as a complainer before, you certainly will come off as a complainer now.

"I go to all the classes, do all the assignments, participate regularly and I worked hard for this."
Sorry, but I'm not sure this means you ought to get an A. You did poorly on two of the essays. You didn't bother to figure out why until the end of the semester. This is not working hard, in my mind.

You should have spoken to the TA earlier. If you do choose speak to the professor now, you should still speak to the TA first.
posted by quodlibet at 1:18 AM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


At my school if the grade is final (already turned into the registrar) it is not supposed to be changed unless there was a clear numerical miscalculation involved.
posted by metahawk at 1:20 AM on December 20, 2011


Wish I could have this on the wall of my office but it would be frowned upon: "The only appeals that ever succeed are on procedural grounds."
posted by cromagnon at 1:48 AM on December 20, 2011


Since you don't seem to understand what went wrong, it's valid to go ask to see how your work should have been different. It is within the realm of possibility that in the process of review your mark will change, but more likely it will be a painful and useful experience. The TA to Prof escalation ususlly causes them to not hold back, though some are much more diplomatic about it than others.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:16 AM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have taught a lot of university courses (in Australia) and I also agree that it is too late to ask outright for a grade reconsideration (although check your university's policies - it's possible there is some official route you could take). What I recommend instead is seeing your TA or prof and talking about what generally went wrong this semester and asking for general advice for next year. Bring your essays along, but with a genuine curiosity, not the expectation of a grade change. There is a slight possibility that this WILL lead to a grade change, if you are sincere, and if the TA really did misunderstand your first essay, for reasons that are not the fault of your writing. (Although almost always, when the student's ideas are misunderstood, it's because their writing is unclear.)

The right approach is to ask what your weaknesses are that you can work on; how to capitalise on your strengths, and what extra readings or prep work you should do before taking another class in this discipline.
posted by lollusc at 2:20 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Marks don't reflect abilities, desires, and understandings; they reflect the quality of the work you turned in. Keep this firmly in mind in all future dealings. For example note that if the reader misinterprets your understanding of the theorem, then the mark should be low because the essay failed to communicate that understanding: it is the essay that is being graded, not your understanding.

It's acceptable to ask the prof for a breakdown on your grade so you can identify why it is lower than you expected, and it is also acceptable to ask for an explanation of why your grade on the first essay is lower than your friends. You do want to learn, after all. However, petitioning for a higher grade is equivalent to saying "I believe your assessment of the quality of my work was incorrect/too strict", and frankly you will need pretty remarkable evidence of this to convince the prof, because probably all students feel this way about their work, and profs/TAs tend to be better at assessing quality than students, not least because they have no attachment to it, and because they do it for a living. You have to be willing to let the evidence drive you here; let go of your desire for a high grade and try to understand what makes a quality essay. Only with this attitude will you gain any sympathy from your educators.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:26 AM on December 20, 2011 [18 favorites]


Because I can't sleep, I looked at coffee's link. Note this reply and the reply two posts down.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:29 AM on December 20, 2011


I _am_ a TA and I'll go against the grain here and say that you can ask for clarification if you think your doubts are well-founded. Yes, your TA and professor may get annoyed at that moment and complain on their Facebook feeds. So what? If you know the difference between grade-grubbing and a valid reason, go for it. We're human too, and we make grading errors or arbitrary decisions that are just that. (For example, in my course this time, a student who was given a C+ was half a point below a B- student, simply because the line has to be drawn somewhere. If the C+ student asked, I might have been tempted to raise the grade, after giving it thought.) Just be nice about it when you ask, and don't expect anything. If they say no, accept it -- asking repeatedly is nothing but obnoxious grubbing.
posted by redlines at 3:20 AM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Chiming in again.

Building on on PercussivePaul's excellent comment:
As part of the teaching/examining staff, I would always welcome well-thought-out questions about how to improve your work in the future. "Improve" means that you learn to write in a way that better reflects your knowledge (n other words, we are talking about some concrete improvement that's ultimately in your interest, not the flailing type of random changes of organization that many think necessary to match some obscure half-understood expectations).
But even here, don't shoot before you've got your questions properly lined up and done some research about writing a paper, self-editing and so on. Time's scarce, not only for students.
posted by Namlit at 3:23 AM on December 20, 2011


No, don't ask for your assessment to be remarked, reevaluated, rescored, or anything like that... Your professor has ample skill and experience in determining what an essay should score, along with various rubrics and metrics and parameters in an attempt to make the process fairer and more standardised. Unfortunately, a lot of students seem to think that they know more than the prof. and if your prof is anything like me when I mark, we don't just sit there and throw darts on a dartboard to determine your mark. In fact, I take a long time to mark an essay (too long...).

