My finals were held recently. Due to some timetabling issues, I had to organize for some students to take the finals early, but still within finals week. The dates were mutually agreed.

One of these early final takers was very upset when I stopped them writing at the 2 hours and ten minutes mark after starting (for a 2 hour exam). After they gave me their paper, they looked very upset and stomped out of the room.

They performed poorly on the exam but eked out a D overall for the class.

The fastest student in the class finished in about 45 minutes; the majority were done by 90 minutes. I don't usually set time-critical midterms or finals.

When the student was upset, I didn't respond at the time nor did I follow-up with them afterwards via email or in person.

Should I have done anything more? If so, what?

I believe that college should be about more than just grades, and wanted to give the feedback to this student that their behavior was extremely unprofessional.

  • 14
    Define "upset"? What did they do in practice? Were they disrespectful to you? Visibly annoyed? May 23, 2019 at 14:24
  • 61
    Having given them 10 minutes extra is more than generous...
    – Solar Mike
    May 23, 2019 at 14:54
  • 91
    I have to say, I don't even find leaving the room without saying much after a very bad exam result particularly unprofessional. Assuming that they were in fact mad or disappointed about the exam, what more can you ask for? Should they have been happy about doing really poorly?
    – xLeitix
    May 23, 2019 at 15:09
  • 41
    Maybe the student was mad with him/herself. Not your fault in any case
    – henning
    May 23, 2019 at 16:48
  • 36
    Professionalism? In a student? You're the only professional here, OP
    – user104070
    May 24, 2019 at 1:34

6 Answers 6


I would not intervene unless I felt the student was at risk of harming themselves or others.

As you say, college is about more than grades, learning how to handle failure is part of life.

Moreover it’s not unlikely that their performance on the final was the icing on the cake: they had a bad day/week and were upset about all of it plus the final.

Unless you’re willing to allow them to retake the exam (which is probably a bad idea unless they offer a good reason), reaching out to them and telling them they should deal better with exams will likely annoy them and demotivate them further.

  • 3
    Good point about the icing on the cake. Finals Week tends to be one of the most ...emotional... weeks on campus no matter where one goes. +1.
    – user45266
    May 24, 2019 at 0:39
  • Thanks! Most people answering have given good advice, but I'm checking this answer because it's succinct.
    – Peter K.
    May 24, 2019 at 11:48
  • 1
    Part of life is - or should be - having your friends, family, teachers, colleagues - help you out when you're down, at least to the extent of expressing concern and empathy, and an opportunity to share what's troubling you. -1.
    – einpoklum
    May 24, 2019 at 23:12
  • 2
    @einpoklum that is true, just not sure whether offering students unsolicited life tips is the best thing to do. If the student reaches out to you that’s an entirely different matter, and I completely agree with you in that case.
    – Spark
    May 25, 2019 at 12:15
  • 3
    @Spark: Don't offer that student tips, offer them an opportunity to talk, and empathy. At worst it would be a waste of time, at best - it could be really helpful for them.
    – einpoklum
    May 25, 2019 at 12:52

It may well be that the student was upset due to frustration with their own performance and had nothing to do with you or with being cut off. Their actions may not reflect unprofessional behavior as much as just immaturity. Frustration often boils over into anger and the anger is often misplaced. You may have experienced this yourself, actually.

I don't think you need to be proactive here, though it is fine if you want to be. But your best response is to just listen, even if it is to a rant. If you think that some encouragement is needed you could give that, as well as offering to give suggestions on how to do better in such courses.

But you can leave the next move to them, I think.

  • Thanks! I think I'll aim to be more proactive earlier in the semester for some students. The university has an academic alert system that I should probably use more frequently to help struggling students.
    – Peter K.
    May 24, 2019 at 11:49

It is normal for exams to have time limits.

It is also normal for exams to be stressful for students, and thus I would not worry much about a minor lack of professionalism in this context.

  • Thanks! Yes, it wasn't a huge deal, but I've seen people in jobs be put on PIPs for similar behavior in the workplace.
    – Peter K.
    May 24, 2019 at 11:53
  • 3
    .. and how often do staff in industry undergo time-limited final exams assessing their performance in the workplace? :P May 24, 2019 at 19:17
  • @AdamWilliams actually, quite frequently in some professions (accountants, junior medics, probably others). But this is not that scenario :-)
    – Flyto
    May 24, 2019 at 23:25
  • @PeterK. Except college isn't the workplace, and a decent number of university students have never had a job. Comparing the workplace to an academic course is apples to oranges. May 25, 2019 at 16:40
  • @ChrisCirefice Completely off-base. The majority of the students I teach have jobs, some of them managerial. That’s partly why this student looked so immature to me: most of the rest of them are very professional already.
    – Peter K.
    May 25, 2019 at 22:53

I believe that college should be about more than just grades, and wanted to give the feedback to this student that their behavior was extremely unprofessional.

