I am currently in an anatomy class and had an issue. I and three other students worked on an 18 page packet together. We had the same answers since we worked on it as a group.

However, two of us received a 35/50, one of us had a 50/50 and the other had a 30/50. When we asked the teacher why we got different grades, we were scolded for sharing grades with each other and told we were not allowed to.

I can't seem to find this anywhere in our welcome packet or any paperwork and I was wondering, are we really not allowed to tell other students our own grades?

  • 34
    On what country, college happend?, I lived in 4 countries and never heard of something like that. On the US some colleges have a policy of not sharing to employers the grades but not between students.
    – Saikios
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 20:39
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    And I have ever heard of this either. I was under he impression it is my grade- basically I "own" it and if I want to share it with another student I should be free to do so. However if that's not the case I wanted to know. Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 21:29
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    Probably a misunderstanding of FERPA: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_Educational_Rights_and_Privacy_Act . I'm not a laywer, but my interpretation is that the institution isn't allowed to share, you can do whatever you want with your grade... Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 21:59
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    All your answers may have been the same, but perhaps the quality of work still differed – particularly for an 18-page assignment. (Many professors will emphasize the "show your work" part of an answer at least as much as the final result, if not more so.)
    – J.R.
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 22:06
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    If your answers are equivalent, it is the problem of the lecturer's quality control. They cannot punish you for you having found out a "bug". This is not like salary where everyone negotiates for themselves, there needs to be at least a reasonable push at mark consistency. In a properly run institution, you should have the option to reveal your marks to whoever you want and, as consequence be able to point out potential inconsistencies in marking. The lecturers will have to argue why the marks are different, so expect them to have a response. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 1:48

7 Answers 7


I have a lifetime of experience in academia in the US, and in all of my experience your instructor's claim is completely without merit. There is no regulation or cultural norm that requires students to keep their grades confidential from other students. Moreover, comparing assignments or exams for learning purposes and/or to confirm that the grades have been assigned fairly is a very common practice among American students: at any American institution I would assume students have a "right" to do so unless given explicit information to the contrary.

So, bottom line: there is a very good chance that what the instructor has told you is bogus. What should you do about it? I would begin by politely asking your instructor whether there is any written confidentiality agreement that you are subject to. If he says yes: good to know! If he says no: I would seek aid from someone at your institution. Good places to start are (i) your faculty advisor or (ii) your student ombudsperson. Eventually you may want to speak to the department head and/or the relevant dean, but I would proceed carefully and get as much advice as possible rather than escalate too quickly. It is very likely that you are in the right here, as others should recognize without your needing to press too hard or further antagonize your instructor. (Someone at an American institution who says this to a student is likely to be well towards the "unreasonable" end of the spectrum, so I would try not to hand them an excuse to retaliate against you.)

Good luck.

  • 60
    I agree that the instructor is almost certainly wrong here. But, absent more details, I'm inclined to give the instructor more benefit of the doubt and guess that they are not so much unreasonable as confused. Some institutions make a very big fuss to instructors about confidentiality of grades (my institution has sent several such almost threatening messages to faculty recently), and an inexperienced instructor may get the mistaken impression that even the students themselves are not allowed to reveal their grades. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 2:02
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    @Mark: Thanks for your comment. It is certainly possible that the instructor is just (very, very!) confused. If so, then while checking up on the polite inquiry about written confidentiality agreements, the instructor will presumably learn that he is misinformed. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 3:02
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    @MarkMeckes An interesting detail, especially since the 'spirit behind the law' would seem to be as the OP hints on in passing: the grade belongs to the student (as part of their personal information I'd say) and they are generally speaking the main legal entity with the right to decide who does and does not learn of that grade. Still, as a third party we cannot be aware of all the factors that go into the grade. If it's just the paper being graded on its merits alone, differing grades make no sense, but for all we know the grade also contains a factor rating the student's homework up to then.
    – Cronax
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 7:56
  • @Cronax all the more reason why the teacher giving the students a meaningful explanation would have been a good thing. I figure this is all part of the general gist of the academic marking I'm familiar with: we expect (at least in the STEM disciplines) to be marked in just and consistent ways, and clear marking schemes and the ability to compare marks go a long way to accomplishing this.
    – Mathieu K.
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 8:27
  • @MathieuK. I certainly agree that the teacher should be giving the students a meaningful explanation of the grading process, ideally beforehand rather than when the grade is dealt out. I was simply trying to show that while it seems that the instructor has a flawed grading process, we don't have the required information to determine that as fact.
    – Cronax
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 11:30

