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Contesting a Low Grade: How It's Done

Feb 27, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

It happens to every college student at least once. Final grades are posted for a class, and yours is lower than you expected. A lot lower. Many students don’t question the grade they’re assigned, or they accept the professor’s explanation after initial questioning. But in some cases it’s worth it to formally contest a low grade.

Is It Worth Your While to Challenge a Grade?

Once you graduate college, employers in many industries are unlikely to care about your GPA after you land your first job or two. But your GPA is still crucial to meeting certain goals. If you’re planning to try landing a competitive internship or continuing your education in law, medical or graduate school, it may be worth your while to contest a bad grade.

Money may be riding on your GPA as well. Many scholarships require students to maintain a certain grade point average. If you’re already close to falling below the required average, that bad grade might push you under—and you could lose scholarship money. In this case, contest that grade like your bank account depends on it.

How to contest a bad grade
No one likes getting a bad grade on a test or assignment. With the right determination and justification you can possibly turn that low grade into something hopefully a bit better.

Gather Your Evidence

When contesting a low grade, you’ll need a lot of information to back up your request. Your first step is to make sure you know the basic expectations and met them.

Take out your course syllabus and go over the requirements. Did you meet them? Take into account your attendance and class participation as well as whether or not you completed all the assignments on time, asked for deadline extensions, followed directions and showed up for class. Take out copies of your major assignments and review them to make sure you met all the requirements.

Make sure you know how the class was graded. Were you graded on a curve? In this case, the grades of your peers may affect your own. How were assignments weighted, and did you get low or high grades on the biggest assignments? How many points did you need for each letter grade? Sometimes a 90 is an A, for example, while in other cases an A is a 92 or more.

Next, do the math. Figure out your average for every assignment and test returned to you, and if any were not returned, figure out what you would have had to earn on them to get the grade you wanted. Find out whether any tests or assignments received an uncharacteristically low grade.

Develop Your Justification

In most cases, you won’t persuade anyone with the simple case that you want a higher grade because you want one. You need to have a reason for it.

First, look for mathematical errors. Professors calculate their grades themselves much of the time. They handle these calculations for hundreds of students under deadline, and for many of them math isn’t a strong point. It’s entirely possible your professor made a mistake in calculating your grade. This is the best justification for a challenge.

If you can’t find any glaring mathematical errors, consider the situation. Were you promised certain help you didn’t get—for example, longer times for tests because of a learning disability? If you’re going the learning disability route, you’ll need confirmation from a doctor.

You’ll have an easier time winning if your grades were low but you participated heavily in class, clearly showed effort, and can demonstrate improvement. You may also be more likely to succeed if this grade has a big impact on you—you’d lose a scholarship or drop a decimal point on your GPA if it stands—and if your lower grade is based mainly on one or two low assignments.

Talk to the Right People

Your professor may be willing to change your grade on his own. Bring all your assignments, your syllabus, and your notes on the way your class was graded and your meeting of all the requirements. Stay away from accusations; instead, focus on what you learned, how much you improved and why you feel you deserve a higher grade.

If that doesn’t work, take it to the department head—or the dean if your professor is the department head. It’s rare, but possible, that a higher-level administrator will change your grade—particularly if you can demonstrate extenuating circumstances, clear discrimination, or that the low grade is due to a single uncharacteristically low-scoring assignment.

There’s no guarantee of success when you contest a grade, but in some cases, it can be worth your while to try. Take your time in building a case, and hopefully you can get a better grade.

YouTube Video: U of M Study Finds Bad Habits Mean Bad Grades




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