Getting Your Grade: Advocate For Yourself

In my second year, I had an absolute favourite class. We talked about everything from culture jamming to racism in video games; it was full of engaging material, phenomenal guest speakers, and a prof who deserved double whatever her salary was. It was the kind of class where your essay’s bibliography organically grew to three pages, because you wanted it to be fantastic.

So after our first test, when I got my mark, I was disappointed. I knew I had studied hard, written a kick-ass essay, and deserved higher than what I had gotten. As a result, I did the unthinkable: I talked with my professor, face-to-face, about my mark. And it turns out I wasn’t alone! Dozens of students had emailed her with concerns.

Taking the time to review your work and your professor’s grading and challenging it if you believe it isn’t fair can be absolutely horrifying – you’re confronting an expert in the field, saying you deserve better than what they gave you. And sometimes, you really do! Don’t be scared. Just be smart.

“U SUK N I H8 U!!!!111” – What you shouldn’t say.

Be honest

Did you actually deserve the grade you received? Wanting to get an A and deserving an A is very, very different. Look over the course syllabus. Did you address everything in the course outline? Did you go above and beyond the bare minimum?

Be physical

Emailing your prof isn’t going to work here; online, it’s difficult to not simply be another number. Bring your graded project and the assignment sheet, and have a conversation. Prove that you actually care.

Be private

Cornering your professor after class makes you seem rushed and unprepared – two attributes rarely associated with those who receive high marks.

Angry and Pointing
“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU HAD THE BALLS TO CONFRONT ME” – what your professor won’t say.

Be specific

Saying “I think I deserve higher than a C-” isn’t useful. Saying “I think I deserve higher than a C- because I received twenty percent off for spelling and grammar, when style only accounted for twenty percent of our total grade” is much more useful.

Be polite

Whoever is grading your work is probably grading hundreds of others. When you say, “I feel like my grade doesn’t match the assignment I handed in,” that’s much less accusatory than “Why is my grade so low?”

Be reasonable

You’re not going to go from a D- to an A+, barring an event where your professor mixed up your essay with another. Likewise, think about if it’s worth the effort. Going from a 71 to a 73 might only change your final grade by a hundredth of a percent – is it worth the time and effort, this time?

Be proactive

Look, you’re clearly not satisfied with your grade. It might be due to some extraordinarily harsh marking on the part of the teacher or teaching assistant, or it might be due to overestimating your academic abilities. Either way, you now have the professor alone – why not ask how you can ensure that you don’t find yourself in this situation again?

There are plenty of profs that I find very intimidating, and I doubt I’m alone. Planning a one on one so that you can challenge them can be scary! So cherish the small victories – your prof isn’t going to forget you, you’re probably going to have a higher grade than if you had settled down and accepted your grade, and now you can say you fought the dragon and lived to tell the tale. I know that after I brought my test to my prof, I ended with a 95% on it, significantly higher than I had originally thought.

To get the grade you want, you’ll have to put the work in. Don’t forget there are also resources on campus to get you there – Student Learning Support has free services to make you the awesome student you want to be. We’ve also written on how to survive that class that you just can’t get motivated for, how to access the best services to help you, how to make it through the exam-ocalypse and tips for surviving exams. Needless to say, when it comes to studying and getting that grade, we’ve got you.