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Will Styler

Asst. Teaching Professor of Linguistics at UC San Diego

Director of UCSD's Computational Social Science Program

On Requests for Grade Changes and Exceptions

Every professor gets grade change requests, along with requests for extra credit or class policy changes which affect the student’s grades, some which are very welcome, and some which are very ugly and unwelcome.

I figured I’d take a moment to write down some of the factors which make these requests reasonable vs problematic, and talk about why you probably shouldn’t ‘give it a shot’ in some cases.

Important note: Problematic grade change requests are perhaps my biggest ‘pet peeve’ as a teacher, particularly because I try to build compassion and ‘second chances’ into the syllabus itself. I try to be compassionate and kind regardless, but when good students burn bridges with me, this is almost always how it happens. So, please read carefully, and don’t be ‘that student’!

Good and Welcome Requests

To start, note that there are many requests which I welcome, appreciate, and am happy to review and, in most cases, grant. I’m also happy to clarify why we’ve assigned the grade we have in cases where it’s unclear, or go through what you’ve gotten wrong for future learning.

These kinds of requests are always welcome and in no way affect our opinion of you. Do not hesitate to make these kinds of requests.

Good requests highlight grading typoes or mistakes

Feel free to submit a regrade request if it seems like we’ve clicked the wrong box, deducted 10 when we meant to deduct 1, or gave all your groupmates a 95 and you a 59.

Similarly, feel free to double check if you look at the rubric or comments, and the grade you got simply doesn’t make sense in light of the comments, or doesn’t match what the guidelines or rubric seem to suggest you should have gotten.

With apologies, we’re human, and typoes absolutely happen. We’re happy to fix them.

Good requests offer succinct evidence of a grading error

If you think we’ve made an error in judgment in assigning a grade, you should present evidence of that error, making reference to lecture, a textbook, or another credible source demonstrating the validity of your answer. In the worst case scenario, you’re still incorrect, but you’ll learn a nuance, and that’s still a win, and no problem in my eyes.

Good examples of this would look like:

That said, if giving this evidence requires ten paragraphs, an elaborate song and dance number, with reference to obscure languages or resources, though, you’re probably Grade Lawyering, see below.

Good requests give us documentation of your difficulties

Life happens, and sometimes when it does, it hurts your schoolwork. I get that more than most. If a major life problem has come up, let me know and I will bend over backwards to help you succeed in the class, and am happy to make exceptions to class policy and offer opportunities for make-up work.

That said, because some students are dishonest about these things, to be fair to everybody, we do have to ask for documentation. The best way to do this at UCSD is to bring your issue to your Dean of Students who can provide us with an actionable letter which allows us to do as many nice things for you as we can. (Details on this process here). Or you can go through OSD, which grants separate accommodations.

Good requests take responsibility where necessary

I am far more likely to help a student who takes responsibility for their mistakes and is honest with me, than somebody who is never at fault, and blames all of their troubles on undocumentable and outlandish externalities.

The best exception requests come before the due date

I’m much more likely to offer extensions and accommodations if you contact me about what’s going on before the due date than after. If you’re in a situation where there’s a good chance something’s going to go bad wrong in your life and you let me know ahead of time (or as soon as possible), I’m able to help you plan ahead, and offer ways that we can be fair to your classmates and make your life easier. But if you send a request for an extension or exception at 10:30pm for an assignment due at midnight, I’m unlikely to grant an exception, and it’s almost always ‘no’ after the assignment was due, without strong documentation of good cause.

Put differently, it’s always easier to ask for permission than forgiveness, and I am willing to move mountains to help proactive students to deal with situations in their life while still succeeding in class.

Again, these kinds of good requests are welcome! They help us compensate for being human and making mistakes, they allow us to level the playing field for people going through trouble, and they’re a tool which allows conscientious students to integrate classes into their (occasionally difficult!) lives, rather than forcing life and school to be at odds. But there are requests which are not so welcome…

Avoiding Problematic Requests

On the other hand, many of the requests for grade changes, exceptions, and extra credit we get are deeply frustrating, and fall into the category professors often talk about as ‘grade grubbing’, ‘grade lawyering’, or ‘grade begging’, and it’s a really ugly behavior. To avoid sending bad requests…

Don’t ask for things we’ve already said ‘No’ to

In my courses, all grades older than a week are final, and this is plainly stated in the syllabus. Similarly, I ‘bump’ any deserving and on-the-edge students up to the next letter grade before final grades are posted, and do not consider any additional ‘bumps’ to the next letter grade otherwise. So, read the course syllabus and announcements before you make a request, so you’re not wasting time. Without exceptional, documented circumstances, the answer will be ‘No’.

