I'm currently taking a required class where attendance is counted at 15% of the grade. The policy is that if a student misses more than 2 lectures, they lose all 15% of those points. The class itself takes place 5 days a week, and attendance is taken daily and uniformly. I currently hold a 91% in this class, but I missed my third class today and I'm trying to decide how to proceed from here. I feel like all of the time and effort I've put into the class has been totally discounted for a reason that has nothing to do with my knowledge of the course material.

Am I wrong to feel as though this is an unfair mark? On one hand, I knew that this policy existed and the consequences for missing 3 classes. On the other hand, dropping a grade from an A to a C for such a small reason feels absolutely unacceptable to me. How should I approach this situation to help repair my grade?

  • 21
    This is a reasonable question to ask your instructor. I'm not sure how strangers on the Internet can help, though.
    – ff524
    Mar 28, 2016 at 20:50
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    Were your absences due to circumstances clearly beyond your control (illness, death in family, etc), and do you have documentation to confirm this? If so, you might be able to argue that you should be allowed to make up those points somehow. If not, I don't think you have much chance. Attendance policies like this are fairly common in academia and I don't think higher administrators are likely to think the policy is unfair. Mar 28, 2016 at 20:53
  • 11
    Unreasonable? Maybe. Unfair? Certainly not, as long as it's the same attendance policy for everyone.
    – user37208
    Mar 28, 2016 at 21:12
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    To look at it another way, the time and effort you've put into the class has not been "totally discounted", by any means; it's the reason your grade is now 76%, instead of something even lower. Mar 28, 2016 at 21:18
  • 4
    @Superbest: It's completely possible that OP could have gotten a C on exams with only 2 hours of study per week, but requires 20 to get an A. In this case, 90% of his effort is cancelled out by the attendance policy.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 29, 2016 at 1:50

5 Answers 5


You do not currently hold a 91%. You may have held a 91% percent yesterday, but now you hold a 76%.

Am I wrong to feel as though this is an unfair mark?

Given that you knew the policy in advance and the teacher seems to have been consistent in taking attendance, you seem to have no logical reason to feel the mark is unfair.

You state that attendance is a "small reason", but for whatever reason the teacher feels is is a big reason (15% to be exact). If you felt that the grading policy was unfair, you should have discussed this at the beginning of the semester, not after missing 3 classes.

Realistically, the only thing you can do now is beg (aka grade grub). Your mileage may vary, but most professors do not look kindly on grade grubbing. It is important to realize that to an outside, the policy seems fair. For example, in a typical US semesters of around 17 weeks each class accounts for between 1-2% of the taught material. Further, missing a class likely means you are not at the right point in further classes so each absence is like missing 2-4% of taught material. That sets a minimum of 6-12% of missed material for 3 absences. Multiple absences probably means you have missed even more material. In other words, without knowing the specifics of the class, a penalty of 15% for 3 absences seems reasonable.

  • 7
    +1 "Knew policy from day 1" is a big issue to start. Even bigger issue: you challenge the policy and attendance shows everyone else is getting along just fine. Lesson learned: Come to class.
    – CKM
    Mar 28, 2016 at 21:02
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    It used to be the case in continental Europe that attendance was not compulsory and students were expected to take responsibility for their progress. With the increasing streamlining of studies what happens is that students start complaining about this and that, low marks, and when one checks attendance sheets one finds they haven't even attended and nevertheless complain about low marks. I suspect OP is victim of past generations of students making life unreasonably hard to their lecturers. Maybe he "punisheth the just with the unjust", but you had the option of attending, and didn't. Mar 28, 2016 at 22:54
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    If you miss 15% of the material, that would be reflected in the exam grade. If the student is able to get that material through some other means, then he hasn't actually missed out on 15% of the material. The fact that he has missed some material doesn't seem like a reason to automatically lower the grade (and I doubt that's the reason the policy was put in place to begin with) since it will already be lowered on the exam. The professor must think absences are more important for some other reason.
    – Daniel
    Mar 29, 2016 at 4:25
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    @Bakuriu Indeed, I personally believe that compulsory attendance is not worthy of an academia. On the other hand, academia increasingly has to sort out things that used to be handled in schools (childish behaviour, disrespect, mobile use etc, and yes, it has measurably changed, it's not just a "good ole' times" effect), so I am not surprised that school-like rules are being introduced in academia. That being said, most of the time my own experience is that if you as a lecturer radiate the message that you consider your students to be responsible adults, they will respond as responsible adults. Mar 29, 2016 at 9:15
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    @Kimball Of course, it goes without saying that you have to establish some "good ole' school"-type rules of engagement immediately at the beginning. You'd be surprised how far that goes, as long as you communicate how they are fair in intent and make sure they are consistent in execution. Mar 29, 2016 at 15:12

Am I wrong to feel as though this is an unfair mark?

