I'm filing a formal letter of complaint (for a grade litigation request) over a grade dispute in an English literature course. I've got 90/100 (an A) in each of the 3 exams in this course. These exams make up 85% of the course grade. The other 15% is based on daily work (worksheets and responses). I was surprised when viewing my final grades that the grade in this course ended up being a B+. In the duration of this course, we were given three worksheets/response prompts that were optional. I did all of them and they were recognized with a '+' sign (but not actually graded).

After emailing my professor about this (and him ignoring me until I emailed the associate chair), he said that he added my exam grades (so he got a total of 76.5/85) and with the daily work he was able to bump it up to a B+ (a B+ is an 83-86). So I respectfully pointed out that the 76.5 is over 85 and not over 100 and that the daily work is a 15% that should be properly counted in, he replied saying that this daily work grade was based in comparison with my classmates (which is nonsense as (1) the daily work activities were not graded and (2) I was one of the few students who actually did them), I replied and argued but he didn't reply back. For me to get a B+, I would have been given 53/100 on the daily work grade.

I moved further with the dispute with the chair and was told to file a formal letter of complaint to which a committee will be formed and where the decision issued would be non-negotiable.

I don't know how to articulate my complaint. I feel like the administration doesn't get the issue (this was obvious in the correspondence between me and the chair). Also, I'll lose my scholarship and ultimately my place in university if the grade doesn't change, do I include that?

I feel like it's really obvious that I was done wrong by my professor but still afraid this won't be resolved. Sorry for the long post.

P.S. Several people assumed an A starts above 86 but actually an A is 90+. (An A- is 86-90)

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    "Also, I'll lose my scholarship and ultimately my place in university if the grade doesn't change, do I include that?" No, that's not relevant to the dispute. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 5 '20 at 1:33
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    I cannot tell how you think the grade should have been calculated, so I do not see how we can help you. – Anonymous Physicist Jun 5 '20 at 1:34
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    @cag51 My understanding from talking to some US-based colleagues is that in some elite universities and SLACs anything below A- is effectively considered a "bad grade" - so it seems plausible that an excellence-based scholarship could stipulate that the recipient needs to have all As. – xLeitix Jun 5 '20 at 9:44
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    The scholarship criterion is relevant to the dispute. If they wave you off, because it is only a "minor inconvenience", that statement makes clear that their sloppiness (do not use the word with them) can ruin your career. – Captain Emacs Jun 5 '20 at 19:28
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    It wouldn't describe the worksheets & responses as optional if they are worth 15% of your course grade! – user2705196 Jun 6 '20 at 13:25

Dear Committee,

This grade dispute seems like a simple math error. As shown on the attached syllabus, the grade is 85% exams and 15% worksheets and responses.

  • On the exams, I scored 76.5/85, which is a 90% (A)
  • On the worksheets/responses, there were three worksheets and I received a check mark on each of them. To my knowledge, no other factors counted toward this part of the grade. Further, my class participation was exemplary, so if there were other factors, they should have been in my favor.

When I asked the professor about my grade, he said that 76.5 was a B and he had used the worksheets and responses to "bump me up" to a B+. But this is not mathematically consistent; 76.5/85 is an A, and the professor admitted the worksheets/responses would "bump me up," not down. I never received any evidence or justification for why my grade would be lower than 90%.



  • 59
    As a sidenote, arguing for mathematical inconsistencies (if present) is by far the best argument you can have. In my university, these are pretty much the only grievances that consistently find success. There is virtually no line of defense against "you summed my points up wrong" that would stand in front of an independent commitee. – xLeitix Jun 5 '20 at 9:50
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    I think this answer is wrong, mathematically. The way I understand the question, the 76.5/85 means the OP got an A in the exams only, but the overall course is graded out of 100, not 85, with the remaining 15 coming from daily work. 76.5/85 being an A does not mean that 76.5/100 is an A, so it is wrong to suggest it is being "bumped up" from an A. To be an A, the sum of 76.5 and the daily work mark must exceed 86 (the threshold for B+). If you submit a letter with incorrect maths, it is likely to be instantly dismissed and any legitimate objections may not even be spotted. – JBentley Jun 5 '20 at 13:19
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    @JBentley "Bump it up" came from OPs professor, who suggested their exam score was only a B despite being 90%. – Bryan Krause Jun 5 '20 at 14:18
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    JBentley's confusion is a good point. The first bullet obscures the raw scores. It appears as if the letter writer scored an actual 76.5% on something, which isn't the case, and probably what was confusing the instructor. How about merely "I received 90/100 on each of the 3 exams." Then a 3rd bullet, "that appears to give a weighted sum of 90%*0.85+15%*1.00% = 76.5 + 15 = 91.5". Then I'd delete the 2nd sentence below the bullets as redundant ("but this is not math... "), since we've now demonstrated the correct math. – Owen Reynolds Jun 5 '20 at 15:43
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    @JBentley It seems you're taking an odd cumulative view of the course grade rather than a weighted average. Thinking of it as a weighted average, which at least in my experience is far far more common, the daily work is definitely dragging their grade down, not boosting it up. The only way to get a B+ from a combination of an A grade on the tests is for a daily work grade in the neighborhood of 50%: effectively a failing grade on the daily work. I'd say a failing grade on daily work without missing assignments or negative feedback is quite ridiculous. – Bryan Krause Jun 5 '20 at 16:07

@cag51 has a good suggested response, but the math formula could be written in a clearer way. I would suggest on that point:

  • Observing that you had a 90% average on the exams.

  • To your knowledge, you scored the highest possible result on all homeworks, presumably 100%.

  • Therefore, the weighted total should be, per the syllabus formula: 85% exams + 15% homework = 0.85(90) + 0.15(100) = 76.5 + 15 = 91.5, which should be an "A" grade.

I think that this latter expression most closely matches the natural-language expression on the syllabus, and is also more concise and easier to check.

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    This is the better answer. OP has no obligation to include arguments against himself in his complaint letter. Based on the information he currently has, it is reasonable for him to conclude he received a 100% score on the daily work portion of his grade. If the professor's position is that he received a lower score, let him argue that - don't argue it for him. OP should flatly assert that the available documentation results in a score of 91.5. – tbrookside Jun 5 '20 at 20:02
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    My concern is that if OP claims to have gotten 100% on the daily work, the professor can say "actually, you only got 50%" -- and then it's game over, since there is no chance to argue the point or appeal the verdict (according to what OP tells us about the dispute process). Given this format, I think it's stronger to stick to arguments that are completely airtight, such as the three check marks. – cag51 Jun 5 '20 at 20:20
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    @cag51: There's no difference in that regard in any case. My main point is that writing "76.5/85 is an A" is so unclear that it's likely to be rejected on its face as incoherent. Better to make a very clear and understandable mathematical statement in the complaint (e.g., the most reasonable inference from available information). – Daniel R. Collins Jun 5 '20 at 23:12
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    @DanielR.Collins I don't understand how 76.5/85=90% is unclear, much less incoherent. – Kat Jun 6 '20 at 5:32
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    @Kat: Neither the OP, nor the last paragraph of cag51's answer, include the "= 90%" part. (Even if they did it's in the wrong order, and missing the other term of the formula.) – Daniel R. Collins Jun 6 '20 at 5:42

You have two grievances, not one, and they must be filed separately.

Your first is a professorial conduct complaint: your professor will not tell you how the grade contribution from the worksheets and responses was calculated. What is the numerical value of a "+"? How, numerically, do the worksheets and responses contribute to a student's grade?

Only after this first complaint is adjudicated can you file your second, which -- assuming your professor's calculations are wrong -- is a procedural error complaint: your grade was calculated incorrectly. The arithmetic is wrong on its face.

By filing these questions separately you force the grievance committee to consider both questions, in their proper order.

If you file a single complaint containing both issues, the committee may fail to get the issue as badly as the chair did, and they may rule against you simply because you haven't provided enough facts to carry your argument.

It is unfortunate that your chosen field is literature. If you were reading law, you could hope to encounter a chair or a committee that could handle a two-part complaint like this before breakfast. And if you were reading mathematics, the problem would not have arisen in the first place.

  • A bit harsh on the chosen field of literature. But I agree, one could expect a professor to be able to solve such a simple problem accurately. – bytepusher Jun 7 '20 at 21:07

It may help to ask the professor for an example of the scoring that would result in an A, or examples of how any student got enough points for an A. If it's the three assignments, specifically ask for numeric scores on them with justification if they're not 5 each. Giving less than full credit with no feedback other than "+" seems sketchy.


You currently have incomplete information; your letter should politely request the scores for the worksheets (EDIT: and the calculations that led to the final grade). Without these it is impossible to determine if your grade has been calculated correctly or not.

