Getting an unfair grade in college can be an emotional situation to find yourself in. However, if you approach your professor in the right way, you can talk to them calmly and find a resolution you can live with.
When a Grade Makes Your Blood Boil
At some point in our college education, we all get a grade that we may think is wrong or unfair. There are a variety of knee-jerk reactions we all have in those moments. Some of us want to shut ourselves alone in our dorm room and cry, while others may have the impulse to rush into the professor's office yelling and demanding the grade be changed. However, neither of those reactions will be effective in actually improving the grade and may only make the situation much worse. However, if you think you were graded unfairly, there are some steps you can take to talk to your professor about getting a better grade than the one currently written in red on the paper.
Take a Period to Cool Off
When you are upset about a grade, it is hard to see the situation objectively. In those moments, all you know is that your friends and classmates did better than you, and the emotions can be truly overwhelming. Those emotions taint everything from how you see the grade to any feedback written on the paper. So sometimes the first step before you go to your professor is just to let yourself cool off, emotionally speaking, and even meditate if you that helps.
Once you have taken that space, it is time to look at the grade objectively. Begin by making a copy of the test or assignment and putting the original aside to have for later. Then start by looking at the assignment and preparing notes for the conversation you want to have with the professor. For example, if it is a test, make a list of the answers that you feel were unfairly marked wrong. Then, on your new copy, go through and make notes that show the answer is correct. These might be textbook pages that show your answer was correct or references to places in your notes where the professor gave you that answer. You want to go in with a plan of attack, and having support will be very helpful.
If it is a paper or project you disagree with the grade about, carefully read all of the comments and check your work against the rubric. Ask yourself honestly if you met the requirements on the rubric, and then mark up the paper to show exactly where you met those requirements. If you were marked down for items not on the rubric, note those places as well. If you have friends who are willing to share their work with you, and it supports your claim to a better grade, you may bring that with you as well.
Approach the Teaching Assistant
In large schools and courses, odds are the teaching assistant is grading the work and not the actual professor who teaches the class. So once you are calm and organized, set up a time to have a structured conversation with the teaching assistant. They may keep office hours, or you may want to make a special appointment as the conversation may take a while. Start by calmly expressing your concerns about the grade, and go through with them point by point.
Try to keep the discussion focused by framing what you say in terms of The question/rubric asked for … and then explain how your answer/paper met those requirements.
Keep in mind: the teaching assistant may be powerless to get your grade changed. If it is a matter of a question marked wrong on a test, they may be able to fix that for you easily. If it is a project or paper, however, the professor probably has the final say. Since the teaching assistants work closely with the professor, they can offer you a lot of insight in how to approach them. Take notes on what they say and even ask them if they think the professor might be open to revision or extra credit to bring the grade up.
Meet With the Professor
The next step is to gather all of your notes and make an appointment with your professor. Remember, professors are people too, so how you approach the conversation with them makes all the difference. Keep in mind: most professors teach because they genuinely want to work with students and help them be successful in the field. So don't go in with an accusatory attitude, but with a bit of humility. Calmly express your concerns, and go back through the assignment with them. Just like you did with the teaching assistant, go point by point through the portions of your grade that you feel are unfair. If you feel like the teaching assistant who graded your work wasn't following the rubric or guidelines given, express those concerns to the professor. You may not be the only student who feels that way in the course.
In the back of your mind remember that the professor has probably had conversations like this many times before over the same assignment and probably has quite a few rebuttals in their pocket over the details of the assignment or test. Don't immediately jump into the argument, but instead be prepared to hear them out, taking notes as necessary. If you approach the conversation with a good attitude, you may make some headway and get the grade changed. The professor may make other allowances to you as well, such as allowing a revision or even extra credit. However, you may emerge on the other side of that conversation realizing that your grade was fair all along.
When All Else Fails
At the end of the day, your grade may stay exactly the same. If you still feel the score is unfair, the next step is usually to approach the secretary who works in your college major's office and ask about the procedure to contest a grade. Universities and colleges, such as Fordham University and Mercer County Community College, typically have a standard procedure for filing your grievance that will include filing appropriate documentation and making your case. If you have worked through the process outlined here, you should basically have all that in order. However, more often, if you approach your professor the right way, you can find a solution to your grade dispute without having to go through the formal appeals process.