I'm currently a TA for a first-year math course (at a US university), and one of my students wasn't feeling well on the day of the midterm exam for this course. They emailed the instructor their concerns but did not hear back until about 3:30 p.m., while the exam was scheduled for 3:00 p.m. As a result, they took the original midterm exam (just in case they were not approved for a makeup exam later, as they did not have documentation to prove that they were not feeling well - unfortunately, the health services center ran out of appointments that day.)

To the best of my understanding, they would have been approved for a makeup exam if they did not take the original exam at all - but now the course instructor refuses to let them sign up for a makeup. I have not had direct communication with the instructor about this issue, but I'd like to advocate for my student for the following reasons:

  1. They are a hardworking and consistent student, and I believe their problem is genuine - i.e., they could not give their best performance on the midterm due to underlying health problems. I imagine a makeup exam will help them improve their score.

  2. Had the instructor gotten back to them before the exam, we would not be in this ugly situation. Maybe the instructor is partly at fault here? However, as a TA, I can only do so much, as the final decision-making power obviously rests with the instructor.

Today, the student approached me, explained their concerns, and expressed interest in taking the makeup exam. I have to communicate the situation to the course instructor effectively, and I'd like some help doing so. Likely, I am unaware of any potential reasons behind their decision that the student cannot sit for the makeup exam if they have taken the original.

Thanks for your advice and suggestions on how to approach this situation!

1 Answer 1


First, this is not your fight. You are just a conduit of a student complaint. Feel free to share your assessment of the student with the instructor, but do not act as an advocate, as it might make working with the primary instructor more difficult. Unless asked, do not even express an opinion.

Second, US instructors in Mathematics in the US certainly see their part of student manipulations. They are also under pressure to decide cases based on data only, not gut feelings. They are also not obliged to check their emails very frequently. A student who takes the midterm while advising that they are feeling unwell in effect asks for an automatic second chance. If the grade is fine, they stick with it, if not, they get another try at the make-up. This seems an unfair advantage, even though it is negligible if the student was truly sick. But the student was not sick enough to not take the exam. As I hinted before, if you are teaching math in the US, you quickly stop trusting student explanations because of just a bit of too many manipulative students.

Third, the student can also be directed to talk to the chair. This allows the instructor to follow a simple, strict policy while making exceptions on the suggestion of the chair person (or dean of studies, ...)

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