I just failed a university-level course that the instructor assured me I was passing. We've discussed my grade in emails but we continue to disagree on how it should be calculated and even on what assignments should count. (The instructor did not adhere to the grading policy in her syllabus - this is a passing/fail issue.)

I have proof that I did enough to pass. Grades are in and the school is out for the holiday break, but I feel like I need to do something before this becomes permanent. What should I do? As a student, how do I challenge a grade I think is unfair if can't resolve it with my instructor?

  • 18
    I think the question is clear and representative what a student might experience as an injustice and a crisis related to a poor or failing grade just before the holiday break. It happens often enough, the details almost don't matter. I think it's possible to answer this question with some factual advice that does not depend on the specifics or any other individual factors. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 19:19
  • 7
    This is exactly why I never give students an estimate of their course grades. I refer them to the grading plan in the syllabus and tell them to compute how well they must do on remaining work to earn the grade wanted. (Of course, I have to stick to the grading plan in the syllabus to do this.)
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 13:19
  • 2
    I'll add a general comment: We have 2 paragraphs from a student so do not know the whole story of this situation. It's possible that the professor did something wrong, but it's also possible that the student is mistaken. I've had students many times expect grade X when they earned Y, and "somehow" calculated an average higher than what they really earned.
    – che_kid
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 16:27
  • 1
    @chekid: I think as a general rule, one should always give advice based on the question we have. When somebody writes "a student cheated", people also don't question this premise. I've seen many unfair instructors in my life - they really do exist.
    – Haudie
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 15:29

8 Answers 8

  1. Contact your teacher (email) and start a paper trail where you outline the assignments in question: when they were due, when they were submitted, and if the teacher received them.
  2. Given the break, schedule an appointment with the teacher after the break to sit down and discuss the issues at hand.
  3. (As per aeismail's comment) I would agree to escalate to the department chair and inform your academic advisor before the dean.
  4. At the same time as 5, should you choose to and if your institution has such a department, contact your ombudsperson office to create an informal avenue of conflict resolution outside of formal (and time consuming) solutions. They offer a means of conflict resolution that tries to arbitrate issues before you take formal action.
  5. Depending on the results (no meet, meet but no success) escalate by appealing to your college Dean the issues and ensure that all paperwork is in order: an executive summary documenting the chronological order of events, all of your correspondence with the teacher indicating that you abided by the syllabus.
  6. If and when you have a hearing, dress nice and present your case when you are called in for an appointment with the dean. Be factual and punctual. Don't demean or insinuate personal characteristics of the teacher in question, stick to the facts and what is the issue at hand.
  7. At the end of the day, if all else fails, I would stand to believe that your college Dean answers to a higher 'officer' of the school. There should be a means to escalate your appeal to this final authority. There might be more, but for most if not all issues, this would be the highest authority to appeal to.
  • 11
    Best answer so far, except I would encourage the OP to also immediately notify his or her academic advisor about the situation, and maybe even copy the advisor on the email to the instructor. Instructors who behaved in such a way are much more likely to act if they know they are being held accountable to someone other than the student.
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 14:19
  • 7
    Also, probably the next point of contact is the chair of the department, not the dean. The dean would step in if the situation is not resolved at the chair level.
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 14:20
  • @aeismail great suggestions, I've added them as part of the answer.
    – Bluebird
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 14:26
  • 24
    Always double check the university's academic grievance policy. It often has very clear standards on who is to grieve the complaints and in which order, etc, and not doing things correctly could cause problems. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 21:42
  • Go through the normal procedures listed here, but be willing at some point to move on. You don't know how many times I've heard from students claiming they should get grade X, when they earned Y. Profs do make mistakes occasionally, but they do generally know how to calculate grades.
    – che_kid
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 16:22

Grades can almost always be changed later (often, even a year later!) if good cause is found. So, there's probably no need to worry about what can be done over the holidays. When everyone's back for the next term, there will be plenty of time to revisit your grade and make a correction if it's warranted.