Yes. You only concluded it was unfair once it applied to you. Prior to this moment, you accepted it as reasonable. Since the "fairness" never changed, then only your perception of it has changed, and only that once your circumstances did.

How should I approach this situation to help repair my grade?

First, focus on getting exceptional grades for the rest of the class. You apparently already lost 9% (over one third of your total loss so far). You may or may not be able to affect the lost 15%, but you still have the rest of the semester and a lot more to lose if you don't renew your focus on your work.

Second, discuss this with the teacher. I advise you to 1) not suggest that it's unfair and 2) don't ask for a reprieve. Instead ask it as though you accept the penalty, but would like to see if there's anything you can do - extra credit, an additional paper covering the subject discussed on the days missed, etc - which the teacher could take into account when finalizing grades.

By accepting the penalty and not suggesting it's unfair, you are showing that you are responsible, and that you don't want to erase the penalty, you want to prove to the teacher that you are interested, engaged, and willing to work harder to show your effort.

This should allow the teacher to avoid being put on the defensive, and they may open up paths for you to take that will help you recover some of the loss the penalty cost you.

Humility and patience will often work better than accusations and whining.

  • 6
    "extra credit, an additional paper covering the subject discussed on the days missed, etc": Bear in mind that if such an option is possible, it should be disclosed in the course syllabus, so that all students are aware of it. You can still ask, in case there is some opportunity you missed. But if the professor invented a grade-improvement opportunity just for you, that really would be unfair - you'll want to ask in a way that makes it clear you are not requesting special treatment. Mar 29, 2016 at 3:36
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    it really varies from professor to professor. I got an A from a German prof, although I rarely if ever went through the AV sessions that he assigned. He told me at the end of the semester that since my accent was quite good he didn't see me as needing the AV sessions, and didn't discount my grade for not attending. You might ask the prof if he's willing to cut a break to students who ace the final or whatever. If he's willing to do the same thing for all the students, it's not really unfair.
    – BobRodes
    Mar 29, 2016 at 6:13
  • @NateEldredge we don't know any details about the situation. Perhaps it's a three month class with only one class per week, and three absences is truly significant. Perhaps it's simply a professor that wants to discourage absences but in reality never actually takes that penalty. Unfortunately life isn't fair, and the syllabus doesn't always have every little thing spelled out. Asking won't hurt, as long as one does so with respect and humility. I've seen many situations where leeway is granted to those who put forth effort despite prior assurances that none would be given. It's worth a try.
    – Adam Davis
    Mar 29, 2016 at 11:35
  • That said, I much prefer professors that put all grade information in the syllabus and stick to it. Those that provide off-syllabus help make it harder because they create student expectations that may cause both students and professors difficulty later. The students feel like everything should be challenged, and the professors end up turning everyone down, even when there is a hardship, simply because it's become too common for students to believe the syllabus is only part of the story. We simply can't assume, however, that this is the type of professor they are dealing with in this case.
    – Adam Davis
    Mar 29, 2016 at 11:39

Am I wrong to feel as though this is an unfair mark?

In my opinion, no, you are not wrong. Furthermore, the arguments that "since you knew about the policy to begin with you don't have a leg to stand on", and that "since the policy applies equally to all students it cannot be claimed to be unfair", are simply invalid and miss a key point (which I'll address at the end) about where the unfairness comes from. Let's examine these two superficially compelling arguments more closely.

  1. "You knew about the policy"

    You yourself say:

    On one hand, I knew that this policy existed and the consequences for missing 3 classes

    and StrongBad in his/her answer says

    Given that you knew the policy in advance and the teacher seems to have been consistent in taking attendance, you seem to have no logical reason to feel the mark is unfair.

    a sentiment that is also echoed in some of the comments.

    To this I would reply: if the policy was unfair at the beginning of the semester, it is still unfair now. Conversely, if it was in fact fair to begin with, it would still be fair now. Why on earth should it matter when you come forward to complain about the unfairness? It actually makes a lot of sense to me that you, being a busy student with many things to worry about, would not devote much time and energy to thinking about (or even noticing) this unfairness and thinking what to do about it until you found yourself in a situation where you saw yourself personally harmed by it.

