How to Talk Your Way to a Higher Grade (When You Think You Deserve One)

When we know the quality of our work on an assignment was not our best, we usually expect the grade to be lower than normal. But what if our grade doesn’t accurately reflect what we think we deserve? Maybe we thought our essay was right on point, but we got a D. Or maybe we thought we explained our answers clearly on the midterm exam, but the professor had other thoughts.
 
There are ways to deal with these situations other than venting on the phone to our parents or marching straight to your advisor’s office to report the teacher for unfair grading practices. No matter which class is frustrating you, HC has some advice from experts on how to handle some common “bad grade” situations.

Situation #1: “I think I should have gotten more points on this test than my final score indicates.”
 
If you’ve looked over your graded test thoroughly and you absolutely cannot figure out how your 89 percent was given a D+ (maybe the curve was really high?), you may want to confront your professor. In some classes, professors will review the exam in a class session and explicitly state the grading policies, including the curve if there is one.
 
But this is not always the case. “If your professor does not review the test in class, ask the professor if you can make an appointment to review the test,” said Dr. Lynn H. Ritchey, a professor of sociology at University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash College.
 
“Professors like it when students take the initiative to understand and monitor their grades,” she explains. “Take 15 minutes to quietly review the test on your own. Jot down specific questions you have for your professor. Professors are always willing to clarify ideas for students! Don’t be shy. You never know, your professor may have made an error.”
 
“One time when I got an exam back, I noticed that the professor had marked one of the questions wrong,” said Stephanie, a senior at the University of Southern California. “I knew it was right because I had consulted with friends who had taken the exam and received points for the same answer. I approached him during office hours and explained that I felt my exam was graded incorrectly. He was actually very nice about it and he apologized.”
 
If you still believe you should have received more points after you meet with your instructor and they do not agree with you, make sure you have solid evidence to back up your claim before speaking with an academic advisor. If you don’t, arguing will do more to hurt you than help you.
 
Additionally, if a TA graded the exam, it is important that you speak to him or her before you approach the professor. By going over the TA’s head, you might offend him.  Remember, you don’t want to burn any bridges in an academic setting!

Situation #2: “I bombed the midterm. What can I do to make up for it?”
 
Sometimes midterms simply do not go as well as you had hoped. You could have been busy working on a project for another class and didn’t have time to study, or you could have been slacking on keeping up with the reading. Regardless, failing can cause your grade to drop fast. Although you can’t go back and retake your midterm, there are steps you can take to keep this from happening again.
 
“Talk to your instructor to see how you can best study for your next exam,” said Maryann Wu, an academic advisor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “Be proactive for upcoming assignments and exams by talking to your professor. Not only will this help you, but your instructor will then be able to know you on a more personal level.”
 
Luckily, many professors will count the final grade more than the midterm grade. If you’re still worried, you can also ask the professor if there are any extra credit opportunities. Some professors might empathize with your situation and be willing to help you improve your grade. Though you can’t count on this option, it never hurts to ask!