Wednesday, May 26, 2004
I would like to offer some unsolicited advice to grade-grubbers. Actually, I would like to offer advice to students who wish to talk to professors or T.A.s in an attempt to get their grades raised. Not all of these students come across as grade-grubbers. Sometimes they are actually right. Here is how to make your case.
First of all, have a good reason that your grade should be higher.
Some things that are not good reasons:
- I do not care that your parents will be angry about your grade, that your grade will adversely affect your GPA, or that you need a higher grade to maintain football eligibility. All of these things are perfectly reasonable concerns, but the way to address them is to earn higher grades. I am not going to lie about your performance to placate your parents, future employers, coach, etc.
- Please do not tell me that you deserve higher than a B+ because you actually worked in this class, and you've only ever got B+'s in classes in which you've done no work. This is not a convincing argument, and it doesn't reflect very well on you.
- I'm not actually all that interested in how hard you worked. The reward for working hard is that you do better than you would have had you blown off your schoolwork. I do slightly reward students who have worked hard, especially when they're on the margin between two grades. But when you come in and start telling me how hard you slaved, it just comes off as whining.
Here are some better reasons:
- In general, a good argument for a higher grade will focus on the quality of your work, not on factors external to your paper or exam. You want to make a case that your paper or test is better than the grader thought it was, not that you had a good reason to do poor work or that you need a higher grade. If something really traumatic and awful happened to you that caused you to do poorly on your assignment, you should certainly alert your professor or T.A., but the best you should expect is to be allowed to rewrite the assignment or to have it weighted less strongly in your final grade. Otherwise, see above. I don't want to hear about your coach, parents, GPA, etc.
- If you have read the comments on your paper carefully and believe that some of the criticisms are incorrect, come up with a thoughtful, reasoned response to the criticism. For instance, if I said that you failed to answer part of the question and you feel that you did address that issue, explain how and where you think that you did that.
- If there is a error in grading, you are entitled to have that fixed. For example, if I added up the scores on the various parts of your exam incorrectly, I won't give you any hassle about correcting your grade.
And here is how to behave when you go in to
grade grub ask for a higher grade.
- Be polite. Not simpering or obsquious, but polite. You're asking me to take time out from my busy schedule to reread and reconsider your paper. That's part of my job, but it's an imposition. Treat your prof or T.A. respectfully. Thank her for her time.
- Do not, under any circumstances, allow your parents to call and protest your grade for you. You are an adult. You may not feel like an adult, or look like an adult, or act like one, but you are one. Your parents can't do this for you. If they insist, consider cutting their phone lines.
- Do not threaten your me. Do not bring up how much money your wealthy parents donate to the school. Do not repeatedly stress my grad student status in an attempt to intimidate me and remind me of my lowly position in the academic hierarchy. Trust me, I am acutely aware of my lowly position. I have a pretty good sense of what that means and how much I can trust the department to back me up. You aren't going to intimidate me any more than I already am intimidated. All you're going to do is piss me off.
- Don't piss me off. I try really hard to grade fairly, but it's difficult not to let my feelings about you come into play. You make my job harder when you behave like an asshole. And you probably don't improve your chances for getting what you want.
I think you should print this out and pin it on your office door. I would love to do this (with your permission, of course). I get SO SICK of students deciding (after a semester of blowing off course work, cutting classes and sleeping through labs) that the day after the final exam is the time to start caring about the class.
I recently had a student's mother call me and try to chew my ear off about her wonderful son's grade, pulling out all the usual tricks (money donated, my lowly status). I wish I'd had this very articulate and resonant post at my disposal at the time!
I had a friend at undergrad who did this. First he whinged to our TA. Then he whinged to the course director. For some reason the head of department and vice-chancellor were spared. He did, however, whinge to me for the rest of the year. I had lower grades than him, worked just as hard and put the lowness of grades down to moving up a level from school. (the joys of fresherhood... anyone want to go back?) So i found it irritating even then.