    So yes, perhaps it would be more commendable if you had the foresight to step forward at the beginning of the semester and complain about what seemed like an unfair policy, either out of concern that it would hurt you personally, or out of an altruistic concern that some other student might be hurt. So what? That does not change the fact that the logical question regarding the fairness or unfairness of the policy has nothing whatsoever to do with the timing of the complaint.

    Note that I do agree with the that from a practical point of view, complaining now certainly stands less of a chance of achieving anything, but the point is that that's not because the policy has stopped being unfair (if indeed it was unfair to begin with).

  2. "The policy applies equally to all students"

    This argument was raised by @user37208, who says in a highly upvoted comment:

    Unreasonable? Maybe. Unfair? Certainly not, as long as it's the same attendance policy for everyone.

    But this argument compares you to the reference group of the other students in your class. What about all the other students all around the world who have more reasonable instructors who do not penalize their students so severely for missing three lectures in a semester? If we assume the premise that such a grading policy is simply a poor way to evaluate someone's knowledge of the material the course is designed to teach, then by comparing yourself to this much larger reference group (or even focusing on a smaller group of students in your country or region who would be competing with you for jobs, or even just students in your university who took the same course but with different instructors who had more sensible grading policies), clearly you would have pretty good cause to find yourself discriminated against based on what you see as an irrelevant grading criterion.

    We can further illustrate the falseness of the "applies equally" argument by taking the same argument to an absurd extreme. What if the grading policy said that 15% of the grade would be given for the ability to recite the first 10000 digits of pi? (Let's assume that memorizing those digits was not one of the goals of the class, which seems like a fair assumption.) And let's assume that all the students except the OP managed to perform this feat and got the 15%, and he alone failed. Well, the policy was the same for everyone, so it is "maybe unreasonable" but "certainly not unfair" - right? Clearly that's nonsense, because the point is that (as I explained above) such a policy is grading based on completely irrelevant information, and hence discriminates against the OP compared to all other students everywhere who are evaluated on their knowledge of the same material as covered by the course.

Now, I still need to explain why the policy is unfair (I only explained so far why two specific arguments saying it is not unfair are incorrect). In fact, that is somewhat more debatable, since grading for attendance is clearly more commonplace and at least slightly more logical than grading for one's ability to memorize digits of pi. Nonetheless, I think ultimately it comes down to the question of whether the grading policy, however well-intentioned it may be, is evaluating you for the right things, or for anything valuable at all, so that the grade will contain at least some minimally informative value about you to future employers or decision-makers. I argue that it simply doesn't, and hence is just as silly as the digits-of-pi policy in my example.

The bottom line is that you have missed three of the course lectures. I don't know why you missed them, but one would be hard-pressed to convincingly argue that that says anything negative about you whatsoever. When I was a student there were many courses in which I missed such a number of lectures, and I did just great and am now a successful academic (and am probably considered an expert on some of the subjects those courses I missed lectures in were about...). Many of my students today are making equally reasonable and good decisions about when they want to come to class and when not to. They are grown-ups, and are using their time at university to acquire not just concrete knowledge but also to learn productivity and work skills, which include developing the judgment and self-knowledge to be able to make those sorts of decisions. Occasionally they make mistakes and learn from them. This is precisely as it should be. On my part, I give them exams and other assignments to learn whether they learned the material. Again, this is precisely as it should be. Nowhere in the process does it make sense for me to abuse my grading authority by requiring them to learn in a specific way, whether it be to do their homework between 8:17 p.m. and 9:44 p.m. every night (which I'm sure everyone reading this would agree would be outrageous and unreasonable) or to sit on a chair in a specific room in specific hours of specific weekdays.

Finally, this answer is already too long, but let me briefly address your other, more practical question:

How should I approach this situation to help repair my grade?

The other answers already addressed this. I share their somewhat pessimistic view that in practice there's not a whole lot you can or should do. In any case, since the main part of your question was about the principle of whether you're reasonable to feel that you are being treated unfairly, I thought it would at least make you feel a bit better to have someone agree with you and give a reasoned answer. My recommendation is to treat this as a learning experience and hopefully show your instructor through your excellent performance (and even more importantly, show yourself) that you indeed mastered the material, which is the main thing that counts.

