How to Challenge Your Grade: A Step-by-Step Guide

Whitney Currie, Staff Writer

Most every student gets an unexpected grade at some point. Though professors work hard to ensure grades fit the work students do, sometimes things go wrong. The grade challenge process works best when students are familiar with it. Keep these tips in mind to survive a grade challenge.  

 Calm down 

The best immediate advice for dealing with an unforeseen poor grade is to calm down. A surprise low grade may provoke strong reactions. Dr. Mary Kay Gilliland, Vice President of Academics, said, “The intent is for this to be a civil and learning experience.” Sending off an angry email to one of the Deans might make you feel better but will likely hurt your case down the road. Use your head before doing something that cannot be taken back. 

Gather and save everything 

Make sure you have everything connected to the assignment documented. This could be anything from a grading rubric to the syllabus to announcements by the professor in Blackboard. Keep physical items whenever possible. Have a specific and mobile electronic save spot or device. Anything that does not get saved may be impossible to show later, so when in doubt, save it. 

Examine your work 

Go over the assignment carefully. Check the syllabus. Professor Karen Hindhede, District Academic Chair of the Literary Arts and Languages Division, said, “Students should make sure nothing got missed that might explain their grade.” Checking your own work fairly can be difficult. Rather than skipping this step, seek help. Dr. Gilliland suggests asking a mentor, advisor, or even a librarian for assistance. 

Speak with the instructor 

Most of the time a simple mistake causes a low grade, and talking the issue over with the instructor will fix the problem. Despite how intimidating some professors seem, most are happy to talk about your grade with you. With current semi-pandemic conditions, that conversation may need to occur by phone, email, or streaming. Keep any records made of this conversation. 

Make sure you have a case 

If speaking to the instructor did not address the reason for a low grade, or if you still disagree with the grade, you can make a formal challenge to it. Challenges may be issued for any reason. Make sure you can show in saved documents the reasoning you submit on the form. Grades do get changed, according to Dr. Gilliland, “If there’s a rational reason.” The formal grade challenge process takes time and effort for everyone involved. Do yourself a favor and avoid it when possible. 

Fill out the form 

If you are sure, the form for a formal grade dispute can be accessed here. Note this appeal must be completed no later than five school days after the discussion with the professor. This form is what the Division Chair or Director receives, and it requires a detailed reason for the request. The Division Chair or Director will review the material, then try to resolve the problem. 

Try to be patient 

After filling out the form, it may take a few days for the Division Chair or Director to review your request. In most cases, you should receive a written response within 10 days of your filing. Hindhede said, “Each situation is individual, and we take these concerns very seriously.” The Division Chair or Director may reach out to you or others looking for more information. In some extreme cases, you may be asked to repeat work at your local on-campus Learning Center. 

Final appeal 

If the Division Chair or Director’s recommendation did not resolve the issue, either the professor or the student can appeal to the Academic Dean. This request must be made in writing within 10 days of the Division Chair or Director’s recommendation. The Academic Dean will review all the materials, including prior appeal results, and meet with everyone involved. The Academic Dean’s decision is final.