Best way to approach this situation with my final grade: file a report or move on?
June 7, 2012 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Best way to approach this situation with my final grade: file a report or move on?

Although *somewhat similar to* this question avec, but not really.

This semester I took an anthropology class for fun with my friend. She and I both confusingly did somewhat bad on the tests (B's, C's, D's...) (I got 2 C's on the first two tests, but an A and a B on my first two essays so my midterm was a B. I also participated A LOT...she never spoke ever in class.)

The last exam I got a D (lol) and I took a 0 for the last essay because I forgot it at home (you're allowed to miss one essay...she did the same with the second essay).

For the final I studied pretty well. And I put all the right things on our allowed class usage of a flashcard. I used my .3 Japanese pencil which helped a lot. I knew all the answers on the exam and I left knowing that I got an A on the exam. I let my friend who took the exam later use my flashcard because I knew that it helped me A LOT.

I asked her what her grade was for the class yesterday she told me "Thanks to your flashcard I got an A"

At some point I felt my teachers not really liking me very much in class and finding me annoying. However, our class was full of really out there people (we wrote quotes down of things they said which were often very close minded and INSANE)

-Also: the final accounted for 40% of the grade
-participation was 15% which I DID ALL THE TIME.
-my friend is in a film society thing with the instructor (outside of class)

Has anyone been in a situation like this before? I haven't and I'm not sure what to do. I don't think my school allows "disputes" like the similar question asked. I e-mailed him asking for my final score....still not reply.
posted by pixienat to Education (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Why not call the department and explain politely that you would like to see your final exam as you have some questions about how it was graded? Again, I emphasize being polite and low-key. It seems perfectly reasonable to want to understand why your exam was graded as it was - was it graded by a TA? Did you fail to explain yourself as clearly as your friend did? Was there a mistake in calculating points?
posted by Frowner at 1:38 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well the first thing you should do is go ask to look at your final, and get an explanation of your mark. The fact that you feel like you "know" you got an A doesn't mean you actually did.
posted by modernnomad at 1:38 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just ask about it, nicely, politely, and making it clear that you're not begging for a grade or expecting anything other than an explanation. I grade a lot of things, and when students have honest questions like "can you show me what was wrong here?" it never bothers me. There's a chance that the prof will be a total ass and it will be a waste of your time, but you might also learn that you didn't do XYZ to the required standard. Or there could have been a mistake; rare, but it does happen.

Students sometimes frequently assume instructors don't like them because they ask lots of questions. Not only is that pretty uncommon (I love my pestering students much more than the ones who just tune out, even if I do give them a hard time about being a nuisance), but unless you have a truly horrible professor, the grading is not about you; it's about the paper in front of them.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 1:45 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't contact the department itself-- they're busy with administrative stuff. "The department" didn't grade your exams or essays, and I don't think they will furnish you with your final exam.

Contact your professor/TA and politely explain your concerns, and ask for a break-down of your final grade. They should have no providing that to you.
posted by clockzero at 1:48 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Should have no trouble, that is.
posted by clockzero at 1:48 PM on June 7, 2012

I think you need to take your friend's marks out of the equation. Maybe she is a better writer, maybe she lied to you about her other marks and/or her final grade in the class, who knows. But I get the sense from your question that you have a bit of resentment/confusion about how she could possibly do better than you ("never spoke in class"; "in a film society with the instructor") and that maybe she owes you one for letting her use your flashcard--but comparing your grade to hers is not useful.

You need to focus on the work that you did and how your work was graded; is there a rubric that the instructor handed out, maybe on the syllabus, that describes/quantifies what an "A", "B", "C", looks like? Find the rubric, get your final score, do the math yourself, and once you are informed make an appointment to speak with the instructor (not the department). I think you will meet with better success if you approach this as, "I'm not sure I understand the grading for the class, can you explain it?" than "Your grading is messed up and you should fix it".
posted by stellaluna at 1:50 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well, you don't know for sure what your grade on the final exam was, which counts for 40%.
I think a C seems reasonable based on the other grades you earned. But I would politely ask your teacher for a breakdown of your final grade; mistakes can happen (but DON'T allude to this in the email you send her).