There may be absurd non-disclosure agreements who-knows-where, but I would consider such a ban a violation of my rights. This raises the suspicion that they have a problem with marking consistency and wish this not to be exposed.

However, it may be that your submissions are indeed of varying quality, despite you having worked together, so be prepared for a response, but a response you deserve.

Finally, take into account that they might cite you for collusion if you insist on a very similar submission quality.

As for the comparison with salary, this is quite a different issue: different people may negotiate different salaries for similar work and that may be considered part of the skill gradient of the worker/employer coupling; introducing a comparison may, however, damage work relations; some countries, however, have transparency, so the attitude to this is country-dependent. Whereas marks are supposed to focus exclusively on the quality of the particular work, everywhere in the world, at least in principle.

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    @CaptainEmacs, actually the comparison with salary is not so inappropriate. So-called pay secrecy policies are mostly illegal in the U.S.; see here and here. Also I completely disagree with your rationalization of why imposing pay secrecy may be legitimate. Yes, it is legal in some countries, but it is immoral everywhere, just some countries haven't gotten around to fighting it yet (and even the U.S. still has pretty far to go).
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 4:27
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    We encountered a similar situation in academia. There was an assessible presentation by groups of 4 & when the results were published (by posting on a noticeboard) the highest score was given to a group that had made an incomprehensible presentation. When challenged, the academics explained that they needed the revenue from overseas students, & they'd be returning to their homes & wouldn't be competing for jobs. One of a number of incidents. Sadly, x% must pass or the course loses funding for being too hard. y% of those passing must be in w demographic group or there's discrimination, etc.
    – Magoo
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 7:17
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    @DanRomik I agree completely that salary secrecy policies should not be legal. However, as an employee, good luck to you if you share your higher salary numbers with your less fortunate colleagues, who attempt then to use this in negotiations and you nevertheless hope for salary increases in the future. Legal does not mean practical or wise. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 9:40
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    @CaptainEmacs thanks for agreeing with me, but if you agree then you should delete or modify the last paragraph of your answer, which sends a completely different message than "I agree completely that salary secrecy policies should not be legal." What you wrote in your answer sure makes it sound like you don't completely agree and are actually excusing or rationalizing retaliation by employers against employees who "damage work relations" by talking about their salaries. ...
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 16:41
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    ... You also implied that employees who don't possess "the skill gradient of the worker/employer coupling" (which I understand as code for "not good at aggressively negotiating a higher salary") deserve the lower salary they will be paid even if negotiation skills have nothing to do with their job description. So I'm sorry but I don't see how you can claim to agree with me that pay secrecy should be illegal when you're saying something else that's completely inconsistent with that position.
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 16:42

I don't know of any university in the U.S. that does not allow students to share grades. I would not worry about sharing grades. No university in the U.S. (or probably anywhere) would make such a stupid, unenforceable rule.

What to do next assignment

While its not unethical, don't continue to let the prof or his TAs know you're sharing grades. When you have questions about grading next time ask.

Could you explain what changes I would have to make to receive full credit. I'm not asking for a re-submission, I just want to know the best way to answer the questions next time.

Also, if this grade is the difference between pass/fail for you, you can usually contest the grade, and use the other grades as proof. Be warned though, doing this is likely to cause retaliatory behavior from the prof (which would be unethical). This is the nuclear option, so use it as a last resort.

