I know that for a certain project a colleague with whom I have worked on the project erroneously got a grade that is higher than he should have gotten (the administration made a mistake is my guess). He told me about this himself, but also told me that he is not planning on changing it. The course is a 12 ects course, so has quite an impact on someone's gpa.

Now I have two thoughts:

  1. It is not fair to 'betray' a colleague who trusted me with this story
  2. I also worked on this project and I got the correct grade, it feels unfair. And I also simply feel that it is simply not just in a way.

What do you think? And should I take action or not?

  • 31
    Should I take action or not? No. It is not your grade, nor your mistake to fix.
    – Alexandros
    Jul 18, 2014 at 16:26
  • 10
    @Alexandros I think the way you put it is too easy. It is my paper that I worked as hard for as that other person. And in real life knowing of a crime and not reporting it can also be punishable. Jul 18, 2014 at 16:45
  • 9
    @Alexandros your argument can be extended to academic dishonesty or misconduct, e.g. plagiarism, fake experiments, biased statistical sets, etc. Jul 18, 2014 at 17:49
  • 7
    Too much speculation, I have seen projects where people got different grade because the graders got feedback about members' participation and contribution. Don't assume that his higher grade is incorrect or too high.
    – InformedA
    Jul 19, 2014 at 5:00
  • 10
    Lowering his grade does absolutely nothing for you. This is all about you not wanting him to have it. Realize that.
    – usr
    Jul 19, 2014 at 21:59

12 Answers 12


Answering from an ethical perspective. The grade was entered in error, if the other student was unaware of a mistake they would have been morally fine, it is not their job to double check the grader's work.

But since they are aware of the mistake it is their obligation to inform the grader. By intentionally keeping that information from the grader they are deliberately breaking ethical rules. In addition, by telling you about it they are compounding the original wrong by making you a party to their original transgression.

Unfortunately your classmate has made you responsible for their behavior because now you have to choose between doing the right thing (reporting them since they will not step forward) or being silent.

I can't tell you the consequences of that choice, but possible consequences of turning them in are social rejection and possible consequences of staying silent include academic sanctions against you if it comes out that you knew and did nothing. Just remember, they chose to put you in this mess, and for that you owe them nothing.

  • 3
    Thank you for your answer. I feel the same way. In case I decide on telling I think I'll do it anonymously. Jul 18, 2014 at 17:35
  • 3
    That is probably the best bet. Be aware anonymity is not a sure thing, but you are protecting yourself as much as possible by keeping as low a profile as possible. I get the feeling that the student told more than one person (just based off of me reading them as proud of their "accomplishment").
    – kleineg
    Jul 18, 2014 at 17:42
  • 7
    If you decide to tell, you should assume they'll know it's you, that it will come out eventually, or that they will guess correctly.
    – mako
    Jul 18, 2014 at 18:33
  • 6
    My saying for this, and it starts applying once you're about 5 years old, is "if he gets in trouble, it's not because of what you said, it's because of what he did." In this case, fail to report a known error. Jul 18, 2014 at 18:47
  • 5
    Amazing how applicable the lessons we teach 5 year olds about morality are to adult life, and how many people forget them.
    – kleineg
    Jul 18, 2014 at 18:55

Most of the time life is not fair, and it look like your friend just got a break. Good for him. Now, I suggest you ask yourself the question: is this likely to have a real negative impact on you? If so, then you may want to talk to your friend about the situation, hoping he will ask for the correction himself (if he refuses, you have a more solid ground for reporting it yourself). But if your friend's lucky mark is unlikely to affect you in a negative way, I'd say good for him, maybe next time it will be your turn. Be happy for your friend, live and let live.


If you really want to became successful in your field you should erase the word 'fair' from your vocabulary.

Nothing seems fair from all perspectives and the sooner you realize this the better.

From the way you describe it, there are 2 possible scenarios:

a) the professor made a mistake
b) the professor personally knows your friend and helped him

By lowering your friends grade you won't improve your grade. If for example you go and get his grade lowered this guy will hate you and you will honest seem like a pretty jealous person.

To sum up: Let your friend do what he wants to do, it's not your grade and you should not try to convenience him you are not worthy of that grade. Even professor mistakes are part of life, be realistic and don't seek fairness.

You should try to improve yourself and not lower you friends grades.

