If a student feels that the grade he received is lower than he expected, because he has been working very hard, and truly trying to understand things, but sometimes at the cost of sacrificing details. But the instructor might think differently, as the student sometimes made careless mistakes in assignments and didn't have much time doing them.

Can he email the instructor for possibility of changing his grade, stating the reasons above? He knows if he never asks, the grade will stay the same, so he wants to have a try. Also as far as he knows, course grading generally has more or less flexibility.

If he does, is there some ethic issue that the student should be aware of?


PS: This is in a U.S. university.

  • 16
    It sounds like the reason for a grade change is that the quality of the work (missing details, careless errors, insufficient time) did not reflect your level of understanding. That's unfortunate, but not likely to lead to a grade change, since for fairness the grades have to be assigned in a way that treats all the students on an equal footing (so even if the instructor knows you understand well, they have to give you the grade your submitted work deserved). Grade appeals are much more likely to succeed if the argument is that the submitted work was better than the instructor thought it was. Commented May 27, 2012 at 12:25
  • There definitely has been attempts in arguing about some of the grading before. But they didn't help to improve the situation, as they were mostly not approved, although there are reasons to believe the re-gading requests are reasonable. See my comments to aeismail.
    – Tim
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 12:32
  • Frankly speaking, the courses I personally have been involved in all had more or less flexibility from the instructor, whether I was a student or TA. Sometimes I didn't agree with the bumping up and down by some instructors, because I knew which students were truly learning things and which weren't. But I had no right in arguing with the instructors.
    – Tim
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 13:36

7 Answers 7


A student sure can ask for re-grading, but he or she should have strong evidence that what was graded was better than perceived by the grader. It is a very bad idea to try argue how the teacher should be grading (e.g., asking her or him to grade according to what work you claimed you provided rather than the quality of your homework or exam). These questions are up to the teaching teams, not up to the students, and yes that makes the situation rather unbalanced. What you can do about this is to ask for a general change in suitable meetings if they exist.

Moreover, I would like to point out two things :

  1. most of the time, grading is not for acknowledging good effort, but to measure if the student understood enough of the class to have a decent chance in the next one (at least in fields where classes depend strongly one on another, like in mathematics);
  2. my experience tells me that students that consider they understand well but do poor exams in fact understand much more shallowly than they think, and their grades should be taken as an indication that the way they work is probably not good enough.
  • 8
    T, sounds a bit like sour grapes.
    – drxzcl
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 21:48
  • 4
    @T. that people already mastering the class get good grades is at least an indication that the grading is consistent; the question is why there is such an heterogeneity in the curriculum of students following the same class. Commented May 28, 2012 at 9:24
  • 5
    @T. Also, as (almost) said (almost) someone, "Many that get good grades deserve bad ones. And some that get bad grades deserve good grades. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out bad grades in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends". Commented May 28, 2012 at 9:26
  • 4
    @T..: to evaluate the performance of a course or a teacher, you indeed have to look at the progress of the students: have both good and bad students improved? However, that does not entail that students should be judged the same way. A student should be judged against the goals of the course, which may or may not include the amount of effort/improvement.
    – Egon
    Commented May 28, 2012 at 12:30
  • 3
    +1 for #2. Spot on in my experience. Moreover, these students often have no idea how shallowly their answers sound in comparison to the work of their peers, which becomes strongly evident when a stack of papers is being graded. I've used this technique more than once: Before an exam, I'll spend some time in class comparing two answers from a previous exam. That way, students can see how one answer – though it might say roughly the same thing as another – is in fact vastly inferior, and fails to convey the same strong sense of mastery over the material (and therefore received a lower grade).
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 11:18

While it is possible to try, I suspect such efforts are unlikely to succeed.

  • In an "objectively" graded class, such as in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences, where answers are either right or wrong, the only guaranteed way to get a grade changed is to show conclusive evidence that a mis-grading has occurred: an answer was marked wrong when it was correct, or at least ambiguous.

  • In more "subjective" classes, which are typical in the arts and humanities, an ex post facto change of grade is not going to be received well. If the student was worried about performance in the class, such concerns should have first been lodged during the class. In this way, improved performance could be seen and taken into account at the time of the original grading. Afterwards, there's no way to do this and not come across as "grade-grubbing," which is considered to be in poor taste, and earns you a bad reputation with the faculty.

  • Moreover, at many schools, once a final grade has been submitted to the registrar, it is only possible to change it as a result of clerical errors. "Judgment" issues cannot be taken into account.