Also, much like in the rest of life, No means No. Continuing to pester or justify or raise the emotional stakes after I’ve refused your request will be counterproductive. You will not wear me down, and will likely worsen the outcome and burn the bridge.

Don’t ask just because you don’t like the grade you earned

I don’t like giving out bad grades any more than you enjoy getting them, but you are not entitled to a new grade or special consideration just because you don’t like your grade. But some students still ask to be given points they didn’t earn just because they’re unhappy. Note that this comes in many forms:

Ultimately, the answer to every one of these requests is “it’s not fair to your classmates who put in the effort and earned the points to give you back points you didn’t earn or offer you extra credit opportunities they don’t get”. Unless your situation is documentably different and unique, your grading won’t be different and unique.

Don’t ask for a policy change because of choices you’ve made

I’m always happy to make exceptions for documented circumstances beyond your control. But often, I get requests for changes to grades, extra credit, extensions, and otherwise which basically boil down to ‘I made a choice, and it’s affected my grade. Can you make it not affect my grade?’. These are things like…

Particularly when you’ve had the assignment available for days or weeks and could have worked on it earlier, it’s simply not fair to your classmates to make an exception because you made a choice in planning, time management, or prioritization of work, and it affected your grade. I already drop an assignment in many of my classes to help make this a non-issue, so asking for an additional rescue is a poor choice.

Don’t insult, threaten, beg, bribe, flatter, wallow, plead, or emotionally manipulate

It’s fine to talk about what you’re going through, particularly when it’s a documentable and serious issue that’s affecting your life, but past a point, including emotional details and catastrophizing the situation just feels manipulative, or in extreme cases, like emotional blackmail, and regardless, it doesn’t affect the situation and what is fair to your classmates.

Of course, I appreciate that everybody’s fighting a great battle, some more than others, and again, if you’re struggling with a documentable situation, please reach out to your Dean of Students and instructors, we’re here to help. But when students provide details about their life or troubles which aren’t relevant, and are added just to ‘make it harder’ to reject a request, you’re simply and transparently emotionally manipulating your instructors, and that reflects poorly on your integrity, and makes me almost certain to reject your request.

Put differently, I appreciate that you liked the class, I’m sorry you hated the class and my stupid face, that’s a real shame, I can only imagine how you’re feeling right now, and I’m afraid that no, I don’t know who your father is and what he can do to my job. But none of that matters if you didn’t earn the grade.

Also, needless to say, attempting bribery of any form is an exceedingly dumb idea, and will be immediately reported to the academic integrity office and to university administration.

Don’t bother grade lawyering

Some students decide that they took debate, so they can totally do this, and go into full grade lawyering mode.

In this context, they make wild and lengthy arguments explaining why C could in theory be right according to some obscure theory, when A is clearly the best answer. Maybe they attack the assignment’s point values, phrasing, or design in a claim that it’s ‘just not fair to them’. The syllabus will be examined with a fine-toothed comb for any advantage, attempting to find ambiguities that might favor their specific situation, without concern to the effects of reading the policy differently on their classmates. Sometimes they even bring up how their other classes work as evidence that I should change the rules for them.

Regardless, if you’re need to use every bit of your debate skills to sell your argument, you’re very unlikely to win, and even if you do, you’ll leave a very bad impression, so it’s probably not worth it.

Don’t be the reason I have to add something else here

Seriously, before you make a request which would change your grade, ask yourself carefully and objectively whether…

Most of all, remember that just as I remember the strongest performers in a class, I also remember the folks with poor integrity too, and this means that…

Problematic requests can hurt you

Again, the kinds of good grade change, extra credit, and course policy variance requests we discussed at the top are always welcome, and you having the opportunity to do so helps me make the class a more fair and equitable place.

That said, many students end up making problematic requests with an attitude of ‘You can’t blame me for asking’ or ‘Can’t hurt, might help’. I understand how it’d feel that way, but unfortunately, if you’re sending problematic requests, it very much can hurt you, because…

So, please be conscientious when you’re making requests for grade changes or special treatment, not just in this class, but in all classes.