What you *could* do (2nding Namlit here) is go to your professor and say something along the lines of 'I was looking through my feedback and I think what I'm being told to address is X, Y, and Z. Is that right? What other areas do you think I need to concentrate on for future assessments?'

Go in prepared and having read the feedback, understanding the main flaws in your argument, and then try and sort these out for the next course. But please, don't grade grub.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 3:52 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone's advice is good: in general, when going to your prof or TA, you should ask where you went wrong and for feedback for improvement for the future, not to have your grade changed.

But it probably won't work for you in this case. It will be transparently obvious that you are motivated by the grade, rather than by any desire to improve; otherwise, why wait until the final grades were out?
posted by forza at 3:57 AM on December 20, 2011


Accept and move on, unless you want your professor to think this of you.
posted by dekathelon at 5:16 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I teach grad school courses.

What strikes me most about your question is that you don't actually have all the information you would need to determine whether or not you were scored appropriately. You don't know your score on the final or your class participation score. Without those data you really shouldn't begin to question the final grade. You could certainly ask to know those data, and you might (might) then use that information as the start of a conversation. However, a couple of times you mention how much effort you put into the class, and that should have no bearing on anything other than the class participation score (in other words, the effort you put forth in class typically affects the class participation score, not other grades).

With the effort comments you've inadvertently point to the biggest potential problem for you here: your criteria for what matters most in grading is likely very different from your professor's. You had the chance to demonstrate your understanding, and you didn't do so satisfactorily. You then proceeded to write the second paper without having asked for detailed feedback that would help you to understand what you could have improved. (This is the type of effort that instructors typically like, it shows that you care.) So, I think it's fine to talk with your instructor, but if you don't do it in the spirit of inquiry, particularly if you end up getting shirty, you may do yourself more harm than good (instructor's speak with each other). If you can honestly go and ask about the two scores you don't yet know, and ask about the grading rubric, and only then, after consideration, make any requests for changes, requests that fit within the rubric explained by your instructor, then I say go for it.
posted by OmieWise at 5:24 AM on December 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would go in and explain everything that you said in the message. Ask her what the correct way would have been to make it better. In other words, don't expect that she will change anything. Just ask her what the proper way would have been to rectify the situation retrospectively.
posted by blaisec at 5:26 AM on December 20, 2011


Feel free to find out where you went wrong. But asking for a grade change this long after the first assignment is appalling and I hate it -- it shows me students didn't bother to care about the class until they found out their grade, and that they were not actually interested in understanding the material, just in getting a particular grade. I'm sure that's not the case with all of them, but it is with most of them.

"I did poorly on one of them, but I didn't dispute them even though I thought he had completely misinterpreted my understanding of the theory. "

No -- you did a poor job communicating your understanding of the theory. If it isn't there in the paper, I can't read your mind, and I don't know what you meant. Your writing might be very nice, but your ability to communicate ideas might be poor. This is worth talking to your TA/prof about. I have some students who wrote well enough that they never got marked down in high school even though their papers are logical messes that make no sense -- but are lush with grammatically correct purple prose! They get very upset when they score poorly and have trouble understanding why.

"I'm at a 77% and I don't feel like it reflects my work and understanding at all."

It doesn't -- it reflects how well you did the assignments, not how hard you worked or how well you understood.

"I go to all the classes, do all the assignments, participate regularly and I worked hard for this."

I'm sympathetic to this, because Lord knows I have plenty of students who can't be arsed, but showing up and doing the work is meant to be the minimum for surviving in college.

On a slightly different note, when I was in college, I once had a T.A. who was -- well, not grading my work appropriately. I actually don't know if he was good at his work or not as a more general thing, or if he treated other students this way, but he had it in for me -- wouldn't let me participate in discussion section, kept failing me on my papers, called me names in one-on-one conference. (One time, he literally failed me on a paper for "using the dictionary" -- I had looked up a word I didn't know in one of the readings and, thus enlightened, used that word in my paper, which he objected to because he claimed it was dishonest (??) to look up words I didn't know and then use them as if I did.) Anyway, I went to the prof before the midpoint of the semester, when I had two papers in hand (this class had a dozen papers easily) and several examples of his behavior towards me. If I had waited until the final grade, it would have looked like I was retrospectively inventing problems to try to fix my awful grade. Because I was proactive about an actual problem, even though it was a problem with her T.A., I was able to have it dealt with. (She read over the papers, was shocked he'd failed me on them, and had me move to a different discussion section and graded the rest of my work herself.)

