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Should I grade grub now or later or ever?
May 20, 2008 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Should I talk to my professor about getting an exemption on a test grade before or after final grades come out (and I learn whether it actually matters)?

I broke my wrist the evening before my last physics test of the semester. Consequently, my grade was not nearly as high as it could have been. The people at the medical department and one of my TA's both mentioned the possibility of exempting the grade (essentially giving me a 0/0) but I didn't bother to pursue it because I figured I wasn't close enough to a grade dividing line for it to make a difference. Then the final came around and I kinda bombed it (for reasons mostly unrelated to my wrist, but that's another story). Recalculating my grade I seem to just barely have a C. If I were to drop that test grade I would comfortably have a C.
Getting the test score dropped will probably require quite a bit of effort for me and the professors involved, so I'd rather not bother if it turns out to not be necessary. On the other hand, I'm worried if I wait until I find out if I failed, the professors will be less sympathetic. Is this a valid concern? Should I start talking to people before final grades are posted? Or really, do I even deserve to get the score dropped in the first place? I mean, in the grand scheme of things, a broken wrist isn't that serious, and I hadn't otherwise been exactly acing the class and I'm not sure if I want to be that kid who's always trying to make excuses for bad grades.
Also, if I do decide to seek a exemption, who should I talk to first? The person who ultimately will make the decision is the course administrator who seems like an ok guy but probably has to deal with a lot of kiddies like me whining about their grades at the end of the semester. Would I be better off first going to either the professor who taught my section of the class or to one of the people in the medical department who offered to help me deal with making up work?
posted by martinX's bellbottoms to Education (26 answers total)
 
Now is the best time to get this test exempted not after the final grades are posted when it might require far more work and complications. Write a brief, politely worded email to your professor explaining exactly what you have here. Be sure to mention that both the medical department and your TA mentioned the possibility of exempting the grade so that he knows you're not just making excuses. Explain why you did not talk about this with your professor immediately after the test. Also, only your professor can decide whether this is a valid reason to do badly in a test or not. It's worth a shot and a politely worded email, non-threatening email is not going to do you any harm. I'm sure he's heard far worse excuses.
posted by peacheater at 7:07 PM on May 20, 2008


"do I even deserve to get the score dropped in the first place?"

I think you know the answer to that question.

Hint: "Then the final came around and I kinda bombed it (for reasons mostly unrelated to my wrist, but that's another story)."


I'd try to get it anyway.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:14 PM on May 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


Definitely contact them as soon as possible, not after you get the test back. Your brief e-mail should mention the medical department and TA aspects. I wouldn't bother addressing why you didn't talk to him about it before the test.

If you can get documentation from the medical office and bring it to his office hours to have the talk in person, all the better. If I got this excuse I'd give you a break (pun intended), no big deal. After all, you're aiming for a C, it's not like you're whining about a B+ when you think you deserve a A.

I am a professor but I am not your professor.
posted by vincele at 7:21 PM on May 20, 2008


toomuchpete: to clarify quickly, there are 2 tests in question, the last in-class test, which I did badly on mostly because of my wrist, and the final exam, which I did badly on mostly not because of my wrist. The grade I'm trying to drop is the in-class test grade.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 7:32 PM on May 20, 2008


It's not grade grubbing to seek to have your grades reflect your output on the test.

For the test you took while your wrist was broken, your performance was not an accurate reflection of your knowledge or ability to communicate it. It was hindered by a discreet factor outside your control, and a factor unrelated to the thing being measured (i.e. your hot skillz in physics).

It's for precisely these occasions that policies allowing you to dump the mark were invented.

But yeah, do it now, before grades are out.
posted by girlpublisher at 7:35 PM on May 20, 2008


Send your professor an e-mail about the in-class exam and take responsibility for doing badly on the final. That should be all the information s/he needs to decide whether or not to extend an exemption.
posted by yellowcandy at 7:48 PM on May 20, 2008


Do it now. Fussing with grades before turning them in is easy. Later often requires... forms.

This isn't the most above-board thing in the world, but I would just act like the exam was already exempted. Send an email to the TA and prof saying something like "Earlier, you said that you would be exempting Midterm N because of my broken wrist. This is just to confirm that my final course grade reflects this exemption. Please let me know if you need any further documentation." It's unlikely that you or the TA recorded your conversation, so it would ex post be reasonable to believe that a student believed that it was already exempted.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:53 PM on May 20, 2008


Nthing do it now.

I am a TA. In my department, before final grades are released making grade chances is as simple as a few clicks. However, after final grades are released making grade changes requires a written explanation for the change, the signature of the professor AND department chair. Basically, changing grades goes from a tiny thing to a huge thing once final grades are submitted.
posted by chrisalbon at 8:27 PM on May 20, 2008


This isn't the most above-board thing in the world, but I would just act like the exam was already exempted. Send an email to the TA and prof saying something like "Earlier, you said that you would be exempting Midterm N because of my broken wrist...