If you can't resolve a grading issue with your instructor, you might next go to your department chair or your academic advisor. But take care. We've all experienced the disappointment of getting a lower grade than we'd hoped for on something important to us and we remember how that affected our emotions and sense of fairness. As faculty, I now see it in my students and I can see it hurts and I wish I could make it go away by simply handing out exceptions. But I can't without being unfair to others, e.g., those who were even closer to the cutoff but also received the same grade.

Consider the possibility you may have misunderstood how the grading was to be done and the extent to which any guidance you might have been given on your likely final grade was only guidance, not a guarantee.

I would double-check how your grade was calculated, including what assignments would count, against the syllabus and carefully re-read the explanations you received to be absolutely sure of your claims before going, e.g., to your department chair with a complaint. Most institutions grant instructors considerable academic freedom to grade however they feel most appropriate and even to make reasonable changes to the way they grade during the term based on new information, e.g., discovery that an assignment or exam was harder than they'd anticipated.

That can even mean dropping entire assignments from the initial list in the syllabus. In a logic design course I used to teach at UW, I'd explain that homework sets were merely intended for practice, not meaningful use in grading since not everyone needs the same practice and anyone can get 100 with enough time spent. What really mattered were the design projects in the lab and the exams.

Later in the course, with students busier on projects and already getting enough practice, I often proposed to my classes, okay, everyone has seen the problem set posted and no one has time to do it. Does this problem set count or should we just go through the solutions in class? If you are the one person who's upset because I eliminated that homework from counting, the chair is going to want to know about you right away.

It's possible your instructor has behaved unreasonably but take care to consider if there's another side to the story your chair will also hear about from your instructor if you go there. Lawyering over individual words in the syllabus, arguments that amount to asking to be graded differently than the rest of the class and leaving out important details are rarely successful strategies.

Try to see if there's anything to learn from this so it doesn't happen again, which may be as simple as working a little harder next time or taking a lighter course load in the future so you have more time to do better. Twelve units of straight As always beats seventeen units with a couple of Cs.

  • Is it possible that she is pushing it off until after the break then? Like how hard is it for a teacher to change a grade after the term? Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:20
  • 1
    @TonyGallagher Changing a grade at most universities is done through a simple online form. If you've done it before, it takes 5 minutes. I've submitted many grade change requests where I've taught and never had one questioned. Nor was there any time limit. At UW, I think I could have changed grades I'd issued years earlier. To your other question, yes, let her enjoy the break. By the end of the term, faculty are exhausted as well. Try not to let it ruin your holiday. Enjoy the break and resolve to do better next term. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 18:27
  • 12
    +1 "It's possible your instructor has behaved unreasonably but take care to consider if there's another side to the story your chair will also hear about from your instructor if you go there." No matter what the truth of the situation is, this is important advice. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 2:48
  • 3
    This answer is very geographically specific. I'm guessing you are writing about institutions in North America. You should appreciate that what you are saying is almost completely wrong in some other places. Academic freedom does not apply to grading in other places. Period. Nor can instructions arbitrarily design assessments - never mind change them later.
    – cfr
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 5:05
  • In Germany there is a time limit (normally 1 month) for an appeal. That should be checked, waiting can essentially mean accepting the grade.
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 11:55

First step is talk to the teacher. It may be a simple mistake, which is than easily fixed.

After that you follow the complaint procedure of your institution.


Step 1 - Find and read your university's grade-review policy: Every university has some policy in place to allow students to apply for review of grading from an instructor. Your first step should be to check your university website or contact someone in the administration to find this policy, and then read it. This will tell you the grounds on which you can apply for review, and the administrative process that is required. For almost all such policies, time is of the essence - you are expected to take action on this within a reasonable time, so you should get started right away.