And it sounds like you were kinda half-assing this class up until the final (NO JUDGEMENT, I've totally been there) and maybe your teacher caught on? Talk to her about the grade breakdown. I hope this gets resolved.

Has anyone been in a situation like this before?
I really didn't give a shit in my undergrad and would get routine C's. I never had the courage to meet with my professors but looking back I wish I had. I really encourage you to talk to the prof.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:52 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

My thought about contacting the department was that the OP seemed to have trouble getting in touch with the instructor - the department will be able to let you know if he is away and will be able to connect you with him if he's not good about voicemail/email. (Or at least they can try.)
posted by Frowner at 1:53 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should contact the instructor and politely ask for an explanation of the grade. It's possible there was a calculation error, especially if it was a large class. It's also possible that the grade for student before or after you in the class list was inadvertently entered on your record. If that's the case, it's easy to fix.

You want to avoid any sense of entitlement or second-guessing the instructor or TA, though. One remark in your original posting raises flags for me: that's where you write, "I left knowing that I got an A on the exam" (emphasis added). You may have left believing that you had gotten an A, but that's not the same as knowing. Perhaps you thought that the exam was a test of objective knowledge, whereas it was written to ask for your informed judgment. Perhaps your flashcard was incomplete, or had errors. Perhaps you misinterpreted a question.

If your original email demanded a justification, it's possible that the instructor is deliberately ignoring it. More likely, though, he or she is busy right now: students and faculty are on different schedules. The semester is over, which for many professors means returning to the research projects that they have put on hold during the academic year. For an anthropologist, that might mean traveling to places that don't have 24/7 WiFi/3G access. Moreover, many faculty are on 9-month contracts and are not paid for work over the summer, which means that the incentive to respond to a student's email depends a lot on how the student frames his or her request.

If your first email was impolite or demanding, send a more polite followup, saying that you don't understand why you got the grade you did and that you would like an explanation. If your first email was polite (i.e, it began, "Dear Prof. X" and it asked for an explanation rather than demanding a justification), send a reminder saying that you haven't heard back, you know that the instructor is probably busy, but that you don't understand the grade and you would like an explanation. If you don't hear back in another week, call (don't email) the department and ask the office staff whether Prof. X is available. If they say that s/he is in Borneo until late August, then ask whether your grade dispute can wait until s/he is back or whether you should approach the department chair. If you're polite, department staff can often be your allies.

Whether other students' comments were "close minded and INSANE" doesn't matter. It's a red herring: you don't know what grades they got, or whether those comments reflected the quality of their graded work. They may have been floating ideas that were shot down in discussion, leading them to improve them; they may even have learned a lot more than you precisely because they were starting from a closed-minded position and their minds opened as a result of the course. Focus on your own work, not even your friend's work.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:07 PM on June 7, 2012

FYI: Sharing flashcards for the final in the way you're describing may violate your school's honor code.
posted by spunweb at 2:15 PM on June 7, 2012

Response by poster: We were allowed to use a flashcard with anything on it. I let her use mine. Not a violation of anything.
posted by pixienat at 2:17 PM on June 7, 2012

Yeah, but instructors likely assume that any work you are bringing in to an exam (especially a written exam, which this sounds like it might be) will be your own work. I doubt your instructors would want their students to go out, have someone else produce their exam materials for them, and then bring that into their exam. I would definitely leave out the fact that your friend used your flashcard.
posted by Nightman at 2:40 PM on June 7, 2012 [8 favorites]

I will add that I am confused as to whether you got a C for the class grade or for the final?Same for your friend, did she get an A for the class or did she (like you) "think" that she got an A on the final?

