I'm enrolled in an honours philosophy program (taking premed prereqs and maths as electives), going into my fourth year. I had a 3.9 until today when I got my first B. I made a point of kicking the crap out of the final essay; Nevertheless, the TA crushed me on it. I received less than 60%.

I'm applying to med school in the fall. Given the way that the schools that I'm going to apply to weight the grades of applicants, that B is going to be considerably damaging to my application.

There are two phases in the univeristy's process for appealing a grade.

  1. Talk to the professor
  2. Appeal to the university for an independent evaluation.

To the best of my knowledge, independent reviews are usually kangaroo processes that just confirm the original decision. Fortunately, the university's process isn't the only way to resolve the problem. The TA, the professor, and the department head all could change the result.

I don't suspect the TA will change his opinion.

The professor is good friends with the TA. Generally, people tend to defend their friends when someone accuses them of making a mistake. Ultimately, if I appeal to the professor, no matter how I approach it, the appeal will amount to an accusation that her friend made a mistake. Accordingly, I don't believe that I would succeed if I were to do that. Moreover, if I were to appeal to the professor, she would need to justify her decision, and by doing so, would become convinced her TA got it right.

Accordingly, I see three ways I could go about it:

  1. Write the professor (I can't meet with her, I'm out of province this week, and need to contact her within seven days) and hope it works out (I'm pretty confident nothing will happen).

  2. Write the professor and, using all the tact I can muster, gently allude to the escalation process, and the fact that it would just be easier to give my essay a fair shake. I saw a lawyer use the 'it's just easier to say yes' approach with a judge once. It worked surprisingly well. Nevertheless, it's kind of a jackass thing to do, and could backfire if my tact fails me.

  3. Approach the department head: I'm in his good book. I first got to know him after he emailed me to talk about pursuing work in philosophical research. It was out of the blue, so I figure that's some sign that he'd like to see that happen. (I'd like to help solve some of the conceptual problems that predominate psychiatry.) He and I have spent about ~20 hours working one on one to solve some philosophical problems. I've done well in his classes. So, he knows I generally do good work and he seems to want to ensure things work out well. I suspect that he would doubt that the TA could justify giving me <60% on the essay. Perhaps he might suggest some way to fix the problem, or might offer an alternative if I can't fix it (e.g. 'Try this, and if it doesn't work, come back and talk to me.')

How can I effectively challenge the grade that I've received?

  • 8
    I hope that needing good grades for a medical school application aren't the sole reason you want to challenge your final grade? The impression I get is that students generally need a good coursework-related reason (e.g. "this essay isn't nearly as bad as the grader made it out to be, and I went to all the classes", or "there was a mistake in grading the final exam") for such things (unless the professor changes grades of their own accord).
    – user34009
    May 6, 2015 at 23:09
  • 4
    @Hal What exactly was the content of the comments? Presumably something more than "Overboard, -40%" in big red letters? I ask because if the TA gives even semi-plausible reasons for a such a grade, you're probably sunk. But if they don't, you probably have a legitimate appeal. I don't really understand what "overboard" means here.
    – Potato
    May 6, 2015 at 23:56
  • 5
    Also, whoever you talk to, I wouldn't approach the conversation as a "challenge," where you go in projecting the attitude you're entitled to a better grade (even if you are). I recommend leading with something along the lines of, "Hey, I'm confused about how this paper was graded. I don't understand why going 'overboard' is a negative thing, or why it merits such a large deduction. Could you explain this to me?" If the grade really is egregious, your department head should pick up on this fact pretty quickly and suggest you appeal.
    – Potato
    May 7, 2015 at 0:02
  • 6
    Also, you should probably go to the professor first, even if you later feel you need to go the head. The person who will eventually need to sign off on changing the grade is the professor, and I have a feeling they would be pretty annoyed if you went above their head without contacting them about the issue first. It seems the best approach is to talk to your professor and hope they see your side. Professors have considerable independence in assigning grades, and it seems unlikely the head could force them to change it even if they agree with you.
    – Potato
    May 7, 2015 at 0:10
  • 4
    For the other side of this question, see academia.stackexchange.com/questions/9014/…. I don't mean to be offensive, but that post and its answers may help you get a sense of issues that would face a professor considering such a request. May 7, 2015 at 0:49

2 Answers 2


I would go through the process set out by your university. Talk to the professor first. You don't have to phrase it as an attack on the TA. Just tell the professor that you feel the grade was too harsh, and you would like him or her to review it. If you feel that the professor doesn't fairly address your concerns, then take it to the department head, and perhaps ultimately to an independent review committee. Typically, in order to get a grade changed by a committee, you will have to show that there was an error in grading your paper or that your paper was not graded consistently with the other papers. If the TA graded everyone's papers harshly, then there's not much of a basis for a complaint. As was pointed out in the comments, if you go to the department head before you talk to the professor, the professor will likely be annoyed at being blindsided by an issue they were unaware of. Also faculty are given broad leeway in grading their classes as long as it is done consistently. Unless there is an egregious mistake and the faculty is uncooperative, it is not the department head's place to interfere, and they most likely will just leave it to the professor.


4) Write the professor and, in addition to asking that the grading be reviewed, ask whether there's any way you could tackle a piece of extra-credit work to show that the grade does not accurately reflect your mastery of the material.

It's your grade. Own it. Either a mistake was made, in which case a review should fix it unless there is active malice -- which you give no reason to believe --or your own evaluation of you work on the final if flawed and if you want a better grade you need to give some justification for deserving it. Volunteering for the latter may make the former moot.

You may be charged for the summer session if you take this approach. It sounds like you feel that cost would be justified.

Just be glad you don't have your heart set on becoming a veterinarian. From what I've heard, vet school is harder to get into than med school.

(Valid counter-arguments below. But I'm going to leave this up because I think that's worthwhile discussion.)

  • 10
    It's probably not a good idea to ask for extra-credit work. That just comes across as a naive, obviously grade-grubbing request to me. I've never heard of a professor assigning new extra-credit work at the conclusion of the semester.
    – Potato
    May 6, 2015 at 23:52
  • I'll take your word for. But I don't know of any other way to "fix" this which doesn't involve another undergrad term or two, if the grade turns out to have been fairly assigned.
    – keshlam
    May 7, 2015 at 0:12
  • (Hm. You can't down vote your own post either.)
    – keshlam
    May 7, 2015 at 0:15
  • 5
    @Potato: Indeed. At many universities, offering one student a special extra credit assignment would be considered unfair to all the other students, and have repercussions for the professor. May 7, 2015 at 0:52
  • @NateEldredge That's the case at my university. There are no special opportunities for individual students.
    – Hal
    May 7, 2015 at 1:41

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