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I'm a grad student and one course I'm taking is graded by another grad student. Today, nearly halfway through the term, we finally got feedback on all our previously submitted homework dating back to the beginning of the term. I've done everything correctly, but the grader has frequently marked me down for not including steps in my work which are so obvious I would never, as a grader myself, consider marking sophomores down for passing over them without comment, much less fellow grad students. And on a couple of occasions he's marked me down for reasons which are plainly factually incorrect.

I can see statistics for each assignment's grades and it looks like I may be the only one getting dinged like this; other students are generally getting either perfect scores or scores low enough that it should indicate they've actually gotten things wrong. I begin to wonder whether the grader has it out for me. At the present rate I could end up with a B+ or A- on my transcript for this relatively easy course where I'm turning in practically perfect work.

The fact that I'm only finding this out halfway through the term does make things worse, but even if I'd known beforehand that he'd grade this way, honestly I don't think I could possibly have predicted the particular trivialities he's insisting on. So the only way I can imagine ruling those out is by turning straightforward single-page TeX'd assignments into ten-page exercises in stating the obvious. And then there are the problems where his stated reason is simply wrong.

During the pandemic, courses are being held remotely, and the site we use for submitting homework and viewing feedback includes a way to request a regrade. But it appears that request goes to the grader, and if this is a pattern of unfair treatment I'm not sure about confronting him about it. Yet I don't want to disproportionately hassle the professor, who I've never met before this class but who has commented positively on my comments in class.

How should I address this in a way that doesn't escalate things/burn bridges/whatever but does address the problem?

Edit: a couple people are misunderstanding. This isn't about me looking for 'leniency' on 'harsh grading.' I've done the work correctly, and the grader has taken exception to my style or something; he apparently hasn't been dinging other students similarly. I didn't intend to adduce examples, but perhaps given the misunderstandings it's necessary, so here are two. I showed a particular vector space was n-dimensional and exhibited n linearly independent vectors, and concluded they were a basis; I was marked down for not explaining why. I wouldn't expect sophomore linear algebra students to tediously reiterate every single time that any set of n linearly independent vectors in an n-dimensional space form a basis, much less grad students. In another instance I was marked down for saying the singular value matrix is diagonal, with the grader complaining that it's only diagonal if it's square. That's simply an overly restrictive use of the term; what I said was correct and clear.

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    "I begin to wonder whether the grader has it out for me." This is not a reasonable concern given the information you have provided. I think this is more of a complaint than a question. Direct your concerns to the course instructor. – Anonymous Physicist May 16 at 2:28
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    Factually incorrect grading justifies (in my opinion) a complaint to the professor in charge of the course. – Andreas Blass May 16 at 3:36
  • I am not sure the word "adverse" is what you mean, maybe "harsh grader"? – 6005 May 16 at 15:26
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    To be fair, a matrix IS only diagonal if it is square. – Morgan Rodgers May 16 at 21:39
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    Plenty of books and papers and people use the definition that a matrix is diagonal iff all entries off the main diagonal are zero, in other words a_ij is zero whenever i does not equal j. In fact, I just double-checked, and the textbook we're using for this course, in a preliminary definitions section, defines diagonal matrices that way, and explicitly allows for the possibility of their being nonsquare. I will mention the textbook's definition to either the grader or professor when I contact them. – anon May 16 at 21:53
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Of course, you are perfectly entitled to get graded fairly. Talk to the prof, and when you do, concentrate on the factually wrong grades if they are the substantial part of your complaint, because that's where you can provably address the factual incorrectness of the marking. Make absolutely sure this is really the case; if you get that wrong, people won't listen to you on the other things.

If the professor looks at that, you could add as an afterthought that you generally feel that the grader is overmeticulous, and whether you are really supposed to submit at that level of detail?

Generally, much will depend upon how well you do on other courses.

I would completely put aside the thought whether the grader has it in for you, as you have no way to prove it, unless you have hard evidence for that (e.g. some proof of a conflict of interest or something else). I would avoid going down that route, though.

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    Ultimately it is the prof and not the grader that is responsible here. Unfortunately, some graders have little experience. – Buffy May 16 at 14:26
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Did you contact the grader directly about the factual incorrectnesses?

I had to grade quite a few things already, and sometimes, when there are many students, mistakes happen. (Actually, I even made mistakes when there were few students...). If the grading indeed is wrong, and the grader refuses to change it, then I think you should talk to the prof as you now have additional reasons to do so.

The reason why I would suggest to first contact the grader is the following: I have been contacted by different students about incorrect gradings. In some cases, they were absolutely right, and I changed their marks. However, in other cases, they misunderstood something, and thanks to them contacting me, I was able to explain it to them, thus helping their learning experience. If the grading is actually correct, and you go straight to the prof, I believe that is when you might be burning bridges.

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  • Contacting the marker (if he is known with certainty) is reasonable, but it may be beyond the authority of a student marker to change a grade. It largely depends on how a department operates. It can be as simple as changing the number on a script or as complicated as going through a committee. – user117109 May 16 at 14:21
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I've done everything correctly, but the grader has frequently marked me down for not including steps in my work which are so obvious I would never, as a grader myself, consider marking sophomores down for passing over them without comment, much less fellow grad students.

You may be correct in your approach. However, it does not matter. You simply disagree with someone's marking criteria. As long as they agree with departmental practices and are clearly explained in advance, students simply abide by them. Important arguments in that issue are factual mistakes and inconsistencies in marking, i.e. -1 and -5 for exactly the same mistake in two different scripts. The former is there, according to the OP, the second is not.

I am not aware of the formalities in changing a mark, as they range from very easy to almost impossible. Also, I am not sure if you are supposed to know (or know with certainty) who marked your script. I would suggest you contacted the module leader mentioning factually that there are erroneous corrections in your work at specific parts, who were correct (I would also keep it short and to the point). If the module leader is not available, administration is the natural channel. I would not contact the grad student (whatever that stands for) directly, as changing a registered mark is beyond their authority.

I do not think a point can be made on the demands on students' answers. An examiner can ask for overly detailed answers or specific methodologies, no matter how time consuming or annoying it is. There may be real merit behind it in assessing someone's knowledge.

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  • It's not in keeping with how I've ever seen anything graded, though I'm fairly certain I have more experience in the department than the grader does, and it not only wasn't explained in advance but is only becoming clear now halfway through the term. There were no specific methodologies being asked for. If they wanted me to write proofs in Coq or something so absolutely every detail down to the axioms is included, that would at least be clear expectations, but worlds away from any other course in the physical and mathematical sciences. – anon May 16 at 18:11

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