Providing advice to students on requests to ‘bump up my grade’: dealing with grade complaints and requests for extra credit (Part 2)

Following on from my last post, I want to be clear. Students absolutely have the right to discuss their grades with their professors. There are a variety of legitimate reasons for students to contact professors regarding their grades (the most central one being that students should talk to their profs about their grades and feedback with the aim of learning and improving for future assignments). One thing I think I can do better next year is make it much more clear to my students from day one what is and is not acceptable in terms of discussing grades with me (and other professors). This is particularly important in the intro classes.

Students: Below is a list of issues which I think are legitimate issues and questions to raise with your professors and advice on how to approach these issues.

Colleagues:  Perhaps this is a list you can adapt/share/discuss with your own students to save some of the stresses around requests for grade ‘bumps’ in the future and to try and encourage more fruitful and efficient discussions about grades more generally.

  • Questions about how the grade was calculated and a possible mistake (mathematical or otherwise) in this calculation. Note: If you are a student, make sure you have your maths right too before you approach your professor. Be specific about where you think the flaw is.  Did they forget that they gave you an excused absence for a quiz? Did they accidentally input 67 instead of 76 for your midterm? Do not send general emails saying ‘Did you calculate my grade right?’.
  • Questions about an inputted grade for which you did not receive feedback. I have had a few students request to see their final exam or discuss the participation grade they received for their tutorial—grades that are traditionally given without feedback being provided to the student. I feel students have a right to understand why they were given a grade so that they can understand what went wrong and how to improve in the future: Note: If you are a student, ask to come discuss your grade with this reason in mind. Do not send an email asking ‘did I really get that grade? That can’t be right’.
  • To inform the instructor of any extenuating circumstances which may have impacted your grade. This does not mean that a professor will automatically change your grade—but they can put you in touch with services on campus to offer you further support and ensure that you receive accommodations available to students in your situation.
  • To discuss legitimate concerns or confusion about a grade you feel is substantially lower than you deserve. If you feel you have a legitimate complaint about the grade you received, come prepared to have a reasoned, academic, intellectual discussion with your professor. Be prepared to respond directly and specifically to the feedback/critiques you were given. A student coming to a professor and simply saying ‘I don’t agree with the feedback’ probably won’t get very far. A student who comes with a specific concern will be taken seriously. For example, this year I had a student come to me concerned about feedback she had received on an essay that said she had not provided adequate case study material.   She had taken the time to go through her essay and highlight the places she had done this AND she had taken the time to explain to me in further detail why she thought that case study material had effectively proven her conceptual arguments. Through our discussions the student realized that these ‘further details’ should have been included in the paper itself—a good learning moment for how to improve on future assignments.
  • If after speaking to your professor (if you feel comfortable doing so) you are still unhappy and feel your arguments hold still, most universities will have appeals processes that you can look into—wrongs are sometimes committed.  If you are going to take this track you will need to put in the work to justify your complaint.   Your students’ union, student advising office or ombudsperson can provide you further advice. Your TAs and professors should always be your first call, but these offices listed above can also be consulted if for some reason you are unable to approach teaching faculty directly.
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