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I'm a student in college, and while I was taking a linear algebra exam, I noticed that there was a mistake in the last exercise. Our exam is composed of two parts: multiple questions and exercises. I usually prefer to start with the second part while everybody starts with the first one.

I spent about 15 to 20 minutes before I called the teacher and said that there is an error. He confirmed the error and announced it to the rest of the class. At the end, I left some questions in the first part blank because I ran out of time.

The problem is that I received my grade (16/20) and I'm not really happy because if I had more time I could've done so much better (19/20 if I had finished the three other questions).

How could I ask him to upgrade my grade and explain to him that I really deserve it and that I really need to have (19/20) so I can pass my semester?


Update: I saw my teacher today, and he didn't even give me a chance to talk and said that there is nothing he can do. When I said that this is not fair and that I spent time to find the error he said "You should've passed the exercise". I don't know what to do now, any idea?

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    This is a difficult and interesting question. At least the professor knows that you were the student who found the error. There may have been others who similarly wasted time but have no way to prove that they lost time because of this. I wonder what a fair resolution for such cases would be. – GoodDeeds Sep 9 at 19:18
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    Good luck with this. In my engineering midterm we had a question worth 70% of the total that required over 40 calculations to solve because of a numerical mistake and our prof refused to make up for it despite the majority of the class failing. Our prof said we should have noted the error and moved on... – Cell Sep 9 at 22:12
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    How many such exams occur in the semester? What percentage difference does this 3-of-20 questions make over the course of the semester? – Daniel R. Collins Sep 10 at 3:54
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    I just want to comment that the answer to the title question "How can I appeal?" may depend heavily on the country in which the OP studies and specific regulations of the OP's institution. (For example as the instructor of such a course in a US university, I had complete authority in adjudicating such appeals. In my current position in the UK, any such appeal is adjudicated by a panel and as instructor I have no influence over the outcome.) – Lazzaro Campeotti Sep 10 at 8:37
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    A good test taking strategy would have been to move on to the other problems instead of spending so much time stuck on one particular problem, regardless of whether you were stuck because of an error or some other reason. I think you will have a hard time convincing a professor that you deserve extra points because of this. – Morgan Rodgers Sep 11 at 7:30

10 Answers 10

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How could I tell him to upgrade my grade and explain to him that I really deserve it and that I really need to have (19/20) so I can pass my semester?

Don't tell him how to fix the error, and don't open with this being a make-or-break for passing your semester. This will probably put him on the defensive, and make him less likely to be sympathetic. In fact, the first time I read your question, I thought you were in the wrong, but upon closer reading, I understood your issue better.

I was in a similar situation, except one whole quiz section learned about the error half way through, whereas the other two learned about it at the start of the test, through a TA's error. It was a headache for the professor. If I recall, they ended up giving everyone in that section a percentage boost.

Be polite, and straightforward:

Hi Professor,

In our last exam, I pointed out an error in the last part of the test. I spent 15-20 minutes working on the question before I figured out the error. Since I like to start with that section, I wasn't able to finish the first part of the test. Because of this, I didn't score as well as I could have.

Other students didn't have to spend so much time working on this question because I found the error for the class. Is it possible to adjust my score to reflect this?

Honestly, he probably didn't even think of it, or forgot by the time he was grading. You have a totally reasonable request.

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    hey , i saw my teacher today , and he didnt even give me a chance to talk and said that there is nothing hecan do and when i said this is not fair that i spent time to find the error he said you shouldve pass the exercise , i dont know what to do now any idea? – laura Sep 11 at 10:42
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    @laura Do you have an appeal process? Be polite and respectful, but I think you have grounds to appeal (but I would only do it if the mark difference matters). – Captain Emacs Sep 11 at 13:37
  • @laura Unfortunately I don't know enough about Switzerland to be more helpful. I would try sending the email (if he interrupted you, maybe he didn't understand), but I don't know your system well enough to recommend a next step after that. In the US, I'm not sure I would recommend "appealing." – Azor Ahai -- he him Sep 11 at 13:42
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    @AzorAhai--hehim i will start the procedure monday but before that i 'm going to have a meeting with the depuy director to explain the situation to him – laura Sep 11 at 14:51
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    @laura Good luck! – Azor Ahai -- he him Sep 11 at 16:37
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How could I tell him to upgrade my grade and explain to him that I really deserve it and that I really need to have (19/20) so I can pass my semester?

