Grading Gripes

April 2, 2024

Dear Conflict Coach—

My professor graded my midterm unfairly, or at least incorrectly. They are an important professor in my major and they’re super-intimidating. I have already asked them once to take a look at the exam, and they said their grading was correct. I think they barely looked at my questions about the grading. How do I get them to reconsider my grade without having them hold it against me in future classes.


Grading Gripes (but legitimately!)

Dear Grading Gripes–

You have encountered the reality that power differences are sometimes an important aspect of a conflict to consider–and power differences are why some people abandon conflict engagement entirely.

Still, I think you have some options here. The good news is that some of the strategies that work with people in power are also the strategies that work with people generally.

I don’t know how you approached the faculty member, but if you got the impression they did not even seriously evaluate your request, then one possibility is that the timing was a challenge. If you approached them quickly before or after class, they may not have had a chance to give your questions the in-depth consideration they deserved. Ideally, they would have given you an alternative way to reach them, rather than giving you the brush off, but I still think you can seek that for yourself. If your faculty member holds office hours you can attend, and that’s probably the ideal time to get their attention. Some students will make the argument that faculty should be more available, and maybe that is fair, but when you are seeking consideration from anyone (in positional power or not), meeting them in their ideal situation is a good start.

If the faculty  member does not hold office hours, then I think an email is a good avenue; unless their syllabus suggests some other form of communication. 

When approaching people (again, in power or not), positioning yourself as wanting to learn from the conflict (a la Ted Lasso) can be a smart strategic move. You can approach your faculty member along the lines of, “I really thought I had this question right, and I see that it was marked wrong. Can you help me understand, so I can do it better next time?” This has multiple advantages. First, it engages most people in a way that’s appealing to them–that you want to understand their thinking. Secondly, if you did get the question wrong, you will learn how to do it better next time.

If, after you’ve adjusted to their preferred communication timing and format and you’ve approached the conflict from a learning perspective, you still believe they are using their position of power to dismiss your concerns, I still think you have more options. Most hierarchical systems, including GW, offer those out of positional power a structured pathway to challenge those with positional power. These systems arose out of concerns that power was not being used properly and needed some externalized review process. In the case of grading at GW, all the schools and colleges have a policy for appealing arbitrary and capricious grading, so that’s the avenue you could pursue in this case.

You may feel that such an approach will harm your relationship with this professor–a relationship you might need in the future. I do think that is an important moment to weigh the costs, benefits, and your certainty that you are correct. All of that will be a more informed analysis if you talk to your faculty member first. If you really believe you cannot do that, then I would suggest finding someone in a position of power who you trust to help you navigate the specifics of this dynamic–once you get into long-term power structures, the details of the relationship are important to consider, and so speaking with someone directly about all of that will help you make the most informed decision.


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