Beyond the answers you've already received here, it's important to avoid giving feedback when someone is not receptive to hear it.

This student was in the middle of finals week, had a number of exams ahead of them, had just taken a lengthy exam, believed they just performed poorly, and was likely very concerned about their grade in the course and potential outcomes resulting from that grade. They may have had other things going on that you weren't aware of too. They had an emotional reaction to all of that and made their way out of the room. That moment is not a good time for them to be receptive to any instructor policing their tone and professionalism.

If there's a more extreme situation where there's concern for a student's well-being or behavior that's impossible to ignore, that may be a different case where some action is called for, but as for looking upset and stomping, what practically are you going to achieve by giving this feedback? Is the student likely to take away a lesson about professionalism, or will they file it under "I was having an awful day, and then I got yelled at for not smiling about it?"

There may be value in reaching out to the student later to offer encouragement, a listening ear, advice, etc... But trying to provide feedback on precisely how they should behave when they're upset is not going to go well and will not be effective.

  • 1
    Thanks! I don't believe there was any major issue with the student, so I didn't escalate anything. I think I will email them when next semester starts, just to offer that encouragement.
    – Peter K.
    May 24, 2019 at 11:52

Students get upset all the time and the best way is to let it happen. Unless there is something statistically wrong with your exam - i.e. everybody gets a really low mark - there is really nothing to be said or done: there's no reason to believe this is not habitual on the part of the student.

What can be done on your part is keep all records relating to the change in scheduling, if you have such records.

  • Thanks! I don't think there was anything wrong with my exam; several students did excellently, several mid-range, and a few poorly. I always keep records of communications about scheduling off-time appointments, including Blackboard announcements, emails, and Outlook calendar meeting requests (the university uses Outlook for its main email system).
    – Peter K.
    May 24, 2019 at 11:50

Sometimes people are upset at no on in particular, they just need to work it out on their own. This is one of those things.

You shouldn't reach out to the student unless you really know what you're doing. The student might not be happy about you reaching out and complain to the university. You have no duty to reach out either.

Sometimes instructors offer additional work (such as an extra project or assignment) for credit to let failing students bring up their grade. If you have an actual deal of this sort you can offer, that's a fair reason to reach out. But if the student already got a D, it would be hard for you to move the grade by more than a letter without it being unfair to other students - especially if they didn't know that such an opportunity would be offered! So even if you go above and beyond for this student, their grade would at best be a C, which isn't much better. They're better off just retaking the course. If they retake it with you, it might be a pretty good idea to start a dialog (privately) about what parts they struggle with the most. You can frame it as wanting to improve the course so the student doesn't feel singled out for failing.

Don't worry too much about the time - it is what it is. Some people give extra time at the end of exam - but if you've taken 2 hours to do an exam other people did in 1.5, you've probably had all your best ideas already. Even an additional hour is unlikely to make a difference, unless the exam was specifically designed to gauge speed of work (if it was, you wouldn't have so much variance in how quickly they finish). If the student complains, you can point out that everyone gets the same amount of time, so giving an extra ten minutes is already special treatment for that student at the expense of everyone else who didn't get extra time. You would already take the overall class performance into account when grading, so if everybody had done poorly in that timeframe, presumably the best students could get an A despite not getting every question right.

Also, the final is a bit late for interventions. There's not much graded material left... Unless the student does retake your course, or comes to you for help, there's nothing you can do here - the ship has sailed. For future students, you can play close attention to early midterms and quizzes, and act accordingly during office hours, lectures or when providing study materials. Inevitably, some people in every class will score low. If you really want to prevent this, you can build in "second chance" type rules in your syllabus: For example, option to do a project for extra credit, or dropping the lowest mid-term mark from the average. If you put these in the syllabus and make them clear in the beginning of the course, it's a lot easier to help failing students overcome their low exam score while still being fair.

  • I do have a reporting duty if I believe the upset is caused by various illegal things such as sexual harassment. But I don’t believe that’s the problem here.
    – Peter K.
    May 26, 2019 at 12:55

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