It sounds like you have a reasonable case to argue that you did not get a fair chance to demonstrate your knowledge of the material. Note the deliberate phrasing here: that is not the same as saying that you automatically deserve a higher grade.

My advice: do explain the situation to the professor and ask for help in resolving the unfairness. But:

  1. Do not under any circumstances say anything like “I really need to have (19/20) so I can pass my semester”. That is a completely invalid and irrelevant (and more than a little bit off-putting) argument. What grade you “need” is beside the point and nothing the professor ought to take into consideration; what grade you have earned, and what opportunities to get graded in a fair manner you deserve to get, are what’s relevant here.

  2. I also feel it’s inappropriate to ask the professor to “upgrade your grade” by giving you points for questions you didn’t answer. Yes, it was unfair that you didn’t have time to answer those questions, and yes, a reasonable professor will see that and come up with a way to address the issue. But the fact is, we don’t know that you would have answered those questions correctly if it weren’t for the incident with the error, so asking the professor to assume that you would have is unreasonable in my opinion and may undermine your request.

    Instead, what you should ask for is something more vague, such as for the professor to “help you resolve the unfairness” or to “help you demonstrate your knowledge in a fair way that puts you on a level playing field with the rest of the class”. Leave it to the professor to decide what to do — that would come across as much more reasonable and will likely lead the professor to view your complaint more favorably and sympathetically. And after all, there aren’t a whole lot of ways one can think of to address the situation; it’s quite possible that the professor will decide that awarding you the points for those questions is the simplest solution and will do that without you even explicitly asking for it.

Good luck!


Edit: to address your update,

Update: I saw my teacher today, and he didn't even give me a chance to talk and said that there is nothing he can do. When I said that this is not fair and that I spent time to find the error he said "You should've passed the exercise". I don't know what to do now, any idea?

One idea that comes to mind is for you to email your professor a link to this thread. Perhaps seeing how other academics see the situation might lead the professor to reconsider his decision.

It’s a bit unorthodox maybe, but who knows? Could be worth a shot.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Sep 13 at 15:42
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Here's a different view. You are responsible for managing your time during the exam. You are free to attempt the questions out of order, but if you are not making progress on a question after a while for whatever reason, you are supposed to make sure you complete the questions that are doable for you. Getting to the point where you had more questions still untouched than you could possibly answer in the time remaining (even if they were easy) is where you made your mistake.

While the professor should not have made an error in a question, if you followed the principle of taking responsibility for your own progress on the exam, you would have turned to other questions upon noticing unusual difficulties with that question (rather than sticking to it singlemindedly until you convinced yourself there was an error). You could come back to it at the end. It's the same approach whether the question turned out to have an error or just to be very difficult. Thus, you would have limited the damage to at most that question.

When an error is discovered in a standardized test like the SAT, the question is removed from the scoring and the remaining questions are scored. There is not an appeal for those who may have spent too much time on the flawed question. Test-takers know not to spend a long time on any one question while there are still others to try.