Step 2 - Do what the policy says; leave a paper trail: The specifics of what you do next depend on the particular review policy, but in my experience, most of these processes require you to contact your course lecturer in the first instance and then there is a process to escalate things to a reviewer if you are unsatisfied with the response. Most policies do not give you an automatic right of review, but require you to give grounds for why you think a review is justified. From your post it sounds like this will not be a problem. As other commentators have advised, make sure you do everything by email so that you leave a paper-trail of your requests for review, etc.


I went through this exact situation a while ago, although it wasn't at university level, it was with my daughter who was threatened with not graduating middle school because of an elective Spanish course taught by someone who didn't like her, while her other grades were A's and B's. Flunking 8th grade? How stupid! But, read on, your situation will replay in different ways for the rest of your life.

Get your emails organized so you have clear documentation of your attempts at resolution and your teacher's refusals to follow their rules for how the class was to be graded. Be sure the emails contain the teacher's rules and why they are arbitrarily being disregarded. If you can't get an answer to that issue, that's fine; it's evidence the teacher is not being honest. Organize proof of the assignments you turned in to earn a passing grade.

When you have proof of both your work and the teacher's refusal to pass you in a package that an outsider can easily understand, email the appropriate dean, dept head, whoever, with your information and ask for resolution, ie., a passing grade.

If your grade isn't changed, request a meeting with the teacher, dean and you. You'll probably have to do this face to face meeting, email is a great way for the stubborn to shirk responsibility.

In my case, I had a ream of conflicting emails, constantly changing requirements, video evidence of assignments being handed directly to the teacher (friends have phones, too, LOL) she claimed were not submitted, etc. Everything went to the Principal in emails, who supported the teacher until I requested a meeting among the three of us, during which it became clear to him the teacher was lying. My daughter graduated and the teacher was fired, yay!

In college and grad school, I regularly approached professors who I thought misgraded my work or played favorites. Do this well and you'll end up ahead, otherwise you're just another student in a mass of faces they see daily; if they know you better, they'll usually help you. Be prepared, know what you want from them, they despise indecision. Back then, email, the internet, anti-social networking, the ability to exist as text, images and vids wasn't possible, an individual's social market was vastly smaller so people were more genuinely assertive and persistent than now.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, go as far as you need for this zero sum game teacher to be embarrassed; this is a great life lesson, something you'll go through many times. Life is not fair unless you make it fair.

  • Interesting anecdote, although I'm not sure I can agree with the broad-brush generalization that most professors "despise" indecision.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 11:52

The following suggestions are based entirely on you being 100% truthful and accurate with your statements.

Your assumptions should echo every item on assignments, attendance, quizzes, tests, etc.

I realize one of the topics discussed previously was which assignments would count toward your grade. Did you ask if there would be a penalty if you failed to turn in the assignments, even if those assignments did not count toward the final grade? Perhaps that is the reason for your current failing grade?

If all of the above still seems to support your assertion that you have earned a passing grade, I would recommend the following steps.

1. I agree with everyone's first step which appears to be contact the professor/instructor for your class.

If the first step does not produce your desired grade change, move to step 2.

2. Request a meeting with the chair/ head/director of the department that offered the course in question.

It is noteworthy that should you meet with the professor's direct supervisor who is in most cases the department chair/ head/director you must come prepared with documentation. This documentation must be thorough, and you must show any discrepancies, etc. You should have a copy to leave with the person you meet with now and in all of the following steps. Also, for this step and the subsequent steps, you will be meeting with people that undoubtedly will believe the professor's grade is accurate and justified.

You must prove that your current mark is inaccurate and unjustified.

If you still are unable to either understand why your current grade will remain in place or you believe you deserve to pass and no action in that direction occurs, move to step 3.

3. Schedule a meeting with the dean of the school or college within which is the location of the department. Again make sure you have documentation for everything, including emails, dates of meetings, returned assignments, quizzes, and any other formative evaluations you received throughout the class.

At this point you most likely are quite a distance from the professor and the dean might not even be totally familiar with the subject matter. So, your argument here must be objective. Do your best to not use any emotional statements as arguments for a passing grade. Keep it completely objective, using straight facts.

