Image of woman and man having a discussion.

“Discussion” by MIT OEIT is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Last term, I had a student send me a very aggressive email. Using some very choice phrases, he demanded I change his final paper grade, and he accused me of not reading his submission. Needless to say, I didn’t honor his requests.

Unlike some my colleagues, I don’t mind grade appeals. I like it when my students care enough to fight for the grade they think they deserve. However, you have to present your case in the right way. So, if you want to get your teacher to rethink your grade, be sure you do the following things:

*Be respectful.

Professors are like most people; they don’t like to be insulted, accused, or belittled. So, don’t do that. Make sure you use a respectful tone when addressing your instructor.

*Be friendly, but formal.

Start your appeal email with a friendly but professional salutation. Use a formal tone throughout. End your email with an appropriate closing. Double and triple check your work for spelling and grammatical errors. Sometimes, schools will require instructors to send grade appeals to the dean or another high-ranking university official. Make sure your email is good enough to be seen by all the top dogs at your school!

*Do your homework.

If you want your instructor to take a second look at your work, you need to convince him or her that your case is worthy of attention. Look at the rubric and the assignment guidelines. Be sure you understand the outcomes of the assignment, the key requirements, and the evaluation criteria. Discuss why you think you work meets the standards outlined in the rubric.

Hint: If you want to knock your professor’s socks off, send along a highlighted and annotated copy of the syllabus.

*Use examples.

It’s not enough to say, “I think I did everything that was asked of me.” Show your instructor that your work merits a higher grade. Point to specific passages in your essay, report, or presentation, and explain what these passages reveal about the overall quality of your work. Use examples to build a compelling case!

*Avoid discussing your effort.

I can’t tell you how many students have emailed me something like this:

“I don’t think I should have failed. I tried my best.”

Instructors aren’t there to judge and evaluate your effort. They are there to ensure that you meet the course objectives and learn the skills necessary to be successful in future classes. So, instead of stressing the intensity of your efforts, stress the quality of your work.

*Talk about what you deserve, not what you need.

You might need an “A” to get on the dean’s list or avoid being kicked out of your program. However, don’t let your instructors know that! Instructors aren’t there to give you the grades you need. They don’t have a vested interested in helping you maintain your perfect GPA. They care about your learning. So, the best way to get your instructor to change your grade is to convince him or her that you’ve learned the material and you’ve acquired the skills that the assignment assesses.

*Say “Please” and “Thank you.”

Your parents called them the “magic words.” They were right. A simple “please” and a sincere “thank you” can melt the heart of the coldest academic.

Bottom line: You have the right to challenge any grade that you deem unfair. However, if you want your grade appeal to be taken seriously, you need to put effort into the process. Use logic and evidence to build a persuasive argument. If you do that, your professor will find it hard to say no to your request!