That said, if a legitimate grading error has occurred, the faculty is obligated to correct it, as this affects your permanent record.

  • 1
    1. About your first part, in those "objectively" classes, the grading isn't always objective and fair as we think. There can well be disagreement in grading between the grader/instructor and the student, such as ambiguity in the assignment allowing multiple different answers, numerical results may be subject to randomness and different implementations. If the instructor doesn't appreciate the student's efforts and learning style, he can deny any request of re-grading. The student is on the weaker side in such cases. Contacting the school is not a simple thing.
    – Tim
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 12:19
  • 6
    This is what you missed. Grade is based on the student's performance. Not a personal judgement.
    – Nobody
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 13:29
  • 2
    @T..: Your comments are why I put the word "objectively" in quotation marks to begin with. Even if the grading is somewhat subjective, the grounds for changing the grade need to be objective—if grading standards weren't applied correctly or consistently, or if a mistake was made adding things up. Beyond that, however, there's really not all that much that can be done to change a grade once it's been made official.
    – aeismail
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 13:43
  • 3
    With respect to your other comment about grading based on "how much thought they have put into their study": this seems, to me, to be an impossible quantity to measure and grade with respect to—at least for classes of more than a few students. I can't watch my students study, so I don't know who's putting in the hours after class.
    – aeismail
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 13:46
  • 2
    "But I worked hard on this" is not justification for upping a grade. Presumably, ALL my students work hard on their assignments, whether that's homework, a project, or preparation for an exam. The time to ask for a strategy to get your grade up is early in the course, while you still have time to do something proactive. And if a prof tells you, "You might start by paying more attention in class," answering with, "But it's very difficult to pay attention to what you say; reading is more effective than attending lectures" won't get you very far.
    – J.R.
    Commented Nov 10, 2013 at 11:12

You can surely ask for a change. And if there is a clear mis-grading this must be fixed. This happens frequently: for instance, this year I did forget to grade the last page of the exam of one of my ~100 students...

But this is the only case when grades may be subject to a change. Grading performance is the only way to apply consistently the same grading process to all the students. And, BTW, this is what will be done in real life. Let's say you are a plumber, you work hard, you truly try to understand how to connect pipes, but you make careless mistake because you don't pay attention to details and you let a lot of leaks in your customers houses. Do you think you will be paid by your customers?

  • 1
    I understand your opinions. (1) The metaphor is both a good and bad one. In the process of study and learning, exposing one's weakness and making mistakes are better than not. (2) Also careless mistakes sometimes is not because of not taking the course seriously, but because of taking it too seriously. Spending too much time in thinking and understanding and searching references, leaves little time to do assignments. That is why I feel pity and unfair about the fact that those students that are driven by grades and assignments are usually those that can be appreciated by the grade decider.
    – Tim
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 14:45
  • 1
    (1) Added: I believe the fundamental purpose of teaching is to make every student understand more things, not a chance for the instructor to pick out students that are good in his terms.
    – Tim
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 14:50
  • 3
    Now, think of yourself as the teacher, how to you differentiate between the one which is not good because he is lazy/will never be good and the one which is not good because he is "taking it too seriously". Also, all your comments seem to indicate that you ask a question but you are not open to what people are saying, and also that you forget that even the grader was a student once. Commented May 27, 2012 at 15:29
  • 1
    (1) If a teacher is willing to understand his students and has an open mind, it is not hard to know what he wants to know about the students. (2) I am open to other opinions and discussion, but it doesn't mean I don't have my own. If there are things that I don't necessarily agree with in some replies, shall I keep silent? In reality, probably. But here I can feel more freedom of expression indeed. No offence.
    – Tim
    Commented May 27, 2012 at 15:33
  • 2
    The thing is that you ask a question, and that you have already your own answer. That's fine, but why spoiling our time then? To conclude on this question, and I won't add a thing after that, if a student is not good, no matter the reason, he does not deserves good grades. The contrary is not respectful to the other students, to the colleagues that will have to deal with the student in the following steps of the syllabus, and to the companies that will consider hiring the student later. Commented May 27, 2012 at 15:42

In principle yes, although the procedure will be different from university to university. Just emailing your instructor and asking for some additional clarification/justification (and maybe mentioning that you aren't satisfied with the grade) is definitely going to be fine though.

If the instructor declines to change the grade and you are still not satisfied, your next point of call would probably the course coordinator or director of studies. If your school has a handbook or a set of policies or something like that, they should tell you what to do in this case.

