In one course I got a lower than expected grade. If the professor wants, he can give me a non passing grade and this won't be on my transcript (non passing grades are not on our transcript). Of course I have to retake the course.

Many of our professors do it, but a few usually doesn't.

How I can polity ask him to give me a non passing grade?

  • 15
    Pretend the professor is a human being and ask politely.
    – Davidmh
    Feb 24, 2016 at 15:30
  • 2
    @Davidmh: lol, I like the "pretend".
    – MATH000
    Feb 24, 2016 at 15:30
  • You didn't specify a country (this might vary between cultures), but it happened to me in Germany that on an oral exam I got an ok grade but lower than how I usually did in classes of that topic. The professor told me he knows that I'm better than this, so he offered to give me a failing grade if I wanted (allowing me to retake the exam at the beginning of the next semester). So I guess it is normal for such things to occur, and if professors make offers such as this, then I guess they wouldn't find it strange if students asked for it.
    – vsz
    May 28, 2016 at 9:44

3 Answers 3


I cannot say I agree with the practice: students should be responsible to know what they're doing as regards their studies, which, among other things, implies that they must have a sense as to how well-prepared they are for an exam (and they should also bear the risk and the consequences of occasionally making a wrong assessment). By setting a grade-threshold and ask the professor to give a non-passing grade if the threshold is not reached, the student effectively sheds this burden of responsibility off him or herself.

That said, the usual practice is to ask such things before grading (for example if the exam is in paper and not electronic, students note that on the paper they hand in). Asking for it afterwards... well, if the professor is friendly to the practice, start by apologizing for not letting him know in advance and then ask what you want to ask.

But if the professor is not friendly to the practice, consider living with the consequences of a lower-than-expected grade in your transcript.

  • 5
    the usual practice is to ask such things before grading... There is a usual practice for this?
    – Kimball
    Feb 24, 2016 at 13:24
  • 2
    There is nothing wrong with asking politely. There is nothing unethical about retaking a course to improve your grade. It is up to the professor then to agree or not. No offense, but the fact that you disagree with this practice is irrelevant.
    – Alexandros
    Feb 24, 2016 at 13:48
  • 1
    @Kimball Indeed there is one. Feb 24, 2016 at 14:10
  • 3
    @Alexandros All institutions I know provide the option to improve the grade of a limited number of courses by retaking the course and/or the exam -and there is good reasons why the number is limited. Asking for a non-passing grade attempts to by-pass this policy. As for irrelevance of part of my answer, I don't see my contributions here as a customer-supplier relationship where the supplier has to provide only what the customer asks for. Please downvote my answer if you think that the part making an argument as to why the practice is questionable is not useful content here. Feb 24, 2016 at 14:18
  • 1
    @Alexandros The ethical issue isn't retaking a class for a better grade, it's altering a student's grade for administrative rather than academic purposes. This may be permitted at the OP's institution, but I've been at schools where this was expressly forbidden for professors.
    – Henry
    Feb 24, 2016 at 14:22

First, let's clarify the situation here. When you say "If the professor wants, he can give me a non passing grade [...]", do you mean that your institution has a specific policy that allows the professor to give you a non-passing grade at his discretion (based on a specific request from you, I assume) and without regard for your actual performance in the class? I would be very surprised if that were the case, but in the unlikely event that I'm wrong about this and there is such a policy, by all means go right ahead and ask (politely, while doing your best to pretend that the professor is human, as @Davidmh said in his funny comment).

In the more realistic case in which by "If the professor wants" you simply meant that the professor, being the person in charge, appears to you to have the authority to give you a failing grade, I would say that your interpretation of the situation is incorrect. Your request is unethical, and the professor actually has no right to give you any grade except the one that he/she thinks you deserve based on your performance in the class. Doing anything else would be dishonest and unethical. Think about it: what you are asking the professor to do is to

  1. lie
  2. breach the confidence of his employer, who pays him to assess your performance and output a grade that reflects his honest opinion of that performance, and
  3. to subvert the policies of the university, which, whether your professor agrees with them or not, were put in place by people who are in a decision-making authority and it is not his/her place to undermine, certainly not in such a surreptitious, dishonest way.

Given this, I am afraid that your request is highly inappropriate, and obviously there is no "good" way to make it. The policy that leads students to make such bizarre requests may or may not be a sensible one, and it would be appropriate if you wanted to ask the professor to help you fight it by, for example, writing a letter asking for an exception to the policy so that you can try to improve your grade in the class. But I don't see how you think it is even remotely reasonable to ask the professor to submit a dishonest grade. By the way, I had a student once make a similar request of me, and needless to say I refused, with the same reasoning as I explained above.

  • I've experienced something like this: at final exam, professor announced, "If you want an F in this class so that you can replace it in your GPA when you retake it, write 'I want an F' at the top of your paper and hand in the exam without any answers."
    – ff524
    Feb 25, 2016 at 5:27
  • @ff524 It sounds like in the situation you're describing, it's the blank exam notebook that would make the student "deserving" of an F and not the expression of a desire to get an F (which according to my logic shouldn't make any difference). I can see this making sense in a situation where a high performing student could theoretically qualify for a C or D even with a 0 on the final, but where knowing that the student wanted an F could be enough to justify honestly giving them one. In any case, my answer is referring to the very different scenario where the request is made after the final.
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 25, 2016 at 5:37
  • It's an example of a professor giving "a non-passing grade at his discretion (based on a specific request from you, I assume) and without regard for your actual performance in the class" (in this class the final exam was a relatively small part of overall grade, so you could pass the course with a zero on the final)
    – ff524
    Feb 25, 2016 at 5:40
  • @ff524 My ethical argument could allow some flexibility that lets a professor give an F in good faith to a student who got a 0 on the final exam and is specifically requesting an F. It's still an absurd situation that ideally should not exist - students should not be put in a situation where they ask for their grades to be artificially lowered, and professors should not be put in a situation where students make such requests of them. In any case I don't see too much of a problem with your professor's behavior, and also don't see it as inconsistent with anything I wrote in my answer.
    – Dan Romik
    Feb 25, 2016 at 6:11

Grading your work costs my time. I am not willing to give you a non-passing grade so that I can grade your exam again. Anyway, who cares about grades? The important thing is what you know, not what grades are entered in someplace.

  • 1
    If only that were actually the case.
    – StrongBad
    Feb 25, 2016 at 20:31
  • Anyway, who cares about grades? I'll have to give a -1 for this. By having any grade other than pass/fail is in itself proof that grades are important to someone, at least the person who wrote the regulations which define the grades. Also, while I agree that the 'knowing' part is important, as someone who tends to do the 'knowing' part OK and the 'getting good grades' part badly I must say that grades do close some doors.
    – AndrejaKo
    Feb 26, 2016 at 0:16

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