Cope with these things early. As a professor, I can help you more and set you straight early on. At the end of the semester, there's not a lot I can do (no more extra credit), I'm not inclined to make more work for myself because I'm drowning in it, and it isn't fair to the other students if I suddenly change the requirements. It's a lot LESS of a bother when a student has questions or problems early in the semester.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:39 AM on December 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


As others have said, this end-of-semester grade-disputing happens a lot, enough that professors and TAs aren't likely to be sympathetic. Their priority is to be fair to everyone, not just the squeaky wheels. And they've seen enough assignments of all levels to have an accurate idea of what's A-quality work and what isn't. Even if you do have a valid case - which happens; profs aren't infallible - they've heard enough "but I triiiiied and my grandma was sick and I'll lose my scholarship" that you will have to tread really carefully. Go in with utmost respect for the prof's judgment and time (they want to be done with the semester, too), approach it from a "what can I do better in the future" perspective, and be prepared to take no for an answer.

Additionally, have you seen your essay and your classmate's essay side by side? You might not be able to be objective in this case, but they might not be the same quality. If you have a third friend whose opinion you trust, print out unmarked, anonymous copies of both your essays and ask him to compare the two. Or ask your school's writing lab, if they're willing. (Don't ask your prof or TA to do this. It'll look like a gotcha, they don't have the time, and they might remember your essays.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:57 AM on December 20, 2011


I'm a little confused at your question, are you asking if it's okay to ask the professor to talk about your grade on the final exam because you believe you scored oddly low on it, or do you want to talk about that very first essay score that the TA gave you? If you're really confused about the final exam, please talk to the professor about it. Take the tack everyone above suggests and talk not about "I believe you mis-scored my essay" but rather "I'd like to know how I can do better over time." You're entitled to feedback on your work, and not even knowing the grade you got on it can be stressful. If you're trying to get that very first assignment regraded, I'd say it's probably too late. There were plenty of opportunities up until now for you to talk about the grade with the professor and TA that it doesn't justify disrupting their holiday/vacation to email or meet with you and explain why no, they're not going to change your grade (which they probably won't). Because there was less of an opportunity to discuss the final exam this concern is less of a concern.

It's been said a few times, but I'd like to reiterate it anyway because it's something I never fully understood as a student until I became a teacher: writing is hard, and there's nothing straightforward about it. Perfectly-formed ideas in your head can translate to a mess on paper, and there is literally no way for the teacher to know what you really meant. Your own writing style is crystal-clear to you but that does not mean it's obvious to readers. Students generally assume (I did) that writing assignments are about one thing: how well you know your stuff, but it's actually about two things: communicating how well you know your stuff. So if the teacher misunderstands your ideas and gives you a D then you (most likely) deserve a D because you failed to communicate clearly. If you have to come in and explain what you really meant in your essay then that means the essay failed, even if the ideas were good. Now there are absolutely chances for bias and mistakes in grading essays, but "they just didn't understand what I meant" is absolutely a valid reason for a poor essay grade.
posted by lilac girl at 6:16 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


As someone who has been a student, and who has taught, I am finding the advice to not ask very strange. As a student I made use of office hours to ask about evaluations on assignments and courses that didn't seem right to me; sometimes the explanation makes sense and you understand why you received that grade, and sometimes you can see where there was a problem and mistakes get changed.

And as an instructor, it isn't all that hard to tell apart the irritating grade grubbers from the person who is genuinely confused about why they received the grade they did and wants to better understand the situation, what they could have done better, and relook at a couple of things to make sure that the grade is correct. Both as a TA and as a full instructor I have changed grades in response to these kinds of questions, and so has everyone else I know who teaches. Particularly in situations where multiple people are involved in grading (as happens when there are a couple TAs for a course), there can be room for differences in interpretation and standards, and getting clarification is good.