Still frustrated and not seeing the proper outcome?

4. Schedule a meeting with the Dean of Undergraduate Studies and once again present your argument.

If this still does not work for you, I might suggest that you take one final step.

5. Contact the Office of the Ombudsman and again be clear, concise, and factual in the presentation of your argument. Make sure you include dates of all meetings, topics discussed, why there has not been a proper resolution based on exactly what the previous people have told you not what you think.

If those steps do not change your grade, it would seem that you did not earn a passing grade. In the end, the professor of the course has the final say, and it is my experience that if the professor believes the grade is correct and justified it will remain.

Finally, take a moment to ask yourself the following questions. And ask them independent of whether your efforts result in a change from fail to pass.

  1. Why did you put yourself in this position?
  2. What is going wrong in your life that you are arguing about which assignments will count, etc. just to pass? and,
  3. Why didn't you excell and pass without even the slightest concern?

Best of luck, let me know if you think I can help you along.


This is a bad situation. First, you should tell her about the situation. Maybe she sees that you are in a bad situation because of a mistake and grades your assignments. (Even if "grading is closed", there should always be a possibility to correct severe mistakes.)

If she refuses, go to a person higher than her and explain that person your situation (with all the proofs).

If this still doesn't help, try student unions, your advisor, more higher persons (if appliciable).

If still nothing happens (which is the case far too often), you cannot do anything more.

  • Could someone comment on the downvoting? I am fairly new to this site, sorry. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 8:51
  • The answer is extremely vague, particularly in the academic context where the regulations and culture require things be done in a certain way, and adds nothing to the detailed answers that are already present.
    – Nij
    Commented Dec 28, 2017 at 21:36
  • Adding nothing is due to this answer being the first (together with Maarten Buis' answer);) I Commented Jan 3, 2018 at 13:40

What she said, is nothing compared to what she registered in written form. However, it is unlikely that she had done this intentionally with you. It is nearly sure, that it was a mistake from her part. The question is, where was the mistake: her 180, or her 115.

Alternatively, it might be a mistake from your part (you misunderstood something or so).

"Grading is closed" likely means that even she can't make a fix without contacting other people (typically, some higher-level administration) to change your result. Doing this, she would admit (for powers over her) that she did a mistake, she likely won't do it. However, if she accepts that you should have got 180, then she likely won't let you falsely failed.

Contact she, and explain the problem. Your goal shouldn't be to overpower she, because she is obviously more powerful as you in this case. Your goal should be to set she to your side. But she should see on you that you are very determined in this case.

If you don't have anything written about your 180, and she doesn't side with you, then you are likely lost.

If you are not in a critical situation (for example, you will be a dropout), then I would suggest to let it as it is.

If your degree depends on it, fight until the last shot (student's union and so on).

  • 13
    Letting it as is is horrible advice. The poster has proof the work has been submitted and written confirmation that the instructor refuses to grade it. The instructor is behaving maliciously, and should be castigated for it.
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 14:24
  • 7
    You’re ignoring the part where she confirmed in an email she’s not grading assignments the student has proof were submitted. The instructor has no right to fail a student because she doesn’t want to grade work.
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 14:44
  • 4
    The student got a grade because the instructor is required to enter grades at the end of the semester. That’s different from the charge of not grading assignments and failing as a result. If there is evidence the assignments were submitted on time and an email saying the instructor won’t grade them, that’s all the proof that should be required for a successful appeal. And it is certainly possible at many schools to appeal grades after they’ve been submitted.
    – aeismail
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 14:52
  • 1
    "I will however pass you this time because I see here you have submitted the assignments. Next time I hope you do not intend to put yourself in a situation where you have to do this type of thing." Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 15:05
  • 5
    @TonyGallagher "Next time I hope you do not intend to put yourself in a situation where you have to do this type of thing." What is this in reference to? What is "this type of thing"? It sounds as though you were at fault for something not mentioned in the question.
    – JMac
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 15:44

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .