A student who has trained hard for my exam got a just-passing grade. They are dissatisfied with it, and have mailed me to ask to have a look at my corrections. Naturally, I agreed to this. In the mail, they are already calling into question my corrections and the exam content. Is there anything in particular I can do at this point to minimize the chances of a dragged-out discussion or procedure with the exam committee?

Crucial info:

  1. The course I gave was extracurricular, and planned to be pass/fail based on participation. I only added the exam after this student asked for it, because they needed a grade for some administrative reason. The exam was taken by a very small number of other students (inadequate comparison material).
  2. At that point, I asked the student if they aimed for a particular grade, and the answer was 'no'.
  3. The student got all knowledge-based questions right, and flunked almost all applied knowledge questions.
  4. As the course was extracurricular and covered an advanced topic, I made sure to cover the basics, but on top of that I covered a lot of content quickly, allowing advanced students to learn additional things if they wanted to.
  5. I suspect this student simply missed the bulk of that information, partly due to a language barrier.
  6. During correction, I already scrapped one question from the exam that no-one got right and that strongly seemed like I had mentioned it too passingly during the course.
  7. After calculating the grade based on a linear transformation of the point score, I felt that the best grade (which was moderate) did not give credit to that person's understanding; besides, the student discussed here would have received a fail grade. I added two point-increments to the final grade, fixing both of these issues.
  • 10
    In my homeland we have two types of course evaluations: Pass/Fail and Exams. One cannot simply change one for another on-the-fly no matter what "administrative reason". All students shall have the very same options and demands to pass the course.
    – Crowley
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 15:07
  • 5
    Point #4 concerns me. Did the exam contain any of these "additional things" that "advanced students" could learn "if they wanted to"? If so, that seems like a recipe for trouble.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 16:22
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    What is the "administrative reason"? The only possible reason would be something about GPA/average of votes. But, AFAIK, universities don't take into account pass/fail exams so maybe the student is simply wrong in thinking she need a grade (or maybe she is trying to cheat by having one more grade for some reason) or the administration is.
    – Bakuriu
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 6:27
  • 4
    @J.R. That is my lesson from this episode. The exam was more or less half basics, half advanced. It was made-to-measure to the actual content post-hoc. But rather than exclude the advanced part from the exam (which would not do justice to insightful students) I will simply never again allow an exam for a course that wasn't meant to have one. Commented May 23, 2018 at 9:38
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    Whatever you do, make a copy of the exam and never let the student touch the original.
    – B. Goddard
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 23:42

6 Answers 6


By asking for an exam, the student asked you for a fair, honest, informed evaluation of their mastery of the course material.

If you believe that the exam grade fairly and accurately reflects the student’s mastery of the course material, say that, and explain why. Be respectful and honest. Stick to your guns.

In particular, you should have some record of your announcements of both the contents of the exam (“How was I supposed to know this?”) and your expectations for certain grades (“Why did I get this grade?”)—the course syllabus, or a handout, or email to the students. You should have sources/proofs for the correct answer for each question (“Why is this wrong?”), rubrics for awarding partial credit for partially correct or suboptimal answers (“Why did I get so few points?”), and well-reasoned rules for converting raw exam scores to reported grades.

If you do not believe that the exam grade fairly and accurately reflects the student’s mastery of the material, then you need to reevaluate the exam for all students. You’ve already done this by throwing out one question and curving the scores.

  • 1
    The OP said that the student wanted an extra exam for "an administrative reason" not necessarily to show mastery of the course...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 13:39
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    Asking for an exam should, by definition, amount to a fair, honest, informed evaluation of mastery. Nothing else should ever qualify. It could be the student has motives, but that doesn't change the meaning of the request.
    – sehe
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 15:04
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    @SolarMike and that's the real problem here. A student wants the paradigm of the course changed to meet some unknown need. The teacher should never have agreed to provide either an exam or a grade. Commented May 23, 2018 at 14:43
  • @CarlWitthoft that is so right...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 15:09

As someone who has had a few discussions about grades in exams, ranging from

me leaving the room after five minutes because they gave me more points than I would have given myself to

sitting there for over an hour and going from 59/80 to 70/80 (no typo) with one of the correctors joking he must have been drunk when correcting that exam when I called him the third or forth time for something he obviously missed (wrong multiple choice corrections, correct calculations marked wrong, calculations not seen and marked as not done).

There are two things a student (well, me anyways back then) wants. A sheet with solutions (and the rubric telling which parts of the answers gave which points) to compare theirs with (or you explaining every damn thing in depth, because how else am I supposed to judge that correction in a few minutes time?) and factually correct arguments. If you're wrong, admit it, and if the student is wrong, tell him/her why. I've had people telling me they can't give me those points because they didn't give them to others. That's no argument ... Don't do that. The answer (or partial answer) is right or wrong. It isn't “right, but ...“

You'll get students that don't care about that and just want points. Firmly tell them they aren't on a bazar. I'm sorry for those. But don't treat all students like that. I once had to ask three times for an explanation why my answer was wrong because the answer was “sorry, I can't give you points for that.“ Well yes. That wasn't the question.

It boils down to one thing. Be as fair and respectful as you want to be treated until treated otherwise. Like one should be always.

  • 6
    Helpful answer. I agree with most of it. But: "people telling me they can't give me those points because they didn't give them to others. That's no argument " - that is a significant argument, and one that is important (even if it does sound bad). I agree with your broader point that it is important to communicate the reasons for the rubric. And hopefully there are valid reasons behind the rubric. At the same time, once a rubric is chosen, it's important to be consistent across students. Especially in subjective cases where judgement is needed, consistency is very important.
    – D.W.
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 20:12
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    @D.W. it may be a significant argument, but that does not make it a correct one. The presence of errors in one evaluation does not excuse the existence of errors in another. Presumably the other students, if they cared, could also come and have their exams corrected properly. Commented May 22, 2018 at 23:26
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    @StackTracer, I understand your point of view, and if it's a clearcut error, then I agree with you. But sometimes it's not a matter of clear error. Sometimes it's a judgement call about how much partial credit a partially-incorrect answer should receive. Should it receive 2/5 points or 3/5 points? In that case, "I must be consistent with the rubric, and with the score I have given other students" is a powerful consideration, assuming the rubric was at all reasonable. (continued)
    – D.W.
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 0:20
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    @D.W. Generally speaking, rubrics are an attempt to shoehorn a subjective evaluation into an objective metric. I generally will give students that upgrade to 3/5 (assuming they have a decent level of coherent reasoning). Why? Because by coming back to challenge this decision they're demonstrating their knowledge further, but also (more importantly in my opinion) they're demonstrating their interest in the subject, and I'm not sure I could come up with a better way to turn a motivated, interested person away than falling back on "well, rules are rules". Commented May 23, 2018 at 1:00
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    @D.W.: That's not an argument, that's just an explanation of why the grader/teacher might need to correct many people's grades. Which is more annoying, but no less necessary, if a grading mistake was made. And if a matter is not clear-cut, then the famous sentence applies: "If there is a doubt, then there is no doubt". Benefit of the doubt goes to the examinee.
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 11:59

It can be helpful to have a policy for how to submit regrade requests. Here are some elements that can be helpful to include in that policy:

  • Specify the format for regrade requests. It helps to specify that regrade requests must be submitted in writing, and must identify which problem(s) they believe was incorrectly graded and provide a justification for each problem they believe was incorrectly graded. Similarly, you should provide a response to their request in writing. It helps to provide an explanation or justification with my response.

  • Specify the deadline for regrade requests. You should set a deadline. You might require that regrade requests be submitted within one week after the material was returned to them (or some other reasonable amount of time). This is important so you don't get people at the end of the semester submitting a pile of regrade requests for assignments they got back months ago, as a last-ditch effort to improve their course grade.