So I say go and ask, but do so looking for insight and understanding. Remember always that you are graded on what you turned in, not on the ideas in your head or on how many hours you spent in the library cafe typing. Don't whine, don't act entitled, but don't be intimidated or afraid, either. Answering these kinds of questions is part of their job, and you'll never improve if you don't ask them. And bring with you copies of all of your assignments, of course.

Lastly, when I taught, my policy about being asked to regrade something was always to say yes, but also to warn that the new grade might be higher, or very well could be lower -- regrading doesn't just go upwards. Amusingly, when given that warning, the majority of people changed their minds and declined the regrading. Be aware that this is possible, and having the prof look at all your materials in one sitting might cause a reevaluation in the opposite direction to what you are hoping.
posted by Forktine at 6:18 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a professor. If you think the grade is wrong due to a mistake (something was miscalculated, you attended class but were marked absent, etc.) then by all means, approach the professor in a polite and respectful way, with your proof, not just a vague "Well, I'm sure I only missed class twice, but I can't tell you which days". No one wants to be told they made a mistake - professors are human too! - but I would rather things be accurate. At my school, we can change grades after the fact, and I have done it myself when a student presented me with the evidence that I screwed up.

OTOH, if your concern is based on your performance, and not an actual mistake, you should tread lightly. I would welcome a student's questions about where they went wrong on an assignment and how they could do better in the future, as long as they didn't expect me to change their grade. I would wait until the next semester if I were you. Stop in and see your professor in the second or third week. At this time of year, our thoughts are not so much on helping students, but on getting our paperwork done and the semester over with. (See above about professors being human too...)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:50 AM on December 20, 2011


seconding forktine.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:41 AM on December 20, 2011


IAAP, but a mathematician, so I don't grade papers. Here's my 2 cents:

--you're always allowed to discuss your grade with your professor, but your professor is likely to be annoyed if this discussion happens after final grades have been submitted, because it feels like whining about your grade.

--it sounds like you potentially had an issue that should have been resolved (discussing the features of your paper that lead to it receiving a low score), but I just don't see how you can bring that up now and expect to have anything useful come of it. I would be seriously annoyed if someone came to me after the end of the semester in effect saying that they thought they should get more credit on the first exam. However, given that the TA graded it and not the professor, you maybe could have that discussion. But it would be weird.

--it is absolutely reasonable to ask for your grade on the final exam and your participation grade and how grades were calculated. You should at least do this, just so you know.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:54 AM on December 20, 2011


It sounds like you earned the grades you deserve, honestly. Begging teachers to change your grades doesn't work the way it did in the movie Clueless, either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:12 AM on December 20, 2011


I'm a TA. Asking about grades from early in the semester after final grades have been submitted, even if you are asking with the best of intentions, is going to produce a good amount of eye-rolling.

I think it is fair game, though, to ask about your final exam grade and your participation score. This may also produce some eyerolling, because TAs and professors are very, very used to grade-grubbers at the end of the semester. At this point I wouldn't ask about the early essays at all, but focus on the final exam and participation grades. You need to own the fact that your essays were what they were, but asking for feedback on the final exam seems reasonable, especially if you are honestly surprised at how poorly it seems you have done. Be prepared for the TA or professor to question you on how you prepared for the exam, though...
posted by pemberkins at 8:19 AM on December 20, 2011


Thanks everyone.

I am going to ask for the breakdown of the grades because I do think that something went wrong. I would've had to gotten really low participation marks and a low final in order to get 77 in the class and while I haven't seen my final yet, I have a good idea of how well I knew the material (they were all multiple choice and short answers) and I certainly know I fulfilled what was asked of me in terms of participation. Our participation grade is 10% of our mark, and essentially, all the syllabus asked for was that we show up for discussion, we contribute to the discussion and that we do the weekly assignments. I did all of that, but according to my final grade, I apparently didn't, because it's so low.

Also, I don't feel like I am too out of hand to ask for a 3 percent increase. I did all my assignments on time, went to class and did everything the professor asked for. It's not like I didn't do my final assignment, skipped my midterm, got a D and then now I want a B. 77 is sufficient for me to continue in my major, but I just don't understand how I did so poorly in it when I've never gotten anything lower than an 86 in any of the other classes in this subject matter. I guess I felt like I did A work, but didn't receive an A for it and now I'm confused, so yes, I am going to go and ask where I went wrong and whether or not I get an increase will be up to my professor.

