Should You Challenge Your Grade in College?

College Advice

I know many students ask instructors to raise their grades as a matter of course, whether that means attempting to guilt the instructor by telling them they need to maintain a high GPA for a scholarship or application, or simply trying to earn back a few points (also known as grade grubbing).  Some students take a more indirect approach by making comments like “I hope all my hard work pays off!”  Still, I think most students realize that asking for a grade raise is a futile endeavor but do it just in case.  They assume it’s worth asking  five instructors to raise their grade if one of them might actually do it.  However, though the strategy seems worthwhile for that minor boost, there might be other repercussions these students never see.

What Happens When You Challenge a Grade?

First, of course, you should realize that, actually,  most instructors do not change grades as a matter of policy simply because they spent a lot of time grading your work and stand by their decision and changing your grade because you asked them to is unfair to your classmates.  Also, if you challenge a grade and bring it to the department or program head, they will likely not raise your grade for the simple reason that they do not want to undermine the authority of their instructors, who will be more familiar with your work than they are.  Thus, your grade challenge is almost guaranteed to be unsuccessful.  In the end, it’s probably not worth challenging a grade unless you have strong grounds to do so.

But What If Another Student Has a Higher Grade for the Same Work?

This is tricky.  Unless you’re in some sort of math or science course where the grade can be objectively compared (as in you filled out the same multiple choice bubble for the answer and your friend got points but you did not), it’s still unlikely that your grade challenge will be successful.  First of all, instructors do not like to change other students’ grades based on student complaints.  That is, they are extremely unlikely to lower Student A’s grade because you complained that Student A did not write a strong paper or contribute much to your group work.  But will they raise your grade?

Again, this is hard to know.  First of all, if you are complaining about something like an essay because you think your paper is as good as Student A’s but Student A received an “A-” but you got a “B+,” you might not know what factors went into grading.  It may actually be true that Student A wrote a more original and complex argument than you did, and provided stronger evidence, even though you believe your paper is pretty good.  It may also be possible that Student A did significant revision and went to office hours, leading the instructor to acknowledge this effort in the grade even though the paper was on the cusp of a “B+” and an “A-.”

Your instructor is unlikely to discuss all this with you because, frankly, what Student A does and what grades Student A receives are not your business.  So, the instructor might offer to review your work but they are not going to compare your work to another student’s.  Most likely they will offer to explain to you why you earned the grade you did, but will refuse to consider a grade change at all.

But What If You Still Want to Challenge Your Grade?

If you remain convinced that your grade is wrong or you deserved more points, you have to be careful about the way you present your case.  Here are some helpful tips:

  • First of all, acknowledge that you earn your grades.  Suggesting that an instructor “gave” you a grade is going to make them skeptical about your claim before they even read it.
  • Frame the conversation as you wanting to know how you can improve rather than as you wanting to know why the instructor gave you a grade you don’t like.  Now you’ve impressed your instructor.
  • You can also ask them if they can explain the point system to you so you understand how they calculated your grade.  Be sure to frame this in a way that suggests  you want to understand, not that you disagree with the way they set up their grade percentages.
  • If you begin with “I am not complaining” or “I am not grade grubbing,” you have primed your instructor to assume you are complaining or grade grubbing.  Don’t raise these possibilities for them.
  • Don’t try to guilt instructors.  If you tell them you need a certain GPA , they’re going to remind you that you earn the GPA.  They also hear these complaints all the time, so it’s unfortunately difficult to exploit this as you needing extra help since everyone in the class likely wants a good grade for some reason or another.
  • Remain polite.  If the instructor refuses to listen to you but you truly believe your grade is too low for whatever reason, you can ask if there is someone above them who can arbitrate.  You don’t have to get into an argument with them.  There are policies in place for these sorts of things.

Conclusion

Grade challenges are unsuccessful in almost all cases, which should make you question whether you want to spend your time pursuing one. So choose your battles wisely.  Begin by asking your instructor to explain your grade to you and asking how you can improve your performance.  After that, if you remain unsatisfied, you should seriously consider the pros and cons of raising a grade challenge.  Don’t rush into one just in case.

Krysta 64

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2 thoughts on “Should You Challenge Your Grade in College?

  1. Briana says:

    I think it mostly comes down to whether you have an actual reason you are questioning your grade. If you think the professor (or grader) genuinely made a mistake, ask. If you don’t understand why you received the grade you did, ask. Instructors do make mistakes. And anyone would be happy to provide clarification.

    But if you’re asking someone to regrade an entire math test for no reason other than “Why not? Maybe they’ll find partial credit they missed the first time,” just don’t. Ask for regrade on a particular question if you have a reason but not because “just in case.” I know people who grade STEM exams for large classes, and they get so many people who want their entire quiz or exam regraded every single week that they had to implement policies to stop the madness. It’s just impossible to regrade 100 quizzes every time the class takes a quiz because a bunch of students thought it was a good idea to ask when they didn’t actually believe their grade was incorrect in the first place.

    Also, yes, I would not bother with “But I need an A to get into medical school!” or “But I need to graduate on time!” or whatever. If you need an A in the class, put that out at the start and do the work to earn one. Begging after the class is over is just ineffective. There is nothing the professor can do for you at that point.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I think the problem is that many students aren’t fully aware of what constitutes a legitimate reason to question the grade, meaning the safer bet might be to begin to ask for clarification about the grade/problem. If the instructor’s answer is unsatisfactory you can then consider challenging the grade. It’s also possible that an instructor explaining a problem to you will notice themselves that the grade was wrong.

      There’s certainly nothing wrong about asking for clarification since instructors are human and make mistakes, but you should definitely try to discern whether there’s a real problem not make the poor instructor grade your test twice every time!

      And, yes, it’s true that if you have a grade dilemma and you anticipate needing extra help for a good performance, you should talk about strategies with your instructor from the start, not just hope for the best and then ask for a grade raise once the semester is over and you can’t do anything to improve your grade anymore.

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