  • It's also interesting from within the perspective of learning the material. I'd get with the other students and try to figure out what about those answers is possibly wrong. If you can't figure it out, then the students with those marked wrong could individually talk to the teacher and ask him to explain what was wrong about those answers. That would help complete understanding what the issue is, or, if the marking was a mistake, get you appropriate credit.
    – Dronz
    Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 22:57
  • @dronz yes we had thought to compare answers directly from the graded paper however- our teacher refuses to return the packets we did and just posted a grade in our online account system through our college. We still have no idea what was wrong out of the entire assignment to have warranted such a grade. Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 1:43
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    @IsaacFields That sounds like a broken situation to me. There's no way to learn from mistakes if you can't see which answers were wrong, and then one is grade 100% and others 70% and 60% for the same answers, that all seems to add up to teacher error and/or maleducation or incompetence.
    – Dronz
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 18:12

That sounds absolutely absurd.

If you are banned from sharing the grades, checks on legitimacy of the academic system, teacher, class can't be confirmed. Sharing grades in my view is one of the most fundamental checks and rights of a student by any common sense. If it is banned legally in your specific case I highly doubt but yeah i can't really comment on that I'd say.


Working in higher ed, I'd have to say this comes off as a professor who either is doing lazy grading (unfortunately common), or who's letting their opinion of the students affect their grading, even if unconsciously.

To the issue of saying you can't inform other students of your grades; that is completely false. I have never heard of an institution having this policy. Perhaps mention to the professor that you do not believe this is a policy of the school, and if they continue to insist on it speak with your advisor or possibly that department head depending on who you're closer to (I know that at my university I worked much more closely with my major's dept. head than my academic advisor).


I would have to point out that grading is not and never will be entirely fair. I understand that this goes against the generally accepted truth, that grades are or should be entirely objective.

They can not really be. There are so many factors at play. For example: I made a few tests about this and secretly submitted two, as near as possible, identical exam answers on several occasions(I was in a position to arrange this and neither actually gave anybody a real mark just to test). The only difference in these papers was the style of the handwriting. I would expect there to be a fluctuation. But the fluctuation is about twice as large as I expect when I use a good handwritten style versus a poorer one.

Simply everything matters making some statement even slightly different can lead the grader to wonder about whether it is the right answer.

But in general because of this I am always open for a discussion on the grade. And it seems weird that you couldn't compare, in fact it is in students interests to do so. It is not possible to be infallible. So I expect people to come forward with these things, but in general they do not.

Anyway, the 30-35 difference sounds well within error margins and the 50 sounds like an error to me. Are you really interested in dropping the grade of the wrongly marked one? Most likely in this case the end result is the same as now as the damage is minimal.

  • It is trivial to devise a "fair"grading system. One of my profs announced at the beginning of the term that his grading system was "everyone gets an A." This is also the grading system I used when I taught classes. It has its pluses and minuses. It is useless for comparing students. But it is absolutely and totally fair.
    – emory
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 21:50
  • @emory ive used that approach. Ive also used one based on attendance. But in general there is allways noise and bias if you try to measure the quality of learning.
    – joojaa
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 6:55

Just wanted to throw in my .02:

Whether your professor is correct depends on two things: 1) As others have stated, college/university policy. 2) The legality of said policy. In the United States, any attempt by a public college to regulate the speech of its students is technically illegal, as such colleges are government entities. Private colleges are another matter.

  • You might want to quote sources / elaborate on the reasons why there would be such a difference between pubic and private colleges.
    – Chris
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 3:33
  • I do not believe the public/private distinction is true. (1) Most private universities do receive public money; (2) Most public universities are underfunded and need to seek alternative revenue; (3) if the commandant of the United States Military Academy announced grades were a military secret, cadets sharing grades could be court-martialled.
    – emory
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 21:47
  • @emory: Military academy would probably be a different beast. I'm not well versed with military law (or, really, law in general), but I would imagine that in that instance the government has established what amounts to an employer-employee relationship. If you're in the academy, my understanding is that you have a legal agreement that you will work for the military for a certain period of time following your time in the academy.
    – moonman239
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 6:08

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