In addition, I'm not questioning her marking. I'm questioning my TAs markings. My professor didn't mark any of my work except for my third essay. Nevertheless, I am going to let my assignments go and accept it but I am going to ask to see my final and the breakdown of my grade.
posted by cyml at 9:20 AM on December 20, 2011


I think it's totally reasonable for you to ask for an explanation of why you got the grade you got. I'm always happy to explain to my students how I came to a decision about their grade. If a faculty member can't explain this to you, then I think they're not doing their job.

HOWEVER, this comment has me a little more concerned:

Also, I don't feel like I am too out of hand to ask for a 3 percent increase. I did all my assignments on time, went to class and did everything the professor asked for. It's not like I didn't do my final assignment, skipped my midterm, got a D and then now I want a B.

One of the things others have been trying to stress is that grades are determined primarily on merit. Not on effort. It's great when students try really hard. It makes me happy because it makes it appear that they care about the course. However, in the end, their performance on the course's assignments determine their final grade. That's a very standard way to evaluate a course and most faculty members I know are unwilling to change the method of evaluation after a course is over (particularly for a single student).

I also wanted to agree with others that asking for explanations of the markings while the course is still going on is welcome and shows that you're engaged in the class (as well as caring about grades, which of course you do). Whenever students come to me after a course is over and ask for an explanation, I have significantly less sympathy. Whether or not it's true, it leaves me with the opinion that they didn't really care about the course and are now just trying to use their debate skills to change the past.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:41 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I understand grades are based on merit. I feel like I deserved an A not just because I put in effort, but because I know the course material. I understood it, I wrote about it and I talked about it. A lot of the stuff she taught was the exact same as the material in a previous class and I got the highest grade in the class for that course. How is that I understood everything perfectly back then, and now all of a sudden, it seems that I have no understanding at all?

It's not just about grades for me. I am frustrated because my grade is telling me I didn't do well in this course and that I didn't translate or understand the material very well. I don't want it to be like this for my future courses. Of course I'm upset my mark is low, but I'm more upset that I felt like I understood the stuff going into the course and came out with a mark that basically said I didn't understand it at all.
posted by cyml at 9:51 AM on December 20, 2011


Your TA and your professor are the judges of whether or not you have done A-level work. You are not entitled to a grade increase because you disagree with them, and asking for one would be presumptuous and annoying.

It's also unfair to students who attempt to improve their grades by improving the quality of the work they hand in. These are the students who would have been in office hours after getting poor marks on a writing assignment, asking what went wrong and how they could improve for the next time.

You should, however, understand where your grades are coming from.

If I'm understanding you correctly, even taking into account your poor performance on the writing assignments, your final grade was much lower than expected. You should ask why--not to argue for an increase, but to make sure nothing is amiss. Also, since it's the final, you have not exactly had time to ask about it much earlier.

(I once got a much lower mark in a course than I expected and it turned out it was because they had misplaced my final exam -- I had gotten a 0 on it, and they wouldn't have caught the error unless I had asked.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:52 AM on December 20, 2011


"Also, I don't feel like I am too out of hand to ask for a 3 percent increase. I did all my assignments on time, went to class and did everything the professor asked for."

Um, wow. 3% is a huge increase, at least in my grading schema. I've NEVER made an adjustment even nearly that large. It's WAY out of hand. And fulfilling the minimum requirements for "being in college" does not entitle you to a "gentleman's B."

Asking to understand where your final grade came from is one thing. Asking for a 3% increase is in AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT UNIVERSE, to the point that I'm not clear whether you understand what people are saying to.

If you "feel like you did A work" because you showed up and turned stuff in -- well, again, entirely different universe.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:10 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


*to you
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:10 AM on December 20, 2011


77 is sufficient for me to continue in my major, but I just don't understand how I did so poorly in it when I've never gotten anything lower than an 86 in any of the other classes in this subject matter. I guess I felt like I did A work, but didn't receive an A for it and now I'm confused, so yes, I am going to go and ask where I went wrong and whether or not I get an increase will be up to my professor.

If you want to know why you got this grade, and where your understanding or expression of that understanding were insufficient, go right ahead. That's a learning opportunity, and most professors are happy to help.