I'm not nor never have been a professor but I have been a TA and a grader, in which position, I got to know the professor's feelings toward undergraduate participation etc. It was a fairly common misapprehension that grading on participation was based purely on the quantity and not the quality or even appropriateness of the contributions. Students who participate ALL THE TIME because they seemingly liked to hear themselves talk but add nothing relevant to the discussion. These people might get downgraded for their participation because unlike someone who sat there as silent as a stone, they were actually disrupting the class. I'm not saying that you are like that; I'm just trying to explain how just participating all the time would not automatically give you an A++ for that 15% of the class grade. I think that it's far better to be thought of as someone who always makes an interesting contribution to class discussions rather than as someone who is always contributing.
posted by kaybdc at 2:40 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

on preview, sorry for the double negative. I guess it's now patently obvious why I've not never been a professor.
posted by kaybdc at 2:45 PM on June 7, 2012

There are a lot of letters flying around here. Somewhere there exists a spreadsheet which shows how your grade is calculated. Here is a theory:

Final - B (70%) * 40% of final grade = 28 points out of 40
Participation - 12 points out of 15.
Other exams and coursework average C (60%) * 45% = 27 points out of 45
Final grade: 67% = C.

It's easily plausible, if your final exam and participation marks are a little lower than you thought. Or, if that D on the previous exam is weighted highly. It all depends on how all these things are weighted and how these letter grades are converted to numbers. I guarantee your teacher didn't just pull this grade out of the sky because they dislike you -- ask to see the spreadsheet, and then you can see if there is something that doesn't make sense (like perhaps your participation mark is unfairly low). But a 40% final's influence on your final grade is probably weaker than you think.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:50 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

The only sensible thing - and the only thing that wouldn't get you looked at as a nutter in any institution I have ever attended and/or worked - is to reach out to the professor and ask for a few minutes to discuss your final grade and general performance.

Don't expect him/her to be enthusiastic about this. They'll assume, possibly rightly, that you're looking to argue about your grade. They'll also have a very reasonable thought of "this might have been a better approach for you before the end of the semester" since it doesn't sound like a poor grade on your final would be a divergence from past performance.

BUT absolutely reach out. Instructors make mistakes. I have never been anywhere that the grade submission process wasn't a freaking nightmare and a full-tilt race to the deadline. And that presumes there wasn't a character transposed before that point.

A simple email saying "wow, I really worked hard to prep for that final and thought I did a lot better - do you have a minute to talk about it and help me understand my final grade?" is not unreasonable. The more straight and to the point you are about it the better.
posted by phearlez at 2:53 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was at university, there was a clear, formalised procedure for appealing grades, which I followed many times with much success, if success means a slight bump up of a grade.

1. Contact tutor or TA who marked the work, ask for a breakdown, explain your were expecting more. If unhappy, contact:

2. Lecturer, or head of department, same story. You can probably request someone else to take a gander, marking of it at this point. If unhappy contact:

3. Dean of school. Same story. If unhappy, the formal procedure really kicks in, and at my uni went right up to the vice chancellor.

The key, at all times, was to be polite, don't assume you know more than the marker etc. I never needed to go past step two, personally, and I only ever got there because the initial marker also was head of the dept.

However, I also had a good idea of what my work was worth, and realistic expectations (any improvement to grade will be marginal. The biggest jump I got was from a low credit to a middling distinction in one really egregious case where about 20 people appealed. Definitely not the norm. Usually it was more like 65 to 70, or 71 to 75 etc.

Finally, please dispel your notions that the lecturer hates you etc. It might be the case in a very small number of situations, but truly, you have no idea how many tests and essays these lecturers have seen from students just like you. Truly, they do not give a shit. You will be gone next semester, and they will have a new crop of students; they just don't care enough to take it out on someone with marks, and this is why appealing politely, gently, and insistently will usually result in a token upgrade - it's not a hill any academic wants to die on, they really don't care that much and will be like, "Meh, 68 to 71, sure, why not?".

Of course, if you want to change that 51 to an 81, then prepare for disappointment, because that will be construed as an attack on objective standards of marking, and you will need a case made of adamantium for that kind of tectonic shift. Also, if you get an upgrade, you have to accept it, even if it's not as high as you wanted.