  • 2
    In the context of the OP's question, it seems like you are suggesting that students should go over professors' heads to complain about grades just because the grades are based on observed performance in the course and turned out worse than expected. May I ask why you think this is a good idea? Commented Jan 27, 2015 at 22:35
  • I'm not suggesting anything, I'm merely pointing out the possibilities. Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 9:30

You can, but it's a dumb idea. Good students are generally above fighting for grades (unless the instructor lost an entire page of the student's exam or there was some other clear-cut error that involved a large number of points). If you argue for a better grade, you risk coming off as

  1. A bad student
  2. Annoying
  3. Someone who cares about gaming the system more than mastering the material

I strongly suggest you find a friend who is doing well in the class and ask if you can see his old homeworks. Then you can infer what level of detail is appropriate for your future assignments.

This is especially important if your homeworks involve rigorous proofs, because if you don't prove everything in detail there's a good chance that your proof is completely wrong. If you're having trouble with proof-based questions it's important that you master that art now so you don't have the same problems in future classes.


First, I can support your idea a little:

An exam or assignment is not always the best way to judge a student's understanding - although it is the easiest and most practical.

An education system might reasonably have some way for a student to demonstrate their clear knowledge and understanding of what is being taught outside the examination or assignment. If there are objective standards that can be proven by the student, this takes away the variability from the examination room or particular assignment and student's/instructor's differing interpretation of the assignment requirements.

It might be, then, that your instructor is willing to consider regrading, if you can provide suitable evidence outside the exam that you understood and can apply the material at a level higher than you did in the exam.

However, I think this is very unlikely to happen in practice:

  • There is a serious ethical issue here: all the students should have the same opportunity that you do. You should not receive special treatment just because you personally appeal to the instructor. (The other students may not have the opportunity to personally appeal, or may not realise that it makes a difference). The criteria for grading should be equal and obvious to all students. If an appeal process is possible, then ethically all students must be made aware of the possibility.

[Aside: In your case, if there is an available appeal process, you can follow it with no problem: if you meet the criteria]

  • Exams and assignments are typically designed to test your understanding in an effective way. They may not be ideal, but usually they are the only good and practical way of testing - there is unlikely to be a good alternative proof you can offer the instructor.

  • An instructor's time is precious: it is likely they have spent significant time writing an assignment that suitably tests the material, and significant time in marking, and will not be willing to spend more time to listen to this complaint.

  • It's likely that avoiding "careless mistakes" is part of the test - the grade should depend partly on whether the student understands the material well enough to avoid commonly-made mistakes. So, if you feel you have made careless mistakes, it shows that - probably - you did not understand the material well enough to check and avoid these in a timely manner.

  • The amount of work you did, or effort you put in, should not really be relevant to the grading. You must show understanding, not effort. (Although, effort should be necessary - it is not what's being tested)

I understand the argument that there is no harm in asking, but I do not expect that this type of request would be well received by the instructor (neither, by your fellow students).

It's plausible that asking for a regrade would harm your professional reputation with the instructor, and your personal reputation amongst fellow students.

I recommend that you consider asking for a retest instead.

  • The email has been sent... Can it be taken back, if wanted?
    – Tim
    Commented May 28, 2012 at 0:33

You can get grades changed if you have a good reason, something tangible. In addition, you need to be a skilled negotiator and diplomat. It is easy to offend the professor in such situations. You want to avoid formal procedures if at all possible.

I have gotten at least 10 grades (sometimes assignments, sometimes exams) changed upwards during my studies in spite of an official policy to do that only for clerical errors. Reasons include:

  • Ambiguous wording in multiple choice exams that make my answer correct. This one is the easiest to negotiate for.
  • The answer that the professor expected based on what was seen in class is incorrect or at least incomplete in light of more recent scientific discoveries that I cited in my answer. Especially during undergrad years, this is not expected of students and can be overlooked when it happens. It was usually the TA who gave the bad grade and the professors easily overrule them in such cases.
  • I used an approach that makes the question easier to answer than the professor expected. It is quite tricky to negotiate that working smart is better than working hard, but it can be done.
  • Once a professor accused me of plagiarism and told me to be happy with an F instead of a formal procedure for cheating because "my paper is too good to be true". I challenged him on the spot to ask me difficult questions about the topic and see for himself. He changed my F to an A+.

Most of these negotiations only work if you are an excellent student I think. The professor needs to feel that you are very knowledgeable and passionate about the subject before opening up to your request.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .