When you get a grade lower than you expected, your first instinct may be to fight it.
The teacher is being “unfair,” you think, or you didn’t “deserve” the grade you got. As a university-level instructor for several years, I want to offer you some perspective and some advice on what to do in this situation. First off, set aside whether or not your teacher likes you; his or her grades are based on the work you did or did not do, so stay as objective as possible. Even if your teacher is singling you out, using the language of "fairness" or talking about what you "deserve" is not going to get you anywhere with your regrading negotiations. Instead, talk about the grade you earned. Your teachers are not handing out grades willy-nilly; they are evaluating your work based on how well it fulfills the expectations they’ve set out for your class. Before you start blaming your teacher, take a look at your work!
Here are my recommendations for approaching a teacher about a contested grade:
1. Wait 2–3 days after you’ve received your test, paper, or assignment back before deciding whether to approach the teacher.
Seriously, sit on it for a few days. You’ll be calmer and more able to analyze your teacher’s comments, and in the end, you’ll make a better argument for why your work deserves a second look. Or, maybe you’ll realize it doesn’t deserve a second look.
2. After a few days, read your teacher’s comments and corrections very carefully.
Try to understand your mistakes and your teacher’s point of view.
3. Check your work.
Look carefully over all of your answers, responses, and paragraphs to make sure you wrote what you meant to write.
4. If you still think you were graded incorrectly, take one more step back.
Consider what grading rubric the teacher is using. Does he or she offer any partial credit? Is he or she looking for a specific type of response or writing (usually made clear in the instructions for the assignment or test)? Are you still so sure you didn’t earn the grade you got based on this rubric?
5. If you still feel compelled to contest the grade, set up a time to talk to your teacher about it.
Don’t ambush him or her right before class starts. Instead, after class, ask your teacher if you can talk about the assignment in question at some point when it’s convenient.
6. Before you meet with your teacher, make a copy of the assignment with the teacher’s comments, and annotate it with any counterpoints and questions you have.
Don’t feel you have to fight every remark; pick your battles and stick to discussing clear instances where you have a case.
7. When you meet your teacher, bring your original assignment and your annotated copy with you.
Frame the meeting as a discussion, not a set of accusations. Ask your teacher how the assignment was graded if a rubric was not made explicit to you. Then, go through your annotations one by one, and ask for clarification if necessary.
8. Hopefully, by now, you and your teacher are seeing eye to eye.
Either you’ve convinced the teacher that you earned a different grade, or the teacher has convinced you that you did not. No matter the outcome, thank the teacher for his or her time in explaining your grade to you. You might also ask if there’s a possibility to rewrite or retake a test or an assignment, now that you have a better idea of how grading works.
Whatever happens, see this as a learning experience.
After this conversation, you’ll have a much clearer picture of what your teacher is looking for in your work. Make sure to meet those expectations next time! If you approached your teacher with respect, your teacher will most likely come away having learned about your intellectual and emotional maturity, too.
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