  • 1
    Agreed w/ last comment. Though I favor knowledge assessments, other approaches may have a place, so aren't necessarily wrong. Your answer said "I don't know why you missed them, but one would be hard-pressed to convincingly argue that that says anything negative about you whatsoever." Well, it says the student did not meet the criteria demanded by the instructor. Many businesses have supervisors demand attendance, so a person unable to fulfill the required criteria would fare poorly. You seem to be arguing that the evaluation of a student should not reflect this aspect of real world.
    – TOOGAM
    Mar 29, 2016 at 6:56
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    @TOOGAM the problem is that your "be able to follow instructions" argument (also brought up by others in @Superbest's follow-up question) also applies to things like my memorizing pi example. Treating grading as a game whose purpose is for students to prove that they are capable of performing completely meaningless and counterproductive tasks is counter to the spirit and purpose of a university. The goal of universities is absolutely not to teach blind obedience to arbitrary commands.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 29, 2016 at 7:10
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    @TOOGAM to expand on my previous comment, there are many aspects of the real world that a university does not and should not seek to emulate. E.g., there are bosses who are mean and abusive to their employees - should some professors be deliberately mean and abusive to their students to "toughen them up"? There are workplaces with Machiavellian political machinations and un-meritocratic advancement policies, should a university simulate that with some cleverly designed grading policy as well? Etc. Bottom line: this argument about attendance is simply spurious.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 29, 2016 at 7:22
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    I recall a corp's pro trainer training about abusive customers. He stood next to a trainee and raised his voice. Co-workers were sympathetic at the relatively smaller woman who took that from the larger man. Is this desirable? Fact is, the trainee went on to work, to take phone calls from many irate people mad about their bill. The training may have been useful for the experiences she had later in the field. I believe different edu institutions have different goals. Even if undesirable, I find it true. To my dismay, your bolded sentence didn't match much of my university training.
    – TOOGAM
    Mar 29, 2016 at 7:57
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    @Alexandros seriously? Pointing out an injustice is the same as "whining, [...] kissing the behinds of professors or requiring special treatment"? That's a truly bizarre point of view, but you are entitled to your opinion. In any case, note that my answer simply argues that the policy is unfair and does not advocate any specific action (in fact at the end I advocate accepting that the grade probably cannot be changed and learning from the experience), so the anti-whining reasons you cite for your downvote have little connection to what I actually wrote. Thanks for your feedback anyway.
    – Dan Romik
    Mar 29, 2016 at 14:17

Given the asymmetric power dynamic of instructor-student relationships, your routes for recourse are limited. As StrongBad mentioned, you are basically at the "mercy" of the instructor. Though, I would not go so far as to call this "grade grubbing" if you have a rational explanation for your decision making and/or if you think you can challenge the underlying assumptions for the attendance requirement. Here are my thoughts:

If the purpose of the attendance requirement is to make sure you learn material from the lectures and to test this, the course makes use of homework and exams; I would challenge the value of mandating attendance if you are able to complete the knowledge assessments with 91% ability.

If the attendance requirement is about in-class participation; I would challenge the value of removing 15% of the grade for two missed classes. It would be more equitable, in my opinion, to proportionally decrease the 15% based on the fraction of attendance vs total participation course days. For example, if there were 90 days of instruction, and you missed 2, your grade value for "attendance" would be 88/90 * 15%. I quote "attendance" because at this point, it would be more appropriate to call this participation.

To the "well, you knew this going into the course" point some people are making, I would balance this against a few factors:

  1. Were there other offerings for the same course by different instructors?
  2. If so, did those instructors offer a different "attendance" policy?
  3. If not, could you have taken this course another semester from a different instructor with a different policy?

If not, I do not believe it is fair to blame you (or a student in general) for ending up in this situation. As mentioned above, the instructor-student power relationship is not symmetric. For an example in another area of life: the landlord-tenant relationship shares a similar power dynamic. Given a person looking for housing is usually in such a disadvantaged position when compared to the person who has excess housing to rent, traditionally landlords are able to request unreasonable requirements of those renting. We have created laws to put limits on these requirements to protect those in such a disadvantaged position. The instructor-student relationship is not much different: especially if the above three alternative options do not exist.

In my time in education systems (K-12, Undergraduate, and Graduate), where I have both learned and taught, I have seen many cases of completely unreasonable grading policies adopted by instructors. Many based on good intentions who's net effects were unreasonably burdensome: sometimes to all students, sometimes only to a few. In my opinion, it behoves us as educators to focus on the root value of our grading policies: do they measure what we are intending, are they balanced, do they take into consideration how many people come to class with different world-views? This isn't to say we should have no rules (or complete open rules), but from what I have seen, attendance requirements are rarely needed and are frequently unfair to students who are otherwise capable of learning the material but who have different day-to-day life demands.

