I emailed a professor asking for my final exam grade (just the number). Nothing else in the email, tried to keep the inquiry as short as possible. The professor refused.

Is there anything I can do about this, or are professors able to withhold grades at their discretion (other than the final course grade)?

  • 3
    Was the professor's response "No," or was it "No, not at this time"?
    – shoover
    May 5, 2021 at 4:13
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    Have others already gotten the grade for the exam? If you are asking him/her to tell you your grade although others haven’t gotten theirs, it is completely understandable that he/she wants you to wait for the official results like everybody else.
    – pbaer
    May 5, 2021 at 5:49
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    it might be that some regulation about privacy etc. does not allow e-mailing grades, have you checked that?
    – sleepy
    May 5, 2021 at 8:51
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    If you know your final course grade and all your other assignment grades you can work out your final exam grad given the relative weights for the course (which is presumably published/known). May 5, 2021 at 16:37
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    @user2705196: In theory. But this blank foils the possibility of double-checking the final grade calculation for errors by the instructor. E.g.: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/150071/… May 6, 2021 at 3:28

4 Answers 4


In most universities professors are encouraged to be transparent about grading, but whether they have to show you your grades is up to university/department policy.

If it’s important to you then seek recourse elsewhere: does your school have an ombudsperson or undergraduate academic support? If so - ask them to help mediate. It may also be helpful if you get other students on board: if you’re the only one complaining it’s less likely that you’ll be taken seriously.

In my department, for example, I have to tell students exactly how much they got in each assessment criterion (assignment/project/exam etc.). In addition, I must tell them (in the syllabus, before the course starts) what the numerical to letter grade conversions are (so what grade qualifies you for an A+/A/A- etc.). But this is by no means the norm in other universities to my knowledge.

  • Ok, thank you. I will take a look at the policy.
    – Hank W.
    May 5, 2021 at 2:48
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    One should probably add that in some places such a decision is not up to the university/department, but is regulated by law (or by legal precedent from earlier court ruling). So depending on the OP's location, it might also be worth checking whether it is actually legal to withhold grades from a student. May 5, 2021 at 11:49

Usually grades are published on a specific location (either physical or digital). It is not a duty of the professor to communicate grades to you personally (not in the majority of western countries, at least).

The duties of the professor or whoever is responsible for the exam/course are usually limited (for good reason) to make grades accessible to the people attending the exam/course (it does not mean public).

Some Western countries have even a stricter policy regarding communications between professor and students, preventing to exchange this kind of information in written or via remote means. You may be based in one of these countries.


In the UK, most grades that count towards the final degree grade are preliminary until they have been certified by both the external examiners and the departmental exam board, which generally takes place at the end of the semester. Marks for indevidual piece of work are subject to changes due to moderation by the internal moderator, grade boundaries can change on the recommendation of the external examiner, or the exam board or examiner could (in theory) refuse to certify marks they didn't think were arrived at correctly.

Thus it is normal not to give marks to students until they are official.


Email can be used as a formal means to communicate, especially with time stamps. Email is however not unilaterally considered a respected forum to share course grades.

In the US, this lesson hinges tangentially if not primarily on guidelines from FERPA. In a nutshell, an instructor cannot share FERPA-level information such as course grades when he/she has no certifiable permission from the student to do so. This guideline is interpreted as limiting if not restricting entirely the use of email and even phone calls to give out course grades, sometimes even with a release from the student to waive FERPA restrictions.

When a FERPA-based policy is in place at an institution and when that prohibits a US instructor from sharing grades via email or the phone, the policy holds regardless of whether any policies exist that require instructors to share grades with a student. The latter question is addressed here. In the US, the general practice is that instructors should not/cannot prohibit students from valid requests to review their own graded submissions. Indeed, in the US, FERPA gives students the right to inspect and review their course records. Instructors may be allowed to set the manner of the review. By example, a university policy may be in place that allows instructors to hold the final exam for one year before releasing it back to the student. But the student should still be able to request a chance to review the final exam. The instructor may also be at liberty to prohibit such things as pen/paper or camera devices during the review.

Also, a FERPA-based institutional policy that prohibits instructors from sharing grades with students by email and an institutional or departmental policy stating that email is the only sanctioned method to correspond with students are not mutually exclusive. An instructor can be required to correspond with a student about official class policies only by institutional email (e.g. not by the university learning management system or by private email), but the instructor can also be cautioned about if not restricted from corresponding via any form of email with any student about the details of their performance in the course.

Policies with restrictions based on FERPA may not be in place at your institution, perhaps especially if your request originates somewhere other than from a university in the US.

In summary, you may need to determine whether instructors are or are not permitted to share grades via email. Ask at your university offices of academic affairs (starting perhaps through the offices of academic affair or the Provost for institutions in the US). You may also need determine whether your institution has a policy on how to request to review graded work (e.g. you may be required to file a written petition). Ask through the instructor or the departmental offices.

With all this said and done, and allowing for grace for the bluntness of the instructor, you might simply try asking the instructor for ...

  • Clarification on the policies to review your final exam and grades.

  • An office visit to review the final exam in person.

  • A video meeting where you present your university picture id to review your final exam "in person".

  • 3
    An email from a university email is certainly formal communication, at least in the universities I worked for. If I send students important course information via email, it is considered to be delivered formally. In fact, a lot of formal matters are better discussed over email since it is official written communication with a time stamp. This is especially true during COVID, when in-person meetings are not an option.
    – Spark
    May 6, 2021 at 0:27
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    At Berkeley we were expressly forbidden from emailing about student grades because it was often parents using their kids email to get their grades. May 6, 2021 at 2:31
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    @Spark -- I have said nothing that indicates that email is not formal. I will clarify however explicitly. May 6, 2021 at 2:56
  • I've seen interpretations like this, but I think they're silly. Admittedly if your institution or department lays down this policy, then you should follow it. My department allows communication by school email (and only that channel). The given answer is incorrectly framed as a general rule. May 6, 2021 at 3:25
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    @DanielR.Collins So, your institution allows you to send FERPA-level information via email or phone? Granting such permission at an institutional level would be rather blunt news to me. Would you do me the respect to ask your Provost directly whether instructors at your institution have unlimited permission to use email and the phone to report FERPA-level information (student grades) and report back. I'll stand corrected and report that at least one convincing exception exists in the US. May 6, 2021 at 4:58

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