  • 8
    I strongly disagree with your first sentence. Worrying about fairness is a matter of personal ethics and is not inversely correlated with success (if it were, I'd question that it implies causation).
    – Cape Code
    Jul 18, 2014 at 20:05
  • 1
    @kleineg: I believe reporting them is wrong because is not OPs grade. Horror Code is important but being a good person is more important and reporting him will hurt him if the grade was wrongly awarded. From my point of view, it's okay to accept luck when it hit's your door. Also, if he reports his friend he won't be friend anymore. In this world many things are not fair and if you really care about this, you should be the example for others and not force your fairness on other people's lives. Jul 18, 2014 at 20:25
  • 1
    Considering other factors at play, such as friendship, is not the same thing as 'erasing the word 'fair' from your vocabulary'. My point is that you can't state that caring for fairness will detriment your career, that is not a fact. The rest is bartender's philosophy and off-topic on this site.
    – Cape Code
    Jul 18, 2014 at 21:22
  • 1
    Also, while the OP will not improve his grade, the gpa bump could, for example, make the difference for a grant or a job offer that they are both competing for.
    – Davidmh
    Jul 19, 2014 at 12:40
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    @DragonSlayer my point is, we strive to have a fair system for a reason, and most people rely on it being mostly accurate. If this were a common happening, the people that report themselves would be putting themselves in a disadvantage; and academia and the high level jobs are both very competitive world.
    – Davidmh
    Jul 19, 2014 at 16:55

I see three levels of possible 'formalisation' of your question:

  1. purely personal ethics
  2. academic ethics
  3. code of conduct of your University
The first is really for you to decide; you may go for advice to someone you know well and trust their opinion. The last one is straightforward: simply read the code and see whether or not it has something related to your question. Regarding the second one: from my point of view, the situation is similar to spotting an error in a published work — academic ethics assumes that you should take reasonable actions to share your concerns with the world (starting with the author and the editor). This is not an easy or popular route, however, and in some countries it contradicts "normal" morale of people outside academia, as you acknowledge in your question.

  • So what would your personal advice be? Jul 18, 2014 at 16:14
  • 2
    Personal advice is beyond the academia.SE scope, since the answer is not useful for anyone but you. Jul 18, 2014 at 16:58

"It is not fair to 'betray' a colleague who trusted me with this story"

It's also not fair that he got given a higher grade by mistake in the first place. The sooner it is fixed, the less chance there is of ugly flow-on problems popping up.

What if the grade affects the class of honours granted to his degree, and the degree is later revoked and downgraded upon discovery of the error? That could look a little dubious on a university transcript.

The "right" thing to do is for your colleague to report the error himself. But as he has made it clear that he will not, your situation is a little more ambiguous. But sometimes you have to do the right thing on behalf of others. A discreet email to the professor or lecturer who ran the course would likely lead to the grade being corrected. If you did this, you could disclose your intentions to your colleague beforehand, to give him the chance to correct the error himself.

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. Your answer actually confirms what I also had in mind myself. I will give it some consideration and then decide what I'll do. Jul 18, 2014 at 17:25

Your friend trusted you with the truth. I think it is only fair that you trust your friend and tell him beforehand what you plan to do. It is better that he comes out with it than you, and you don't lose a friend. If he doesn't want to be honest and "fair" at least ask him not to involve you if he gets in trouble for it.

This means that he will not trust you anymore but most likely he will still be friends with you. Friendship has more value to me than some moral that no one really cares about (except you because you know the truth).


I don't know that this is a popular opinion but if I was in this position I would feel cheated. Would I try to change that? NO!

How is your life going to change if you report this? Will you see any benefit? I don't think that you will. Will your colleague see any benefit? I don't think so.

To recap: if you do something your life won't improve, the life of your colleague will most likely be worse than it was prior to your action. Essentially any action can only cause harm. Nobody will benefit from you speaking up.

TL;DR nothing good can come from you speaking up, at best nothing will happen, most likely something negative will happen to your colleague.


Sometimes a professor will bump up a student's grade because of things like creativity, improvement, or demonstrated hard work. So neither you nor your classmate actually know that a mistake was made.

In addition, there's a trust issue. Your classmate trusted you with their doubts about their grade. Now, sometimes violating such trust is the right thing to do (as in the case of outright cheating), but you need to have a very good reason.

Finally, there's the question of impact. If grading in this class was not competitive, your classmate's grade has very little effect on anybody else. The only effect it could have is in competition for internships or jobs, but in many fields, GPA is not particularly important for such things. (I don't know about engineering.) Even if the class was graded competitively (some percent A's, some percent B's, and so on), it's rather unlikely that the professor will recompute everybody's grades after changing one.

Edit: Also, what will the instructor think of you? I guarantee they will not think, "Wow, this person is really honest and conscientious". More likely, they'll think you're grade-obsessed and willing to hurt somebody else to get ahead, even if that's not your motivation. At best, they'll shake their head and go, "Kids and grades these days...". If you have this instructor again, or if they tell their colleagues, this could come back to bite you.