Good luck, don't stress it, and be clear-eyed about your commitment throughout a semester. Relying on a hail-mary via final exam can be very tempting for the reasonably bright - I myself once relied on a final exam score of +90% to make up for not handing in an essay at all. In highsight, a totally dick move. I got the grade, but if I had failed, I would have failed the whole class!
posted by smoke at 4:11 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

As pointed out above, the grading policy should be spelled out in your syllabus, and you should ask to see the final. It's worth investigating and asking questions if you really think you did better than that. I recently got a C on a mid-term that I walked out of feeling pretty good about. I went back to the professor asking why (the reader had given very little useful comment) and what I need to do to improve next time. He checked it out and raised the grade to a B+ and even more importantly, gave me actually useful feedback. Being politely proactive is a good way to behave, as a student.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:15 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

A few thoughts:

Not to rag on you, but you probably shouldn't have given your friend your card to use during the test. As a teacher, it would really, really irritate me to no end to discover that a student got an A on a test using somebody else's prep materials, you know?

Was the test free-response or multiple choice? If it was the former, it is entirely possible, though a humbling thing to consider, that your friend may be a better test taker and articulated her responses to the writing section better than you could and that is why she got the A and you didn't. It's also possible that even though you participated a lot, your teacher viewed you as dominating the conversation and not integrating well with the overall construction of the course. It is additionally possible that your participation did not reveal you to have thinking that this professor felt was demonstrative of understanding.

This being said, your syllabus is definitely going to be your guiding light here. Your goal is to be polite and visit the professor in person if possible. DO NOT TELL THE PROFESSOR THAT YOU GAVE YOUR FRIEND YOUR CARD or you will run the risk of having your friend's grade terminated for cheating. Seriously. I think you may just have to move on.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:52 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

I ended up with a surprisingly low final grade in one of my undergrad classes. I emailed the professor and it turned out that I had done much, much poorly in the final than I had thought. Maybe something similar happened to you?

I just noticed in your question that you already emailed the professor though, and haven't heard back. I would give them a day or two and then email again. The end of the semester is a busy time for people. If you don't hear back after a second email then maybe try the TA, if you have one.

Be very polite and clear, without complaining. Say something like:

Dear Professor X,

I was a little surprised by my final grade in your class [Name of Class]. Would it be possible to get a breakdown of my points?

Thank you.

posted by apricot at 5:50 PM on June 7, 2012

I have been a university teacher

From your question, it's not clear if you got a C on the final or in the class? If you got a C in the class, even with a high grade on the final it seems feasible that your other grades pulled you down.

As for your participation grade, even if a student in my class talks often, if I see them texting or on their laptop, obviously not paying attention, their participation grade will go down super fast. If you were guilty of either of those, your participation grade may have been lower than you thought.

In any case, I would say you need to politely email the prof again and ask for your final exam score and possibly to see it or have it returned to you. If you still get no response, then I would contact the chair or head of that department.

Definitely do NOT email saying anything like "I know I got an A on the final" or "I worked really hard, I deserve a better grade". Your prof has heard this dozens of times and it's usually from students who have put off work all semester and then pulled an all-nighter on the final and think this should get them an A. (I'm not saying this is you, but that it lumps you in with those students. Your prof will not respond well to this).
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:53 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

> I think you need to take your friend's marks out of the equation. Maybe she is a better writer, maybe she lied to you about her other marks and/or her final grade in the class, who knows. But I get the sense from your question that you have a bit of resentment/confusion about how she could possibly do better than you ("never spoke in class"; "in a film society with the instructor") and that maybe she owes you one for letting her use your flashcard--but comparing your grade to hers is not useful.

Pretty much exactly what I was going to say. You can totally think these thoughts, just omit the bits from your discussion with your prof that are going to weaken your case. This is about you. Period.
posted by desuetude at 12:08 AM on June 8, 2012

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