If you want to go and complain because you've never gotten a grade this low in this subject before, and therefore the professor and TA must be wrong, I'd stop where you are and reconsider. This isn't going to end in anything but frustration for you or your professors. They've seen this before--heard these very arguments. When I taught, and was faced with similar complaints, it was usually from students who clearly had trouble communicating and should never have been passed in lower-level classes in the first place. That other people gave you passing grades does not mean that you've always done quality work. There are a variety of institutional pressures to pass students who don't do quality work, and many professors give into that. This makes it difficult for professors who actually care about learning and the course materials--not in the least because it figures into arguments like these.

"I should get a passing grade because I've always gotten a passing grade" is entitled whining, not a convincing argument that you actually understand what you've learned. At least, that's how your professors will look at it.

(Jeeze, I haven't taught in three years and already my blood pressure is shooting up from this.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:18 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think you should pay very close attention to your language. Nothing about the content of your request ("please explain to my what marks I received, as I'm not sure how I received a 77% in this class") is fine, but the tone is going to hurt you.

Consider this: Also, I don't feel like I am too out of hand to ask for a 3 percent increase. Where does this come from? What merits the 3% increase? If it's some sort of actual calculation error, sure! Everyone agrees with you. However, what it sounds like is that you're saying the following: "I know better than my professor what my work in this class deserved." That's not going to get you what you want.

Consider this: I feel like I deserved an A not just because I put in effort, but because I know the course material. I understood it, I wrote about it and I talked about it. Here is how a professor hears this: "You must have graded my work wrong."

Or this: A lot of the stuff she taught was the exact same as the material in a previous class and I got the highest grade in the class for that course. Here's how it would be understood: "I know better than my professor because I've already learned all this, and Other Professor who taught the other class clearly has better standards than you do."

Here's the last one I'll do: Of course I'm upset my mark is low, but I'm more upset that I felt like I understood the stuff going into the course and came out with a mark that basically said I didn't understand it at all. Here's how it would be interpreted: "I feel entitled to the grade I want, and I'm angry at you for not giving me what I want."

Again, I don't think you mean the interpretations I've given -- but that's what it sounds like. So, if you were to approach the professor with what you've said in here, this is what they'd hear: "I know better than my professor what my work in this class deserved. You must have graded my work wrong. I know better than my professor because I've already learned all this, and Other Professor who taught the other class clearly has better standards than you do. I feel entitled to the grade I want, and I'm angry at you for not giving me what I want." If you were a professor, would you be willing to have an open and useful conversation with a student who said this? No, because if a professor spent time trying to help out every student who felt entitled to a better grade, they would never, ever have time to do anything else. The moment the professor gets a whiff of entitlement, she or he will shut down active engagement and go to defense mode. It won't be "Huh, let's make sure nothing went wrong." Instead, it'll be, "Let's get this kid off my back as quickly as possible."

So, think about your tone. Focus on coming to understand your final grade and ensuring there were no mathematical errors. Unless you think the professor or TA were totally negligent in their duties to grade fairly (IE, you want to escalate to the department chair), you gain nothing by talking about what you deserved based on your own standards.

And, in the future, never wait to talk to a professor or TA about the grading on an assignment. If you're confused about something, gothen. Keep this in mind: its their job to help you understand the grade and ensure they graded accurately; it's not their job, however, to give you the specific grade you deem appropriate.
posted by meese at 10:23 AM on December 20, 2011


I am going to meet up with my professor when the next semester starts. I'm not trying to undermine her authority or her abilities. When I say I deserve something, I'm saying that I thought I was doing the appropriate work to be getting that mark, and because my mark doesn't translate that, I want to know what it is that I did wrong. 'Deserve' probably is not the right word, 'mistakenly thought' probably is more appropriate. Obviously, I'm not going to go in there and demand a 3 percent increase - I want one because I thought I had one, but if after talking to her and hearing her explain where I went wrong, and I am clear with my mistakes, then I won't push it. Essentially, I'm saying I will accept whatever she gives me, even if it is a lower grade, so long as I understand where it is coming from.

Also, I don't think it's mathematical at all. She emailed me the breakdown of the grades, and I got an unusually low participation grade and a lower than expected final exam grade. My TA didn't know my name throughout the entire semester. He kept calling me another girl's name and after correcting him a few times, I gave up. We didn't do attendance even though we're formally supposed to because he said he had a good idea of who came and who didn't. If he didn't even know my name, there's a good chance he saw it and gave me a low mark thinking I never went to the classes, so I do want to talk to her about it.

