One of the most annoying parts of any professor’s job is dealing with students asking to have their grades raised, sometimes called “grade grubbing”. I emphasize that I’m not talking here about students who want to better understand why they lost marks, or students pointing out mistakes in how their work was marked, or students asking to be excused from coursework for legitimate reasons, or etc. All that’s completely fine and not annoying at all! I’m talking about students who just ask for a higher mark in the course than the one they earned. Perhaps because they “worked hard” in the course, or “need” high marks to get into med school, or were “expecting” a higher grade, or were “close” to earning a higher grade, or “always get A’s in other classes”, or etc.
I can appreciate where such requests come from. Students rightly care about their marks. But it’s annoying when an understandable desire to receive a high mark gets expressed in an obviously inappropriate way, as a request to increase a mark.
In my admittedly anecdotal experience, only a small minority of students make such requests (sometimes several from an intro-level class of 100+ students). Those requests are a small problem in the grand scheme of things. But still, it’d be nice to have a solution to the problem.
Obviously, no faculty member can grant baseless requests to raise grades. To do so would be unfair to other students, not to mention against college or university rules. But receiving such requests is annoying, and dealing with them one-by-one is inefficient. In an ideal world, no student would ever make such a request.
So here’s what I’ve started doing.
At the end of the term, either shortly before or else at the same time as the final course marks are posted, I put a note to the students on the course website. In it, I say the following (most of which just reminds students of what they should already know):
- I thank the students for their hard work in the course. I do this to start on a positive note.
- I congratulate the class as a whole for doing a very solid job in the course (aside: which they invariably have done). I provide the median course mark. I do this to continue on the positive note. Without saying so, I’m also rebutting in advance any request to raise a grade on the grounds that the course was unreasonably hard. It couldn’t have been unreasonably hard if the class as a whole did fine.
- I tell the students that the marks have now been finalized by the registrar, but that I am happy to correct errors, for instance because of a mistake in assessment or because a mark was calculated incorrectly. Students who don’t understand why they lost marks or who believe their mark was calculated incorrectly are welcome to contact me. This makes clear to students the appropriate reasons to ask me for a change of mark.
- I tell the students that, except for correcting mistakes in assessment and mark calculation, I cannot change any grades for any reason. Fairness demands, and university rules require, that all students be marked according to the same standards, so that all students receive the marks they earned. I can’t just raise your grade, so please don’t ask me to do so; I will ignore any such requests. I say all this because in my experience, students who ask to have their mark raised are thinking only of themselves. By calling their attention to people and things other than themselves (other students, fairness, university rules), I hope to forestall such requests.
- Any student who wishes to appeal their mark may do so via the university’s formal appeals procedure. The choice to appeal a mark is entirely your decision; there is no need to notify me of your intent to appeal. I say this to remind students of the appropriate way to appeal a grade. I also say it because very occasionally students email me threatening to formally appeal their grade. Perhaps under the mistaken impression that I’ll somehow get in trouble if they appeal, or that threatening to formally appeal will get me to change their grade. Such emails are annoying to receive.
- I thank the students again and wish them all the best in their future studies. I do this to end on a positive note.
All this is more or less what I used to say to students individually when they asked me to raise their grades. By saying it to the whole class when final grades are posted, I hopefully won’t get any requests to raise grades in the first place. So far, in a small sample size, it seems to be working fairly well.
Note that I could say this at the start of the term. But I save it to the end, because in my experience nothing I say about grading policies at the start of term will affect student behavior at the end of term.
Recently, my university has started including standard language in all course outlines (called “syllabi” at many institutions) regarding reappraisal of grades. In future, I’ll probably just quote this standard language in my note, rather than going to the trouble of writing different words that say the same thing.
My approach isn’t perfect. There’s a risk that some students will misread my note as saying that I won’t discuss marked coursework for any reason after the term is over. All I can do about that is be as clear and explicit as possible.
I emphasize that this is just me sharing an approach that seems to work for me, on the off chance it’s of interest to anyone else. I’m guessing at least some of the profs among you already do something similar, but I don’t know. Your mileage may vary. You should do what works for you and your students, which might be different from what works for me and my students.
p.s. This post is deliberately narrow. I’m deliberately avoiding the much broader issue of whether students should be marked at all, and if so how. I’m avoiding that broader issue because it involves many more considerations besides “what would reduce grade grubbing?” and I didn’t feel like writing a 5000 word post. I’m also deliberately avoiding talking about the underlying circumstances that lead to grade grubbing. Again, I didn’t want to write a long post. Plus, most of those circumstances are out of my control. Feel free to discuss broader issues in the comments if you want. Just please don’t assume anything about my views on broader issues based on what I said or didn’t say in this post. If you want to know what I think about X, please ask me, rather than jumping to conclusions based on what I think about Y, or based on what other people who are not me think about X or Y, or etc.