  • Set expectations for how regrade requests will be evaluated. It may help to clarify up front that you will only regrade problems when our grading rubric was incorrectly applied; it's important to be consistent across students, so you can't accept requests to change the rubric or arguments that the rubric was unfair. On the other hand, if they found a correct solution that the course staff didn't anticipate on the rubric, and they didn't get full credit, please submit a regrade request so they can receive credit (but I recommend only following this in case of fully correct answers, not for partial credit for answers you didn't anticipate). It may also be helpful to state that in borderline judgement cases you will go with the original grade unless it was clearly wrong. Make your rubric and sample solutions visible to students.

  • Encourage students to check sample solutions before filing a regrade request. It's helpful to make sample solutions to the exam available to students. Include comments about common errors/misconceptions here and there in the solutions, to help them learn. When announcing the regrade policy, encourage students to read the sample solutions before filing a regrade request, as their approach might be discussed there.

  • Encourage regrade requests. I suggest you tell students that you're human and you make mistakes, and you want students to get credit for their work so if they suspect an error they should let you know so you can correct it. I suggest you tell them, please don't hesitate to submit a regrade request if you think the course staff made a mistake and we'll be glad to look into it. I don't like policies that try to penalize or discourage regrade requests (e.g., by a vague threat to regrade to their entire exam).

I also encourage you to set a policy with your teaching assistants and course staff, to tell them not to evaluate regrade requests in person, even informally. The scenario you want to avoid is where a student goes to a teaching assistant, shows them their answer, and the TA says "looks right to me, you should submit a regrade requests", and then the student submits a regrade request and it turns out they don't deserve credit. Then the student feels screwed, since they're getting mixed messages -- one TA said they deserve credit, but you aren't giving them credit. There are a number of reasons to discourage course staff from giving in-person off-the-cuff assessment like that. First, there isn't always time in person to check the details. Second, if the TA wasn't the one who graded that problem on the exam, they might not be familiar with all the weird corner cases or the policy used by the person who graded it. Third, we absolutely want to avoid cases where the off-the-cuff evaluation said "you deserve credit" but we actually can't grant their regrade request.


If you don't want any discussion then don't allow one. It is simple as that, and here is how this works:

Tell the student that any complaint they have about the corrections or awarded points they have to write down on a piece of paper. Any questions on the content ("How to solve...?", "Why is this not right...?") can be asked in person. If they start with a question of the latter class and they try to get you into a discussion about the grading, remind them or simply point to the piece of paper and the pen.

  • 4
    And then what do you do with the written complaint? This answer seems incomplete without that.
    – Wildcard
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 0:51
  • 2
    Of course you evaluate the complaint totally fair and change the grade if and only if the initial grading was wrong.
    – Dirk
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 5:15

In addition to the other answers here:

Your point 3): If somebody flunks nearly all applied knowledge Questions, it is perfectly in the range of expected outcomes to "just pass", and it certainly does not point out an unfair priority on your behalf.

Your point 5): Your evaluation should not take that into account. The student agreed to taking this course in this language. And if somebody later hires him or takes him into an academic project, this is not going to matter.


Two points:

  1. Find out whether they actually need a higher grade for some reason. If they do, can you change the grade back to pass/fail or let them retake the class to solve the issue? If not, is there someone else (e.g. someone in charge of the scholarship office if their scholarship is in threat, some sort of academic advisor if their program standing is in threat) who you can point them to instead?
  2. It sounds a lot like your student doesn't understand the importance of applied knowledge or doesn't understand how to apply knowledge. You say that they studied hard, that they did great on the knowledge questions but terrible on the applied questions, and that they are from a different linguistic background. It's likely that their cultural or individual educational background caused them to study wrong so they didn't learn how to apply their knowledge. Probably the best thing you could do for them as a teacher is talk to them about that so they understand the problem and help them brainstorm ideas to improve their ability on applied problems in general. Doing so will likely get them off your back if they don't actually need a higher grade in that class, since you'll be empowering them to turn the poor grade into a positive learning experience.

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