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    While I agree that time-management is part of the exam skillset, I disagree with this response. I think that an error in a question strongly disadvantages conscientious personalities who pay attention to detail. If the exam, from the outset, is assumed to have errors, it would be a different matter, but exams rarely have these. – Captain Emacs Sep 10 at 13:14
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – cag51 Sep 11 at 20:50
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    @CaptainEmacs If anything, spending time finding an error actually proves even more knowledge of the material than if they had skipped the question due to time constraints, so I agree with your statement. – ThatOneNerdyBoy Sep 12 at 12:39
  • This is the correct answer IMHO. It is impossible to absolutely prevent all errors in the exam. Errors happen all the time both in exams and in real life. Exam-takers should know how to plan their time to avoid wasting time on questions that are overly-difficult, whether or not they contain errors. – Erel Segal-Halevi Sep 12 at 19:16
  • @ErelSegal-Halevi In the moment you introduce multiple layers of QA and external examining for assessments, the assumption is that errors in exams are not supposed to happen and the students can count on the exam to be precisely as it should be. If the exam is to be assumed to contain errors from the outset, why do we need this bureaucratic overhead? If the presence of errors are assumed as a reasonable possibility, then one could as well set the questions with a basic assumption that they have been checked by just the lecturer, and as for the remaining risk, "caveat emptor". – Captain Emacs Sep 12 at 20:22
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I suggest that you just tell them the circumstances and that you spent time fruitlessly. Perhaps they will have a solution for you so that you aren't disadvantaged. Not everyone will help, but if they don't know what happened they won't make any adjustment or provide any remedy.

But ask in a way that you aren't just grumbling and demanding. "How can you help me recover from this situation?" puts the responsibility for the situation where it belongs and notes that you have suffered from it. If the error was subtle then you might have a case. But if it was pretty blatant, then the prof might just think that you should have spent your time more wisely.

In general, it is good practice to read all the questions before attempting to answer any, or, perhaps, just answer the easiest ones on the first pass.

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    I don't think it is fair to put the responsibility of noticing errors in exams (whether subtle or not) on the students. There is usually a lot of time pressure during an exam, and it is reasonable for students to assume that the questions are correct. I don't see how reading all the questions first helps with this either, since it's possible that the question looks reasonable at first glance yet cannot be solved. – GoodDeeds Sep 9 at 19:02
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    @GoodDeeds, yes, I agree. They shouldn't have that responsibility. But it happens. Professors aren't perfect, no matter how often we claim we are. But they (we) also need to have a backup when it occurs. – Buffy Sep 9 at 19:05
  • yes i agree with you that we need to start with the easy question , but the exercice where the error was worth a lot of points , and the mistake was in the first and the third question of the exercise thats why it was a stressfull situation and i spent time trying to know whats happens lol hank you for your reply :) – laura Sep 9 at 19:06
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    Confused, "How can I recover from this situation?" puts the responsibility on the student, which is not where it belongs. Did I misunderstand? – Azor Ahai -- he him Sep 9 at 19:11
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    No, @AzorAhai--hehim, but it is more likely to be successful than demands. You want success, not confrontation. – Buffy Sep 9 at 19:30
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Indirectly responding: this sort of problem explains why no comments or corrections should be made during an exam. It is essentially impossible to do so in a way that treats all students fairly...

So when I make exams, especially "Written Prelim Exams", one of the "rules" is that there will be no comment on or corrections to questions during the exam.

Yes, of course, I'm unhappy if there's something wrong in a question... but trying to repair it during the exam is not possible to achieve in a truly fair way...

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    In this case the whole exam is invalid and should be redone? – usr1234567 Sep 10 at 8:59
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    Having all students face the same problem set opens up options. For example, give extra credit for papers that report and analyze the error. – Patricia Shanahan Sep 10 at 12:09
  • In my experience, the best students find the problem (they get to it first). You write the correction on the board since you don't want to answer Q's about it 29 more times. – Owen Reynolds Sep 11 at 4:02
  • @OwenReynolds: What we have here is the unusual case of out of order causing expectations to fail. – Joshua Sep 11 at 17:10
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    @Joshua We don't know. Maybe the OP was the best student and has the top score. Maybe the early Q's had mistakes every other student struggled with but the OP avoided. Maybe the OP spent time on something else but the part with the mistake felt like forever. – Owen Reynolds Sep 11 at 19:13
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I am a retired Director of Undergraduate Studies and was a member of the Academic Integrity group at a UK university.