Speaking as a former TA: Please, please do not do this. I would be incredibly insulted and irritated if you took this approach. If they encouraged you to get the exam exempted, your TA is probably just trying to help you. Don't be a dick and try to implicate them with the higher-ups. If your school is structured like mine, the TAs likely have very little input in this situation--final grades, exemptions, medical excuses and the like were always handled by the course coordinator (administrator), and that is probably who you will need to discuss this with. I think the nicely-worded email to the professor and the course administrator, stating your medical issue and inquiring of your options re: the exam is a much better course of action.
posted by Jemstar at 8:31 PM on May 20, 2008


Speaking as a current professor:

If a student sent me that email, and you as my TA told me that they hadn't actually done some formal thing to really, formally request the exemption, I would just assume it was an honest and reasonable misunderstanding, be pissed at nobody, and cancel out that exam in the course spreadsheet. No "implication" required; students misunderstand things, and the student deserved the gimme anyway.

If you were "incredibly insulted and irritated" that a student might have, or even feign, a not-hugely-unreasonable misunderstanding of what you said, then I would tell you that this is normal and that you might be in the wrong line of work. I would also chuckle a bit picturing you running your own class for the first time and facing the inevitable sea of misunderstandings, remembering my own.

martin x's bellbottoms might as well make the best case that isn't verifiably false. Or at least the case that is most likely to successfully manipulate a professor.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:41 PM on May 20, 2008


I'm worried if I wait until I find out if I failed, the professors will be less sympathetic

This is undoubtedly true. When I was in academic management, if a student came to me straight after an incident happened, then I was much more likely to believe them that they genuinely wanted to tell me. If they waited until after they got their results back, then I thought they were coming up with excuses to try and work out a way to get a better mark (typically they had found out they had failed).

It's a bit like if you disagreed with an assignment mark, but didn't go and see the professor about it until after you got your transcript. He's going to say "Why didn't you come and see me sooner? Is it just because you have now thought "Oh, I failed, how can I con him into some extra marks")

In fact, not sure about your university, but our university has a limitation of 7 days for special consideration on any exams you take (ie. you got sick during the exam). The rationale is that if it took you more than a week to come and tell us, then you couldn't have been that sick!
posted by ranglin at 10:20 PM on May 20, 2008


This isn't the most above-board thing in the world, but I would just act like the exam was already exempted. Send an email to the TA and prof saying something like "Earlier, you said that you would be exempting Midterm N because of my broken wrist...

Please don't do this. Not only is it dishonest, but if you're at a school like the one where I TA, your TA will (a) know that you're trying to scam them, and (b) have the power to get you in big trouble. Or at least definitely make sure that your goals here are not achieved.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:34 PM on May 20, 2008


Why lie when you could just send an email to them both saying "Earlier, you said that you might be willing to exempt Midterm N because of my broken wrist... I'm just writing as a reminder while you're figuring the final grades. I can get any paperwork or other confirmation you need from health services."
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:34 PM on May 20, 2008


your TA will (a) know that you're trying to scam them

In all seriousness, how, unless they read metafilter?

Why lie when you could just send an email to them both saying "Earlier, you said that you might be willing

Why include a "might" that's not absolutely necessary, when you can say "would," and that avoids getting nailed for missing some deadline?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:48 AM on May 21, 2008


In all seriousness, how, unless they read metafilter?

Because most TAs aren't idiots. They remember what they said to a student who broke their wrist, because that doesn't happen every day, and unless they're idiots they're careful to never promise things outside of their power.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:31 AM on May 21, 2008


So you're saying that it's impossible for students to honestly misunderstand the statements of a TA, and that the only reason a person might say "But you said X," which you strongly believe you did not say, is that they are scamming you. Got it.

My condolences to your students.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:46 AM on May 21, 2008


I would try to avoid sounding so condescending while you're advocating intentionally misleading professors and TAs.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:15 AM on May 21, 2008


I'm gonna have to agree with you're a kitty. My condolences to your TAs.
posted by Jemstar at 10:36 AM on May 21, 2008


Ask for it now.
posted by phrontist at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2008


@ROU_Xenophobe
Why include a "might" that's not absolutely necessary, when you can say "would," and that avoids getting nailed for missing some deadline?

Because "might" is the truth and "would" is a lie?
posted by kosmonaut at 11:05 AM on May 21, 2008


Well, all I can say is that it's obvious that you've haven't run many classes on your own. The vast array of things that students can and do misunderstand and misremember is stunning. For a while, and then you (a) develop defenses against it and (b) get used to there being some inevitable residual amount of it.

bellbottoms shouldn't just walk in and say that she knew that she had to follow up in some way before such a date and just didn't, because then she gets nothing. This is as dumb as admitting that you did whatever you're accused of.

At the least, she should carefully avoid mentioning why she did not do whatever follow-up was required.