Putting these considerations together, it seems to me that you should not report the suspected error. (If your classmate is feeling courageous, they may want to ask.) Focus on your own grades (and, more importantly, learning), not other people's.


You say he got a grade that is too high because you saw a "mass" email with the grade and then the student showed, presumably, the grade on the piece of work or on his transcript. You came to the conclusion that the email with the lower mark was correct and that the transcript is incorrect. There doesn't seem to be an obvious reason, apart from personal bias, that the transcript should be assumed to be wrong instead of the email. Given you do not really know what grade he should have gotten, there is no reason to say anything, especially if you do not want to. If you want to alert the Professor that you think someone else's mark is wrong you can do that, but remember you really do not have any proof.


Does your university have a procedure for appealing a grade? If so, look at what it says. I would be surprised if it allowed for appealing someone else's grade.

  • 2
    I wouldn't be. It may be an honor code violation to help your friend get an erroneous higher grade.
    – user18072
    Jul 18, 2014 at 15:54
  • I don't think such a procedure would be necessary. This was nothing more than a typo I assume so it is obvious that a mistake was made. So I think an e-mail would do. Jul 18, 2014 at 16:16
  • @student1232 you don't understand what "procedure" means. it does not mean "lengthy form." it means "what you are supposed to do in this situation." So if you think an email would do, that means you think the procedure is to email [someone]. In which case, why did you post the question? If you need more information, research it per this answer's suggestion, otherwise just do whatever you were going to do.
    – user18072
    Jul 18, 2014 at 16:45
  • @djechilin You're not getting my point. This answer focusses on whether it is feasible to appeal someone else's grade. I am only saying that it is feasible. That doesn't answer my question of whether I should do it or not. Jul 18, 2014 at 16:47
  • 2
    I know that my school has a policy that forbids any grade (even a grade entered in error) from being revised to be lower after it's finalized. Jul 19, 2014 at 21:33

I would consider your situation from two perspectives:

  • From an ethical/moral standpoint: grades are by nature unfair, and mistakes in grading are common. Welcome to real life and live with it. Do you think Student X who got an A just because he was going to every TA office hour deserves it better? Do you think Student Y who got an A just because he used homework solutions from last year to optimize his homework grades deserves it better? What percentage of college students do you think cheat?.
  • From a personal gain maximization standpoint, you need to consider two points: 1) Will denouncing your colleague improve your GPA, change your rank or bring your some award? 2) Will denouncing your colleague negatively impact your network and/or perturb your learning experience?

In school, there are several goals:

  • focus on GPA/ranking/award/etc.
  • focus on learning.
  • focus on networking.
  • focus on partying.

Take action according to what your focus(es) is/are.

  • 1
    grades are by nature unfair — [citation needed]
    – JeffE
    Jul 19, 2014 at 12:03
  • 1
    The fact that a system cannot be perfect doesn't mean we have to enforce or swallow any unfairness. Democracy has its flaws, but still, corrupt politicians should be bring to justice.
    – Davidmh
    Jul 19, 2014 at 12:43
  • 1
    @Davidmh To me, mistakes in grading are part of the GPA game, just like referee mistakes are in football. I don't consider it as being corruption, unless you paid the TA or the referee. I would further add that in France where I grew up, I can't remember of any teacher who asked to notify them in case of a grading mistake had been made in favor of the student. In fact, many jokingly used to say that if a student submit a homework/exam for re-grading, the student should make sure that here doesn't lose point (i.e. that no mistake had been made in his favor). I guess they were been realistic. Jul 19, 2014 at 16:06
  • 1
    @JeffE Without entering into the debate around the grading system, let's constrain the statement by just saying that grades are noisy because in most situations graders are humans. Grading mistakes are part of the noise, from my perspective. Jul 19, 2014 at 16:15
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    @FranckDernoncourt the fact that they exist, and as any human factor, are not perfect, is not enough for me to justify to just throw my hands up and accept any error. Plus, in this case the clerk's error just adds on top of any human uncertainty of the grader.
    – Davidmh
    Jul 19, 2014 at 16:51

Besides the social and ethical issues raised by others, I might take a different, more diplomatic approach.

Personally, I'd tell the instructors about this mistake, and how I felt about it, but not give them specifics about who received the incorrect grade. There may also be a neutral party to help navigate this, such as an ombudsman, if that feels more comfortable

They may not care enough to find and fix the mistake, or if they do, you won't have directly betrayed your friend, and perhaps other mistakes will be corrected, to your credit. If you can earn the instructors appreciation, you may argue for some bonus points, or form a valuable relationship for the future.

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