For me, the problem is one of auditing any adjustments. The Professor should not adjust the score but bring it to the attention of the external examiner, who will have authority to approve an adjustment, in light of your other results. However, that would only be done if the semester grade would have been affected. If the end of semester result was not affected then there is no point in making a change to the mark.

Only rarely would we offered a student a chance to resit, knowing that study momentum would have been focused on the exam and not some later date. However, there were cases where a student chose to resit, alongside those students who had failed the module. They seldom changed their mark, however, probably because of a disconnect between study patterns and resit timing.

In the big scheme of things, it's rare for a change (16/20 to 19/20) to have any material effect on the overall result but you imply it makes a difference as to whether you pass your semester. In that case, chase it with vigour!

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  • This would have been my preferred solution too. But after the fact that the teacher did not bother to listen to the student, a step in from the dean or director is necessary. At the end of the day, it is not just the test but also "what is right?" as a question which needs to be answered. Students need to be respected too. Just because they are younger and less experienced does not give anyone the right to shoe them off. Else they would do the same in future when they become teachers and directors. – kosmos Sep 11 at 16:13
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When you confront the professor with this, if he is agreeable, be prepared to be asked what you think would be fair. Have a few options ready.

I would suggest that you lead with asking for your score to become 16/17 which ignores the three questions you didn't get to. As an added bonus 16/17 is equivalent to the 19/20 you think you could have gotten.

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    "As an added bonus 16/17 is equivalent to the 19/20 you think you could have gotten." It is not. – Joseph Sible-Reinstate Monica Sep 11 at 14:35
  • @JosephSible-ReinstateMonica While I agree that they are not equal, 16/17 (94.1%) and 19/20 (95%) seem equivalent (virtually identical) to me in this context. We do agree regarding Monica. – J. Chris Compton Sep 11 at 18:42
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I fully support the fact that your raising the error helped the other students and you deserve to get bonus points for that. One may argue that other students might have wasted time on that too, and if they did, then in their answer sheets it will be reflected in the order of answers they attempted and they might get some points too.

In any case, you deserve a few points, maybe not 19/20 because one could argue that your test-taking strategy is flawed.

Another alternative is you get a new test with 16 as minimum points irrespective of your new score. This would require the teacher to set another paper, which they must do as they failed to set a correct question paper in the first try. Any other student who attempted the same question earlier than other questions must be also given the chance to write the exam.

In my opinion, you are well within your rights to take this up, especially since the teacher did not hear you out. It was their mistake and you must take it up with the dean in your university. Or maybe even someone higher up the rank.

I had a somewhat similar situation in high school. Suddenly there was a ceiling imposed on the marks awarded in tests, after the evaluation. Except for mathematics, no other test can have more than 80% awarded to students. I was the only student in the class to get more than that in civics and science. Instead of scaling it down proportionally for all students, the teachers conveniently just cut off my marks. I successfully raised it with the school principal and got the exception. The fact that I succeeded in getting that done was more helpful to me in my life than those exam results. I faced the ire of the teachers when I argued with them and then went to the principal. Your case is of course different, but there are some similarities too.

You standing up for what is right and not giving up is a more important test than the one for whose points you are contesting. So do not give up.

I would also like to add that a large number of answers on this platform are from academicians who tend to give answers which put their fellow academicians in a safe place, probably not even intentionally. So read every answer after considering the fact that the person answering it might not be neutral. After all, the teacher is at the wrong end in this case and he has no right to push you over.

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  • What does "no other test can have more than 80% awarded to students." mean? Students could not get a better grade than what 80percent corresponded to? – user111388 Sep 14 at 12:48
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It's not worth bothering with, for many reasons.

2 or 3 points on a quiz at the start isn't going to affect your final grade. You're thinking about a B- on this quiz, which should have been an A. But for real, you missed a few points out of 600 in the whole class. Quiz points are only to get your attention. The tests are probably out of 100. Even if it would affect your grade, most instructors set a curve -- if it drops you to a final score of 79.995, you'll probably get a B anyway. I used to put a star next to scores with some possible issue then check during final grades if they would have mattered. I don't think it ever has.

