A large portion of students in a class I'm taking did very poorly on the first project that was assigned in the class. The professor has decided to allow students that did not get full points on the project to increase their grade on project 1 by a percentage of their project 2 grade.

However, the way the that increase is calculated does nothing for the people that did project 1 correctly and received full points. I feel that this is an unfair application of extra credit as it only rewards those that didn't do the first project correctly.

Am I being reasonable when I see this as unfair?

  • 7
    If the issue is about competition or comparisons between students, and if this scheme had not been previously announced, then, yes, it is "unfair" in a sort of game-theory sense. On the other hand, if the goal is to get as many students as possible to keep working, rather than being disheartened, sure, why not? Is your own grade determined in part by others' numbers? If so, then, yes, this is not fair. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 0:32
  • I would suggest it would be better to make the first assignment contribute less to the total than the second and subsequent assignments. But that detail needs to be set at the beginning. Changing for some like suggested is not fair IMHO
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 5:15
  • 3
    I've done something similar in the past, but applied it for all students. If, for example, there was a 10% "boost," the student with 100% on an assignment could end up with 110% added into the grade for the end of the term, which could help offset a poor grade earned later. As there is no grade higher than A at my institution, the very best students did not benefit in their final grades, but all received the same opportunity.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 14:28
  • 2
    It depends on why so many people did it wrong. Did they misinterpret the directions the prof admits may have been unclear, and others happened to interpret it correctly? In that case, no I don't think it's unfair if the error was on the prof. If the error was only on the students, then I think it's a bit sketchier. Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 19:03
  • 1
    Talk to your professor about the Grade it again, Sam pattern. I think it's a clean way to achieve the goal of avoiding discouraged students who submitted poor quality work on the first project. Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 2:48

3 Answers 3


You don't indicate where you are, but I'm going to assume the US or places with similar systems.

What is the meaning of the final grade in a course? You can generally look in your handbook or catalog for the definitions. You won't find "was better than classmates" in the definitions, I'm quite certain. (Which is why I detest curve based grade assignment.)

Instead, grades are supposed to indicate a level of performance or degree of learning. Say a course had only two exams. A midterm and a final. If someone gets an F on the midterm and an A on the final, how do we reconcile those grades? If the course is progressive in nature like mine, I may be inclined to assign a grade of A because that represents the final mastery: I don't care, actually, that someone couldn't do X at the midterm if at the final they demonstrate X and Y.

A different student who made an A on both might be mad, but why? In both cases, at the end of my course, they demonstrated X and Y which was ultimately the point of my class.

If a professor allows students to redo work, in effect they are saying "well, you didn't demonstrate proficiency, but for this course it is necessary for you to do so, so let's see if you can on a second chance".

At the end of the day, if you feel your performance was better than theirs, and make the same or higher grade than them, why should you be concerned?


Put yourself in the shoes of the students who did poorly, it's not about punishment or unfairness, but rather about offering more practice to the more unexperienced.

If you are worried that your hardly earned grade loses value because your teacher decided to give another chance to those who did poorly, just think of it this way : Learning is personal and should be about self-development and inner growth. Not about comparing your medals.

Giving another chance is like giving more practice. More practice may lead to a better understanding of things, and what have not been understood in project 1 by some students, may be crystal clear to them after finishing the project 2 (I'm kind of exaggerating, but you get the gist).

This allows for a better global level in the class. Let's make an analogy with the army, the physically "weakest" should always be pulled up by the physically "strongest" recruits during physical activities. And sometimes, the physically weakest are also the mentally strongest.

If you think it is unfair, you may not have the right mindset, learning is personal and the learning curve depends on each and every individual. There should be no competition when learning something.

We see this kind of competitive mindset very often in the academic world, it can be sane as long as people use their strengths and advantages to help others out, but it can also be pretty toxic if it's just a "size comparison" kind of behavior and people stomp each other.

I've personally been called things during my computer science studies (where students are usually pretty cruel to the less experienced ones), for example, I'd often break my Linux distribution, and have to repair it, and the other students would make fun of me about it.

This makes them feel socially safe and accepted by using mockery. By mocking someone in difficulty, you try and place yourself above them, because you are probably lacking confidence and have the need to express yourself as superior in one field or another.

That said, just use the occasion to practice more on project 2, fine tune things, get experienced, and even "master" the topic of your subject. There's never too much practice.

  • Well put. Here's another analogy: You can fail the driving license and retry. Although the second attempt does nothing for those who breezed through the driving test on the first try, this isn't considered unfair, because driving school in general is not framed as competition but as a means to an end. Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 17:12
  • Yes, that's a great analogy as well @henning, each individual has their own learning curve for things. And everyone should respect that. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses.
    – Jules L
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 17:17

Offering students a chance to improve their assignments grades is something I have done for every weekly assessment in my teaching course. The underlying idea behind offering a chance to improve grades is in the instructor offering an incentive to students for giving the test a second thought, thus putting more work in, likely resulting in better understanding of the topic. The reason why I did for all tests and students was to avoide "unfairness".

However, it can happen that most students fail miserably at a test. When this does happen, the most likely explanation is that the instructor prepared a test that was simply too hard for its audience. This happens rarely, but regularly (professors are not omniscient gods, professors learn just as you do, professors regularly move to new courses and then they have to calibrate the material on that particular student body). In that case, giving a second chance is a way to correct for this effect. This correction should be designed in such a way as not to change the "leatherboard" in student grades. If that is the case, then the entire class benefits, and there is no unfairness.

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