I’m a college student. For a recent test, the professor originally said that the test was extremely difficult and long and therefore they were going to send us a picture of the exam an hour and a half before we had to take it. They said an hour and a half would not leave enough time for people to look up answers online. We were also allowed to bring a notecard for use on the test.

For some reason they were not able to send the pictures, so they said they would make it a take-home test. I was elated, and switched my focus to a different exam I had later that evening.

At our next lecture, the professor announced that we were taking the test in class that day, but open-note. I was obviously not prepared at all, and had not even brought the proper notes for the test with me. The result was me leaving half the test blank.

How should I proceed? Is it reasonable to fight this grade?

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    Common reason to change it like this is to prevent known or suspected collusion/plagiarism among groups of students. But they should have given enough notice that you could bring your notecard. Best practice is to always carry your notecard with you around test time (look over it and revise it when have spare moment), also keep it online and/or on a flash drive, not that any of that helps you now. How many other students did not have their notecard due to the late change?
    – smci
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 23:16
  • Just curious: What would have been the purpose of the original idea of sending a picture an hour and a half before the exam starts? In fact, we know that people attempt to lookup answers online during an exam (e.g., found as questions with "I NEED THIS URGENT" on various SE sites), so it is certainly possible to do significant research online (or discuss methods with co-students) in that time window. -- Or would they expect everybody to submit solutions worthy of 3.5 hours of elaboration within an officially 2 hour time frame? Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 7:57

2 Answers 2


I'm a bit perplexed why they choose to do it that way. If one is doing major changes to an exam, then the students need to be informed of that in due time. I'm assuming you are not the only one who was negatively affected by this behavior? Assuming the situation is as you've described it, I would myself had lodged a complaint at the central examination office or whichever unit is responsible for that at your college. The issue is not that the teacher changed things regarding the exam, it's that the students weren't given enough time to prepare for it.

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    Thank you for the input and yes I spoke with other students who felt the same way and they also felt unprepared. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 4:23
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    If you were to all form a complaint about this, it may lend more weight to the argument. Either way, I hope it works out for you. Best of wishes! Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 10:44
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    @JohnHamilton Why would you not challenge the grade? If the exam was changed to be open-note but many students were prevented from getting their notes, the result is clearly unfair and not representative of their abilities. Worse than that, it's serious negligence and incompetence from the lecturer. If it doesn't affect your final result then perhaps you would make a stink privately but not raise a formal complaint; but if it contributes to your course results then you must fight it all the way.
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 15:58
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    @Graham As we have no idea what sort of a person the professor is, he might or might not be someone of distasteful character. I'm just saying I wouldn't challenge the grade itself and rather challenge the entire test but as more of a suggestion instead of a confrontation. The confrontation might just make the situation worse, making an enemy of the professor instead. (We can't expect everyone to be level-headed, kind or understanding) Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 18:45
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    @JohnHamilton If it's affecting the final grade for the OP's entire class, it's already bad enough. As for making an enemy of him, if it's the whole class complaining then it's not really something he can do much about.
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 19:06

It is generally accepted that students deserve to be tested on their knowledge under conditions that are known sufficiently in advance to allow them to prepare effectively. Coming to class and being told you have to take an exam right that minute when you were previously led to expect a different testing scenario very obviously does not meet that convention.

Simply put, your professor messed up, and in my opinion it is a no-brainer that you (and any other student who wishes to) should be allowed to retake the exam.

Edit: several commenters seem to interpret OP’s story as reflecting poorly on them and their level of preparedness, and seem to be implying that OP is somehow “not worthy” of having their complaint taken seriously. One of them said outright that OP “deserve[s] to fail the test anyway”. I am baffled by such victim-blaming: almost everyone seems to agree that the professor’s unannounced change to the exam schedule and procedures was unfair, and this unfairness was inflicted on the entire class. What difference does it make whether OP is a top student or on an underperforming student who would likely have failed the exam even under ideal conditions? The unfairness is the same, and the remedy is also the same: both the top student and the underperforming one should be given an option to retake the exam.

But let’s assume for a second that OP’s detractors have a point and that their judgment of OP’s command of the material is both correct and relevant. In that case, I would argue, it is even more important that they be allowed to retake the exam. The reason for this is that it is only after doing poorly on a fair exam that a student will have to confront the reality of their poor learning choices and poor knowledge of the material, and face their situation with a clear mind: they will not have any excuses then to cover up for their poor performance. And it’s only after giving a fair exam that the professor can in good conscience assign a failing grade to a student, and that the university can ethically demand that the student improve their performance or suffer negative consequences to their status in the program. The ability to take an exam under fair testing conditions is not some kind of reward for good behavior; rather, it is an absolute necessity for the credibility of the entire system.

The bottom line is, any way one looks at it — whether as a supporter or a detractor of OP, as a skeptic or a believer — one has to reach the same conclusion. As I said, it’s a no-brainer.

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    So long as the OP accepts that everyone else should be allowed to retake the exam as well, of course. If the OP was the only student who was "unprepared", that might be saying something about the OP as well as about the prof.
    – alephzero
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 12:41
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    @alephzero I agree with your first sentence - edited. The truth or falsehood of your second sentence is irrelevant to OP’s question. The way to test whether someone is prepared is to give them an exam under fair conditions, and this was not done here, so I don’t see why you feel a need to question OP’s level of preparedness.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 13:36
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    I like the use of 'no-brainer' in this context. I am surprised a prof even contemplates such a chaotic setup. Unless the student missed something important, but there is nothing to indicate in the OP's question that this is the case. On the contrary, the student is organised and disciplined enough to direct their attention to a different test. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 14:49
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    @alephzero The surprise of a last minute change in test circumstances could hurt some students more than others for reasons completely independent of their level of preparation.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 15:26
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    @LightnessRaceswithMonica yes, students have rights - shocking, isn’t it? And professors have a right to design a fair test that a student can’t pass by studying for it at the last minute. OP’s professor didn’t do that, so they (and you) have no basis to complain or judge OP’s character/abilities. OP does not “deserve” to fail in any universe, spherical or otherwise, in which they weren’t given a fair chance to demonstrate their knowledge.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 16:15

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