I just received the grade of an oral exam and I do not satisfied with it. I want to appeal, but I am not sure if this is appropriate. Since I am in Germany, I heard that professors can give any grades they wanted to students. I worried that the act of appeal will worsen my mark(or even fail). And I also don't know who to make an appeal to. I don't even know how to review an non-recorded oral exam. Can someone give some advice about how this should be done in Germany university?
Here's my experience with oral exams in Germany:
Ask the professor to explain to you how they arrived at the grade, and what they'd expected you to say for a better grade.
Maybe more important about this than the grade you got now is what you can learn for future oral exams.
(When I asked the "lemon squeezing professor" below, he explained that from the grades I got in the labwork exam he was examining "for a top mark", and would not waste time asking me easy questions about the lecture but that he examined my ability to draw field-specific conclusions on the basis but outside what was explicitly discussed in the lecture... wow...)
The burocratic trail corresponds to the importance of the exam. Oral exams with only 1 student + 1 examiner and no paper trail typically end up contributing low percentages to the final grade for the semester and even lower percentages to your Bachelor/Master grades. The next more important ones already had a 2nd observer (usually PhD student or postdoc) though still without protocol.
Everything of higher importance (including legally relevant exams) is done with someone writing a protocol, and in some cases even audio records are taken. This is done exactly in case there is dispute about the grading.
Rather than complaining about the grade in order to get a better grade, I've only met students who asked to have their grade lowered to "failed" so they could re-take the exam.
For the "low importance" oral exams I've been involved with, a complaint would usually have resulted in the offer to have another exam which for sure would have someone writing a protocol.
Back when I was studying, for the low-importance exams in many cases it would have been possible to retake them the next semester/year (sometimes even the high-importance ones, under certain conditions). However, I've never met anyone who did care sufficiently to do so.
As always, the exam regulations of your department are what matters. You need to look them up and/or ask at the exam office.
Grades are submitted to the exam office, and the professor thus cannot easily change the grade. Thus, the risk of getting your grade lowered if you complain to the professor is small. But so is your chance to get it raised: both will likely need a (very) formal procedure with you, the professor and the exam office.
A professor "can give any grades they want[ed]" only in the sense any public servant in government administration can do anything they want to an application/procedure you filed there: professors in Germany are public servants and exams are one of their public servant duties. Violations of these duties are considered quite serious in general (they took an oath to fulfil these duties).
(Which does not mean that unfair grading does not happen - but it does mean that if you file a complaint about unfair treatment in an exam, that is a serious accusation)
- One thing you may consider for future exams: as students, we were allowed to "bring a friend", who would then automatically be a potential witness. If there's a problem with the professor's grading, such a potential witness may make the whole procedure more fair already by just being there.
This happened very rarely, but I remember a professor recommending this for an entirely different reason: so that the friend can find out what kind of exam to expect. I.e., they recommended that we look for someone who'd be comfortable taking us along before doing the exam ourselves.
A last thing is to bear in mind that the perceived difficulty of question and your difficulty of answers may not predict well even a rather objectively justified grade. There are (legitimate) differences in the style how different professors approach the task of examining. Some will ask everyone questions on a similar level of difficulty and then consider the answers, others adjust the difficulty of the question according to preliminary grades and previous answers (I found it extremely hard to judge as a student how such an exam went - but I do know since how a lemon must feel after sqeezing. Got 1,3 btw.)
I held tons of oral exams in Germany and even had an official appeal. I also served on a committee for these kind of things for several years. This is how it works in Germany:
- For an oral exam there have to be written notes taken by a second person. These notes are confidential and are collected in some office (at my uni this is the "Prüfungsamt").
- If you appeal the grade you may want to speak to the professor directly first (as suggested in other answers). In case this is unsatisfactory, you need to appeal officially in written form (in my uni, again to the Prüfungsamt). Write the appeal very carefully and explain why you think that the grade in not deserved.
- Then some committee (in my case the Prüfungsausschuss) has to have a close look at the situation. Usually it asks the professor for an additional statement.
- This committee then uses three documents (and in most cases nothing more): The protocol of the exam, your appeal, and the statement from the professor. After careful examination of these documents if decides.
You will get the result of the examination in written form (and this may take some weeks at least). Note that it is in general rare that the grade will be changed. Professors have some academic freedom which also covers a lot of teaching and grading. However, in rare cases, the committee may decide that the grade was inappropriate. But usually the committee only intervenes if the exam was not according to the rules (e.g. too short, too long, no protocol, no second examiner… what ever the rules are in your place).
So in conclusion: You have the right to appeal. Appeals happen regularly but are seldom (I had to deal with about one every two years when I served the committee, but this may vary a lot). If the professor acts professionally, nothing bad will happen to you (and at my uni the professors are in fact acting professionally).
Students can not use appeals to challenge the academic judgement of their professors. Otherwise, academic system would be swarmed by students who are not happy with their results and want to change them. Appeals are usually allowed for administrative reasons only. For example, if this was a written exam, and a part of your script was lost before it reached your professor, and you were not awarded marks for something you actually did.
For an oral exam, there is typically not enough paper trail to challenge your professor's decision, unless you held an exam before a committee or you had an audio record of your answers. In any case, you would need to have a solid evidence that you answered all questions correctly. Simply saying "but I did" is not going to be enough.
Finally, the mark for an oral exam also takes in account how much initiative student took during their answer. Consider an example:
- Q: Tell us about the multiplication of matrices, please.
- A: Well, a matrix is an array of numbers. The numbers can be real. They can also be complex. Sometimes we write a matrix with symbols instead of numbers. One lecturer wrote us a matrix with dots in it.
- Q: It is good, but can you tell us about multiplication of matrices?
- A: Yes, of course!
- Q: So, how do you multiply them?
- A: Well, we can multiply matrices. We need to write them side-by-side. Suppose, I have a matrix A here and a matrix B.
- Q: OK, so what do you do?
- A: Well, OK, lemme see...
- Q: Perhaps, show us a simple example with 2-by-2 matrices.
- A: Ah, OK. Can I do 1-by-1 first? Here's A=[a], and B=[b], so AB = [ab], right?
- Q: Very nice. Next question.
Here the student won't get full marks for their answer. They may be under impression that they answered the question, but in fact their answer arrived after a lot of prompting, it was incomplete and demonstrated less than solid knowledge of the subject.
I agree with the other answers about asking the professor why they graded you the way they did, and that it is likely that there was no wrong doing.
However, if after that you truly feel like your grade is unjustified and you were treated unfairly, the student council (Fachschaft) is a good first point of contact. I think your single appeal will not have much of a chance. However, they will know if the professor has a history of such cases, and they rely on a couple of students to actually make complaints in order to take action against them. They can also tell you who at your university you can contact.