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Stop asking instructors to round your grade up to the next letter

By Derek Baker, April 23 2019 —

The end of the semester and exams brings the most dreaded thing for students — getting your final marks. You’ve calculated what you need to score on your finals to get the grade you want and anxiously await the dot-of-doom on D2L signalling that grades have been posted.

After getting your final exam mark back, your average for the class is 84.1 per cent. The cutoff for an ‘A’ is 85 per cent. Obviously, you deserve to be rounded up to the next letter grade, because you’re less than a per cent away. Right?


That doesn’t stop you, though. Believing that grade scales don’t apply to you because you’re God’s gift to academia, you send off a smarmy email to your prof or march into their office, pleading that they bump up your grade because you were “so close.”

After they politely — or bluntly — tell you to bugger off, you get upset with them. How dare they not give you a grade you didn’t earn. 

In some classes I’ve taken, profs clearly state at the beginning of the semester that they’ll round up your grade if you’re within 0.5 per cent of the cutoff. That’s their prerogative. It still means that there is a cutoff, it’s just half a per cent lower than what’s stated on the course outline. Stemming from this, if a grade cutoff was 90 but you scored 89.4, you wouldn’t expect it to be rounded up to 89.5 to be further rounded up to the next letter grade.

On the other side, I’ve had profs specify that the cutoffs extend to the fourth decimal place and there’s absolutely no chance of them entertaining any request to bump up your grade. I can just imagine the previous conversations with students demanding that their mark gets rounded up for a prof to specify an A- is from 85–89.9999.

Unless an instructor has previously specified that they’ll bump up your grade if you’re close enough, there’s no reason to expect that they should. If you’re bold enough to ask your instructor to round your grade up but they don’t, there’s no justification for your anger towards them. You didn’t earn the grade.

However, appealing a grade on the grounds that you believe an assignment or test was marked incorrectly or unfairly is justified. If a successful appeal bumps up your average enough to get you the next letter grade, great. This is the way you should go about trying to get a higher grade.

But appealing your grade simply because you were “close enough” to the next letter reeks of entitlement.

It also puts the instructor in an unfair situation. If they bump you up, should they not extend that favour to everyone else? If they have more of a personal rapport with one student but not another, how would they treat the situation if both came to appeal their grade on the grounds of being close to the next letter?

It’s understandable that grades mean a lot to some students. Getting that higher letter grade can make your GPA that much more competitive for other opportunities, such as graduate or professional schools, jobs or scholarships. But these pressures don’t justify you getting a grade you didn’t actually score.

Grades are earned, not bargained for.

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