And I will definitely talk to my TAs and professors in the future about my assignments. I didn't want to because I didn't want to undermine their abilities and I always figured I could just work twice as hard the next time and make up for the low mark instead of dwelling on this one. It didn't occur to me that I probably should learn what I did wrong before proceeding the next time. Thanks again, everyone!
posted by cyml at 10:42 AM on December 20, 2011


Well, since you know the grades now, and you think your participation grade does not line up with the way you fulfilled the stated expectations for participation, you should address this, and address it now. Do not wait until next semester. Write your prof a short email, concise, too the point, and courteous, that compares your actual participation to the stated expectations. I would hesitate to implicate your TA the way you have here, but you might write something like: "There was some confusion in class over my name earlier in the semester, and I wonder if that confusion carried over to the grades."

If you wait for next semester there will be no recourse.
posted by OmieWise at 10:48 AM on December 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Totally agree with OmieWise here. If your TA didn't know who you were, that absolutely needs to be communicated to your professor (in as respectful a way as possible). If the TA thought you were never there (and you were), then this is something that should be brought up ASAP (again, keeping it as respectful as possible).
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:16 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I second OmieWise's approach, and encourage you to be extremely diplomatic about this. It sounds like you're struggling with the way the TA graded you, and when you escalate this to the professor you should not come off in any way as, "the TA doesn't know what he's doing and I want someone competent to regrade my work." That's going to trigger the "whiny student" warning bells and put everyone on the defensive. You instead want to communicate with everyone by assuming best intentions all around, which means not implying that your TA was lazy about attendance and never bothered to learn your name (even if that is what happened).

And yeah, since you've already opened the line of inquiry with the professor about the final grades then you should settle everything now rather than waiting til the end of the semester.
posted by lilac girl at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2011


If you think that you were inappropriately marked for your participation, you should definitely address it with the professor. Just be prepared that you may not be able to really "prove" that you were there, but the professor may be more inclined to believe you if the TA was going against policy (by not formally taking attendance.)

Others have pointed out your tone and language so I won't repeat those thoughts, but simply re-iterate that your expectations of your work and understanding of the course material have nothing to do with your performance of such, and the professor/TA is the final arbiter of that. I hope that you are able to learn a communication style with your professors which doesn't undermine anyone's efforts.
posted by sm1tten at 4:28 PM on December 20, 2011


And I will definitely talk to my TAs and professors in the future about my assignments. I didn't want to because I didn't want to undermine their abilities and I always figured I could just work twice as hard the next time and make up for the low mark instead of dwelling on this one. It didn't occur to me that I probably should learn what I did wrong before proceeding the next time.

Former college instructor here. I just want to give you a little encouragement to follow through on this resolution. After teaching for five or six (or seven?) years, I finally figured out that students improved their writing most effectively when I told them in really explicit terms what to work on in the next paper. (I eventually developed a comment form where I would fill in "The most important thing to work on in your next paper is: ___________.") This let them know exactly what I was looking for and what they most needed to concentrate on. Unfortunately for you as a student, most instructors don't put their comments in this format, and a lot of instructors just aren't very good at explaining what makes a paper strong or weak. This results in what to my mind is kind of a sad situation, where you think you need to "work twice as hard" when probably there's nothing wrong with your effort level; there may be a flaw in the way you're constructing your argument, and if you could just get a clearer understanding from the TA of how to do that piece of it better the next time, you'd be OK (and you'd have learned something!). If, after reading the instructor's comments on your work, you don't understand what you need to do differently the next time around, please take the initiative to approach them with that question right away.

Another thing I learned from teaching was that in general, if students had any kind of difficulties or issues with the class—whether due to learning disabilities, or just not understanding the material, or not understanding why they got the grades they got—the sooner the student addressed the issue with me, the better. The semester was just all-around much better and pleasanter and more productive for all involved when we could nip problems in the bud.
posted by Orinda at 5:15 PM on December 20, 2011


A lot of the stuff she taught was the exact same as the material in a previous class and I got the highest grade in the class for that course. How is that I understood everything perfectly back then, and now all of a sudden, it seems that I have no understanding at all?

Be sure not to say this around the prof. It's tell-tale for someone who understood the material at a lower level, did not really engage, and still understands it at that lower level. I'm not saying that's you; that's just the stereotype you'd be walking into.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:06 PM on December 20, 2011


I just jumped to the bottom to say I've been in your position before, have gone to the prof, have gotten my grade changed, and you've got nothing to lose.
posted by xammerboy at 6:53 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


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