From this perspective, I can completely see where you are coming from. However, outside of trying to use reason with your instructor, a route I have seen fail for many, I'm afraid you may be out of luck. Though, as a last resort, you could always approach the department chair or dean if you feel they may be sympathetic to your situation.

  • A syllabus, or even better a learning contract, sets out the rules. Students have the right to not agree, but once the drop period ends, they are committed.
    – StrongBad
    Mar 29, 2016 at 1:05
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    I can see strong principled objections to the grading policy, but the student should have objected at the start of the class, not waited until after accumulating three absences. It would be very difficult to fairly change the system in mid-course. Mar 29, 2016 at 1:05
  • @PatriciaShanahan, I agree, changing mid-course is difficult. Not that it isn't done, especially if the instructor feels like the current system is unfair or somehow biased for some previously unforeseen reason. Sadly, if the objective of grading is measuring what a student knows, this policy will fall short for this student. I suppose this will "teach" the student a lesson, but with the intense value we place on grades, it seems like a costly one.
    – Damian
    Mar 29, 2016 at 3:25

"I feel like all of the time and effort I've put into the class has been totally discounted for a reason that has nothing to do with my knowledge of the course material."

Yes, it has been discounted. And, yes, the reason for that discount has nothing to do with your knowledge of the course material.

"Am I wrong to feel as though this is an unfair mark?"

Whether it is fair, or not, may be a quite highly subjective question where people may be very opinionated. Regarding whether you have a right to feel certain emotions: you may.

"dropping a grade [such a large amount] small reason feels absolutely unacceptable to me"

Again, you're welcome to feel however you like. However, such a requirement was probably not created for the purpose of being popular with students. So, frankly, you aren't expected to feel like this is acceptable. However, this is likely beyond your power.

"How should I approach this situation to help repair my grade?"

First, don't just try to figure out how to proceed, based only on your desire to reach a certain end result. Before going through the effort and dealing with the stress of even trying, make sure you're understanding your situation and what your likely obstacles are. Before looking further at "how should" you proceed (which is what you actually did ask), first consider looking at: should you proceed?

Realize that you may not be able to get the desired adjustment, and that may be due to circumstances beyond your control. Circumstances may even be beyond your instructor's control. This academdia.stackexchange.com question (that is being looked at right now) seems to have spawned another question, “Why do some instructors care so much about attendance?” Some information on that question may describe some of the position that your instructor may be dealing with. (Specifically, the information I added to my own answer discusses why the instructor might not even have some flexibility in this matter.)

Then, if you decide you wish to proceed, affecting your grade will need to be done by someone with the proper power to do so. Most likely your instructor will be involved. If you wish to have the college take action based on your instructor being unreasonable, then you might need to involve some other part of the college's administration. That may result in some other staff getting the instructor's perspective. So, don't expect that this is going to happen without your instructor finding out.

Start by determining why you missed class, and whether any of those reasons seem rather justifiable. (In other words, were were they caused by some sort of officially-backable causes, like a medical reason tied to a doctor's note?)

Check official writings, especially including your class's syllabus but also your college catalog, for details about attendance policies and final grades and how you may be able to challenge undesired results. There might already be policy. If so, that policy probably will need to be followed. The policy might be very favorable or very unfavorable. The only way to know is to look up what policies exist.

Once you understand the process as best as you easily can (at the start of the process), come up with the best arguments that you can, so you have the best knowledge you can imagine. You may be tempted to feel empowered by seemingly-compelling logic of your own favorable arguments. That may temporarily be okay, in your effort to get yourself as prepared as possible.

After all that is done, prepare to approach the situation humbly. Start by contacting the instructor to see if mercy is available, or some other recourse (like if the instructor has a pre-designed way to achieve some lost points). Going through the instructor is most likely to be the easiest route.

Alternatives may be more troublesome, which could unnecessarily add workload (to yourself, to the instructor, and to other staff) and may even be a bit offensive, particularly if you didn't even bother to go through the expected common process of trying to work it out with the instructor first. If the results of contacting the instructor did not go as you had hoped, consider whether you wish to just accept this as a costly learning experience (many learning experiences do have costs), or if you wish to pursue some other alternative. (This is where you need to check into the policies of your "student catalog", if such policies exist.) If you can't find any such policies, consider contacting a department head, and/or a college dean. A friendly receptionist might also have some advice about what other resources may be available.

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