Quizes generally don't have as much time-pressure as students think. If you know it, there will be plenty of time. If you're searching notes, or making several false starts, that means you don't know it as well. Plus isn't it common test-taking that multiple choice are easier? You choose to do it the hard way. You also don't know if you would have gotten those correct.

Finally, right now you're the good student who found a mistake in the quiz. Don't turn yourself into the whiner who cares more about a few points than learning math. It doesn't just make a bad impression on the instructor, it's bad for you. Going into the next quiz fixated on the point system and the various injustices that might occur is a great way to break your concentration on doing the problems. If you put it behind you, you can start reading the next assigned chapter right now.

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    Judging by the grades cited in the question, I strongly believe that the grading scheme is not what you describe, so not A, B, grading curve, etc. I suspect that OP studies in France, where going from 16/20 to 19/20 is a big deal. – breversa Sep 10 at 8:04
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    @owen actually the whole quiz is on 30 points an evrey coorct answer is worth 03 points , the hole exam is on 60 so thats why i taught it was worth to tell the teacher , and specially the systeme of grading here is very different because the use curves etc . but thank you for your answer – laura Sep 10 at 8:39
  • @breversa Put whatever numbers and scores you want -- the point is the same. Thinking "what if class was cancelled tomorrow and this quiz was my entire grade" does no good. In the end, it's 9 points out of hundreds. I've actually had the most trouble with that in the opposite way -- students getting perfect scores on warm-up assignments who slack off since they focus on how they currently have an A. – Owen Reynolds Sep 11 at 4:39
  • @OwenReynolds: "In the end, it's 9 points out if hundreds." What do you mean by that abd how do you know? – user111388 Sep 11 at 7:33
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    You are talking about 600 points - how do you know this is not just the only exam of this course? – user111388 Sep 11 at 7:34
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When an exam contains an error that has had the potential to have affected the results, the professor is morally obliged to offer all students an extra voluntary makeover exam. The rules and regulations the exams are subject to at the university may not make it compulsory for the professor to do this, but merely sticking to the limits the rules allow for amounts to substandard professional behavior. No one can succeed in academia by just sticking to the rules.

Students who feel their scores were affected by the error may then complain that they'll need to sit another exam instead of just getting a higher score. But having studied for the original exam and mastered the topic, they should be able to just revise the topic in a few days and pass the new exam with ease. It's also an elementary topic they need to keep on speed with throughout their entire academic careers, so doing another exam in it isn't a waste of time. Any negative attitude for extra studying really isn't a good attitude for anyone in academia, so students who feel like that should reconsider whether they should continue their studies at university.

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    Ew, no, this can be fixed without causing such a headache for everyone involved. – Azor Ahai -- he him Sep 10 at 14:50
  • @AzorAhai--hehim I don't see the headache for everyone involved, except the professor. It's the professor who caused the problem, so it has to be the professor who is going to fix the problem, regardless of any headaches. – Count Iblis Sep 10 at 16:41
  • What are you basing this statement on? Do you know OP's university regulations? In my university, students would (rightfully) protest, especially if they already started their holidays. – user111388 Sep 10 at 16:49
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    @CountIblis: I have yet to find a student, good or not, who is excited about doing an exam. Also, I don't quite understand: You do say that this exam is voluntarily and only to improve the score? Then I agree. However, a mandatory exam fter the holidays could be bad for those students who need the grade now (because of financial reasons or because it's their last exam) and should not be forced to wait a long time. And not everybody is well prepares enough that a few days of revision are enough. and my main point: how do you know that this is one of OP's prof's obligations? – user111388 Sep 10 at 19:53
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    Okay, thank you for the clarification. I agree that a voluntary exam would be nice. What I still don't understand is what you base your assumption that this is the prof's obligation on. Where I am, it would be neither an obligation on paper nor a de facto obligation. – user111388 Sep 11 at 18:59

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