If you get a grade that’s not what you expected and less than what you honestly should have earned, it’s important to know your options for getting it changed. Here are six things to remember when asking for a grade change, whether it’s a quick chat with your professor or filing a formal grade appeal, and how you should handle both approaches.
Know the Difference Between Appeals and Negotiations
In a nutshell, grade negotiations are informal requests for a grade change on one or two assignments over the course of a semester. Maybe the professor’s directions about the assignment weren’t clear, the material wasn’t covered in class, or you and your professor had different interpretations of a text that was covered. These are the types of minor disagreements that are more suited to an informal conversation in your professor’s office. Formal grade appeals, on the other hand, are for situations in which you feel that your final grade for the course was unfair. Grade appeals typically deal with more major issues, such as repeated biased grading, unprofessional behavior on the professor’s part, or significant grade miscalculations. However, keep in mind that if you experience issues like these early in the semester, you should try to address them as soon as possible. If you wait till just before finals to beg your professor to change your grade on ten different assignments, you’re more than likely going to be out of luck.
Keep It Specific
Before you speak to your professor or anybody else about changing your grade, you need to be able to answer one question clearly and concisely: why do you deserve a grade change? This sounds obvious, but many students start at a disadvantage in grade negotiations or appeals because their requests are too vague. “I deserve a B instead of a C because I tried hard” isn’t going to cut it. You need specific examples of work that you feel was graded incorrectly or a specific situation that you believe affected your grade. Were the assignment details or the grading rubric too vague? Did the professor change deadlines last-minute? Were you graded absent for classes that you should have been excused for? Bringing specific examples to the table is vital because it gives you a basis for your request.
Once you identify specific examples of why you deserve a changed grade, dig up any documentation you have that will support your position. For example, if your professor took points off your final grade for not speaking in class, but participation wasn’t listed in the syllabus as being part of your class grade, bring the syllabus along to your meetings. Or if your professor changed a deadline last-minute or communicated unprofessionally through email, print off any such communication and highlight the relevant sections. This will let your professor know in your initial meeting that you have a clear basis for appealing your grade, and will provide evidence to support your appeal if it goes further.
Find a Compromise
No matter how convinced you are that you deserved an A+ instead of a D on your essay, your professor probably won’t raise your grade 40 points just because you asked nicely. Go into your negotiation or appeal with a realistic idea of what you can ask for. One letter grade is a standard request, whether it’s for a pop quiz or your final course grade, unless a significant error was made (for example, your professor entering your grade into Pipeline incorrectly). Also, keep in mind that your request will be far more effective if you offer to work for your grade change. Come into the negotiation with a few ideas for extra credit assignments that you could do, or ask your professor if you can revise your paper for some extra points. Don’t expect to get something for nothing, even if you’re sure that you’re in the right.
Keep Track of Time
If you’re going for a formal grade appeal, be aware that MTSU’s appeal schedule is pretty tight. You have to start the process by meeting with your professor within ten business days of the next semester, so if you’re appealing a grade from the fall, you have to start the process within about two weeks of the start of the spring semester (although starting earlier is definitely recommended). If you and your professor can’t come to terms, you must meet with the department chair within the next ten business days, and wait for them to write a report of their opinion on the appeal. The full timeline and steps are outlined here, in MTSU’s official grade appeal policy. One of the biggest issues that students encounter with the grade appeal process is losing track of time and missing a deadline, which automatically voids your appeal, so mark your calendar and stay on top every step.
This one should go without saying, but it can be hard to keep your cool when your grade is on the line and you feel that you’re being treated unfairly. Remember, though, that professors are people too; this situation is just as uncomfortable for them as it is for you, even if they’re the one refusing to budge. Be aware of your tone of voice, as well as how you phrase things. Rather than saying “You graded this wrong” or “The grade I got isn’t fair”, try “It seems like the grading scale you used here is different from what’s in the syllabus”, or “I was confused about how I got this grade”. Always let your professor explain their position, and stay understanding rather than accusatory. Remember, you want to maintain a good relationship with your professor throughout a grade dispute (especially if the semester isn’t over yet and they still have more work of yours to grade).