If it comes up, the right answer is not "I just didn't bother," even if that's true, because that's a sure loser. A possible right(=effective) answer is "I don't understand -- I thought this was taken care of!" This is because that's exactly the sort of simple, dumbfuck mistake undergraduates make All. The. Time.

Frankly, I don't see anything particularly wrong with a fib here. It's not like bellbottoms didn't break her wrist, so she isn't asking for anything she doesn't deserve. She's just, maybe, not in full compliance with bureaucratic details about getting what she deserves.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:21 AM on May 21, 2008


yellowcandy's advice is the absolute best. I would ask for an exemption now; as others have said it's often easier to change grades before the course grades are posted. Also, don't lie about it. You can say that your TA suggested asking for an exemption, and that you are asking for it now. You should directly communicate with your professor, rather than with your TA; if he says he can give you a break, you can go and get the medical documentation. Try to sound like the responsible adult (that you pretty much are).

Be prepared for the professor to say no because the time you should have asked for the exemption would have been before you took the final exam and right after you took the in-class exam.
posted by bluefly at 11:59 AM on May 21, 2008


Frankly, I don't see anything particularly wrong with a fib here. It's not like bellbottoms didn't break her wrist, so she isn't asking for anything she doesn't deserve. She's just, maybe, not in full compliance with bureaucratic details about getting what she deserves.

If she truly deserves it, there should be no reason she needs to lie about it. However, if she lies about it, and the professor does follow up with the TA (perhaps telling the TA that she had no right to guarantee an exemption), and the TA is adamant that she did not guarantee said exemption, then suddenly the situation could go from sympathy towards bellbottoms to no chance.

Why take that risk when even Professor ROU_Xenophobe, who has heard the whole truth, believes that she is deserving of the exemption? It sounds like the truth is enough.

By lying, bellbottoms would be (1) disrespecting the students who actually did do things the right way, (2) throwing the supportive TA under the bus for her own personal gain, and (3) encouraging the professor to be more cynical and distrusting of students in the future.

I know that all of that might mean little to cynical folk like Professor ROU_Xenophobe, but having some dignity and respect for others can be a good thing.
posted by kosmonaut at 12:45 PM on May 21, 2008


If she truly deserves it, there should be no reason she needs to lie about it.

The problem is that her prof might be unsympathetic to this concern brought up so late, even though it is entirely valid. Even though the only question the professor should be asking is "Did the student in fact break her wrist?," other matters are likely to intervene if the prof feels like the student is only bringing it up now because the student did worse than she thought.

However, if she lies about it, and the professor does follow up with the TA (perhaps telling the TA that she had no right to guarantee an exemption), and the TA is adamant that she did not guarantee said exemption, then suddenly the situation could go from sympathy towards bellbottoms to no chance.

I suppose. If it were my class, though, I would understand that it's entirely possible for the TA to have not granted an exemption, and for the student to believe that it had been granted. Someone who is unreasonable enough to fail to see that is probably unreasonable enough to just refuse to grant the drop in any case, so she hasn't lost anything.

Why take that risk when even Professor ROU_Xenophobe, who has heard the whole truth, believes that she is deserving of the exemption?

Frankly, because I know a lot of my colleagues in the academic profession are much less reasonable than I am about this sort of thing and tend to create deadlines that don't have any really good reason to exist and then ruthlessly enforce them,among other in loco parentis nonsense that they really shouldn't do. Me, I don't care why someone wants to drop a test. It's no skin off my nose if you only want to drop Test 1 because you figured out later that it would improve your average. I only care if you have some reasonable excuse for dropping the test. Likewise, I really don't give a damn whether you bring it up the day after the exam or the day of the final; it takes no longer to deal with either way, so what the fuck do I care?

But an awful lot of profs do care about that. They shouldn't, since it doesn't have anything to do with whether the student has a valid excuse for the test. But they do.

Anyway, I'll revise myself.

I would follow vincele's advice and just not mention not bringing it up earlier.

*If* I were then asked why I hadn't brought it up earlier, I would not, ever, give an answer like "I just didn't get around to it" or "Well, I bombed the final so I need all the help I can get." Even if one of those were the God-honest truth.

The right answer is really "That's none of your fucking business. The only thing you should care about is the validity of my medical excuse, which is well-established." And I wouldn't say that either.

Given that there is no legitimate reason for the prof to care about my reason, and that there is no way on Earth for him to actually know what my reasons were or weren't (unless he reads metafilter), I would instead give whatever answer I thought was most advantageous to give.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:38 PM on May 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


I e-mailed the professor, and I was passing anyway, but I'm glad to know. Thanks for the advice everyone.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:52 PM on May 22, 2008


Wouldn't it be funny if ROU_Xenophobe came back after martin's last comment and said "hey guys, you won't believe it, I just got an e-mail from a student with a broken wrist!"... :)
posted by ranglin at 9:41 PM on May 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


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