Let say you a professor and there are lots of students, say 100 in your course. After the exam, a student whose final mark is, say 85/100, sends you an email to ask you for a recommendation letter. Assuming that you don't know him, or just remember that he went to your lecture some times (of course you can check his mark). Will you write a recommendation letter for him?

marked as duplicate by Community Nov 26 '16 at 17:59

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    What would you write in such a letter? "To whom it may concern: Jane earned 85/100 in my Intermediate Basket Weaving course. Sincerely, Professor ff524." That's not going to help Jane get accepted to graduate school. – ff524 Nov 25 '16 at 10:02
  • How difficult was it to get 85/100? What do students have to be able to cope with for this? – Captain Emacs Nov 25 '16 at 11:34
  • @CaptainEmacs: It's actually a graduate math course and reputably difficult to get high mark, I guess less than 10% of students. So, hard working is not enough. – SiXUlm Nov 25 '16 at 14:28
  • Well, then you can make that statement to clarify what the mark means. The whole point is that 85/100 means very little without context. Give context and, even if you do not know the student, you know more or less what needs to be achieved to get to that level. – Captain Emacs Nov 25 '16 at 16:26

As ff524 said, if the professor has only the grade to go on, there is little to write an recommendation letter about. The only situation I an think of where this would be very relevant is:

  1. if the course is an essential test for further studies. Doing an American undergraduate with a mathematics major might only have a few courses that are really challenging your abstract thinking skills. Doing well in those courses might be a good predictor of doing well in further studies.
  2. there were other students that got similar scores in that course and went on to do well in further studies. Best case scenario: last year the same university accepted a student who got an 80-84 in this course.

So both the course needs to be very relevant for the further studies you are considering and the grade itself should be high enough as to clearly predict success in those further studies. If either is not the case (the course is one of many, or your grade is just not exceptional), the professor simply can't write a good recommendation letter, regardless of how willing (s)he would be.

  • your second situation sounds reasonable. But in that case, what could that professor write?, or just like ff524 said? – SiXUlm Nov 25 '16 at 14:25
  • What ff524 wrote. Or just tell you that they can't write you a recommendation letter as described above – dimpol Nov 25 '16 at 14:47

I can identify three scenarios.

The first is that the student's 85 is in the "middle" of the class, and there was nothing else memorable about the student's performance. There is no reason for the professor to "know" this student or write a recommendation.

The second is that the student got a 95 (or better) and was the top student in the class. Here, the professor is likely to know him or her, and could write a good recommendation. (I once got a 98 in a class, knew things that others didn't know, and was pleased to have the professor remember me 25 years later.)

The third situation is where the student got an 85, an "average" grade, with extenuating circumstances such as impaired vision or some other physical handicap, or temporary but severe psychological problems. Here, the professor is in a position to vouch for "extenuating circumstances" and the fact that the student is probably better than the 85 grade implies.

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