  • The required mark for an A is >90/100
  • You currently know you have 76.5/85 from the exams
  • You therefore require >13.5/15 from the worksheets.

If the grades from the worksheet are >13.5 or they can't be provided then you can follow up with a specific question regarding the marking of that work.

EDIT: updated for consistency based on edit to grade boundaries in the question. Given there is some confusion in how they are presented, asking for them to be clarified seems to be important.

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    Since the worksheets were only given a + mark, and not graded, they're probably a "free" 15%. Maybe the instructor had detailed notes about class participation, but that seems unlikely. Maybe the OP never saw the 2 other worksheets. The OP's note about the 15% part being "based in comparison with my classmates" makes me wonder if the process was non-numerical – Owen Reynolds Jun 5 '20 at 16:04
  • @OwenReynolds if that's the case then great, you have a mark: 15/15 - you can then follow-up with "I scored 91.5/100 total; why is that not an A-grade?". Currently OP is questioning their grade, but does not have a breakdown of all the marks, and they (or the prof) seem to have some confusion about how the total marks are calculated. I would suggest starting by gathering all the available information. – David258 Jun 5 '20 at 16:27
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    @David258 The required mark for an A is 90-100 not >86 (86-89 is an A-). I don't have a breakdown of the daily work grade because there are no grades. As I said in the post the worksheets were optional and marked with a "+" sign. – Adam Jun 5 '20 at 18:03
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    @AlexM The math is correct, but phrased oddly. 76.5 is (270/300)*0.85. It's the tests' contribution (3 tests with 90/100 on each) to the overall score. Many people including the OP are writing 76.5/85 as a confusing shorthand for that. Likewise, 9.5/15 is an odd way of saying "you need 9.5% out of the worksheets' weighted contribution". RE: getting the scores: I reread the question -- there appears to have been quite enough back and forth. Scores would have been provided if the instructor wanted to. It seems to be a committee matter now, thus the request for a letter. – Owen Reynolds Jun 5 '20 at 18:11
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    @Adam Gosh no. Stick to the #'s, which are 90/100, 90/100, 90/100 and 3/3 on worksheets. My point is the instructor's actions may be justified from their point-of-view: some kid gets a C (not really, but it seems that way), which they bump way up, then this kid has the nerve to demand an A! – Owen Reynolds Jun 5 '20 at 19:39

To the Committee on Grade Disputes:

During (course name, semester, etc) under Professor (professor's name) there were 3 exams making up 85% of the total grade. My grade on these exams was 90%.

Additionally, there were 3 worksheet/response prompts which were stated to be optional. And yet, also were to make up the remaining 15% of the grade. There are only two ways this can work, and in both cases my final class percentage would be 90% or higher, resulting in a grade of 'A' or better.

1) Because these worksheets were optional, one could argue that they should not impact the final grade. After all, how is something optional in this context if it is actually important to your grade?

By this logic, total final grade would be 90.0% 'A'.

2) Although optional, I chose to do all three worksheet/prompts, and received the maximum mark of '+'. Therefore, if these worksheets are to be included in final grading, my final grade would be greater than 90%. It is impossible to add in a higher percentage to a set when averaging, and get a lower result than the original.

The math looks like this: 90% score on exams times 85% of total grade = 76.5% contributed to final grade. 100% score on worksheets times 15% of total grade = 15% contributed to final grade.

By this logic, total final grade = 91.5% 'A'.

3) Further, a student has the right to know the status of their grade as a class progresses, so the student can adjust their focus and study to maximize learning and grade marks. If there is some hidden math or scoring that is being used to generate a lower grade, it is unfair and unwarranted to use it. Because nothing was ever expressed to me other than that I scored 90% on the exams and top marks on everything else.

In short, there is no mathematically sound and fair path where my grade is less than a 90% 'A'.

Thank you for your consideration.


Others have given good advice (in combination with their respective comment sections). I would add that you must consider the university rules themselves, and it is difficult for anyone to give you proper phrasing. For example, some answers are suggesting that your letter refers to the grading schema or an error in calculation. However, at my institute, this is unlikely to be contested at a committee. You are essentially requesting a clarification on your grade, which is not something that can have your grade overturned.

In my department, the one case you can have your grade overturned is for unequal or unfair treatment when compared to others in the class. This means, even if (and from comments it seems it may not be true), there is an error in the original explanation of your grade, as long as this was applied equally to everyone, it would be very difficult to argue for a grade change.

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