Whether you call it grade grubbing, a grade bump, or just a simple favor, every student will eventually want to ask a teacher about rounding up a grade.
Because this is a delicate (and uncomfortable) topic, it is essential to form a plan before asking your teacher to round up a grade.
Here, we will cover the topic from every angle. We will discuss things to do, things to avoid, and ways to make sure your request is done professionally and effectively.
Quick Answer: How to ask a teacher to round up a grade?
If you plan to ask your teacher to round up a grade, the key is to be respectful and reasonable with your request.
For a miscalculation, typo, or simple grading error, just be straight to the point. Ask the teacher to verify or double-check the particular assignment/essay/exam that you feel has been misgraded.
If you feel that your final grade was calculated incorrectly, voice your concern and wait for a response. Most teachers, regardless of level, will be receptive and fair to a concern about an incorrectly calculated grade.
For grades that were calculated correctly but the student is unhappy with the grade, things become a bit more dicey. If you are certain that you want to ask for a grade bump, there are a couple key points:
- Make it known that you want your teacher to consider re-evaluating your grade, rather than implying that you expect a grade bump
- Avoid putting a teacher in an unfair, “can’t win” situation (for example, suggesting that your parents will punish you based on your grades, or that you will commit self-harm if the grade isn’t raised)
Ethical Considerations Regarding a “Grade Bump”
Before getting too deep into the discussion, we should consider the ethics of rounding grades.
First, remember that a student generally only considers him/herself, whereas a teacher has to consider each student in the class.
As a student, of course I want my 89.4% to be rounded up to an ‘A.’ From my perspective, there is no downside to rounding this grade upward.
But for the teacher, a number of ethical concerns arise.
The “Close Enough” Argument
One of the common arguments for a grade bump is that a grade was “almost” good enough. An 89.4% is a common example, as is “I missed one too many questions on the final.”
But remember that rounding up an 89.4% leaves someone with an 89.3% that is now “almost” good enough for an ‘A.’ Now that student, too, was only “one point away” from receiving an ‘A.’
Simply put, a teacher that deviates from the syllabus can never win. The teacher either seems callous for drawing a line in the sand, or else gets accused of preferential treatment for rounding up one grade but not another (slightly lower) grade.
The “But I Worked So Hard” Argument
Commonly, students asking for a grade bump will remind teachers of all the positive things they did throughout the semester. Students like to point out that they were always on time, never missed class, always behaved appropriately, visited during office hours, completed extra credit assignments, etc.
But we never think about how this puts the teacher in a tough situation. Should a teacher round up the 89.4% of a conscientious, hard-working student but then make no such accommodation for a rude, boisterous student that also finished the semester with an 89.4%?
Ultimately, any argument for a grade bump that follows this logic, which is dependent on subjective factors, places the teacher in an unfair position.
The “If I Don’t Get an ‘A,’ Something Terrible Will Happen” Argument
This argument has a number of derivations, all of which are unpleasant for a teacher to handle.
A common example is the student that “threatens” a teacher by saying that if they don’t make a particular grade, their parents will punish or abuse them, or perhaps even kick them out of the house.
Before using any of these lines, ask yourself how a teacher is supposed to respond to this situation. It is terribly unfair to put anyone in this position.
An even more extreme example is the student that threatens to commit self-harm if a grade isn’t “rounded up.”
It sounds unbelievable, but many teachers have experienced this threat. And because many teachers are kind-hearted, emotional people, this threat can lead to sleepless nights and ethical dilemmas.
One other common example: “I will lose my college scholarship if I don’t make this grade.” While not as extreme as the previous example, it unfairly takes advantage of a teacher’s desire to help students and his/her love of education.
Things to Consider – What NOT to do
Hopefully this point has been made clear by now – before reaching out to your teacher about rounding up a grade, be sure to consider their perspective. This means avoiding any threatening requests, or any requests that force a teacher to compromise their ethics.
Next, you should never send multiple emails or requests while awaiting a response. Send a single, well-crafted email and then wait for a response.
The end of the semester is a busy and stressful time for teachers, too, and they aren’t sitting around waiting for a nervous email to come through. There is no set timeline on how long you should wait before sending a follow-up email – just don’t do it.
Avoid making any accusations or negative statements that seem accusatory of the teacher.
Some students will remind teachers of an unfair test question, or a quiz question that was worded confusingly, or a homework assignment that was graded wrong, thinking this will help their chances. In reality, it not only seems like a cheap excuse, but it will also agitate a teacher (one that you are asking a favor from).
As mentioned above, don’t put unfair stress on the teacher.
Telling a teacher that you will commit self-harm, or you won’t get into college, or your parents will beat you, or you will lose your scholarship – none of this is a fair responsibility to place on your teacher. If any of these threats are legitimate, they should have been dealt with prior to final grades.
Lastly, if you didn’t give close to a 100% effort throughout the semester, don’t even bother asking for a grade to be rounded up.
Teachers know which students declined extra credit assignments, turned work in late, and didn’t study for quizzes. If any of these apply to you, you should only ask about rounding a grade up if it is due to a legitimate miscalculation of your grade. Otherwise, don’t bother asking a teacher if she can round your 88.2 up to a 90.
The Proper Way To Ask For a Grade Bump
(In the event of a miscalculated grade, simply voice your concerns and ask for the grade to be recalculated. The rest of this section pertains to students that want to ask for a “grade bump,” or a grade to be rounded up to a higher grade).
First and foremost, you should know the rules. You need to know the syllabus (for example, is the cut-off for an ‘A’ at 90, 89.5, or 88) and come prepared with your request.
Second, make sure that you ask for consideration rather than expecting a grade to be rounded. The distinction will not be lost on a teacher. If you sound entitled, like your 89.5% deserves to be an ‘A,’ there are teachers that will be far less likely to work with you.
Depending on the relationship you have with your teacher, it may be worth discussing the matter in person rather than via email. Use your best judgment here, and tread gently.
And if you choose to meet in person, approach the teacher by asking for an appointment to discuss your grade. This should be done at a convenient time that accommodates the teacher’s schedule. Do NOT walk into their office or classroom and interrupt them to discuss the matter immediately.
If your teacher is open to an in-person discussion, this may be more productive than an email conversation. But you should use your best judgment, since the goal is to make things as easy and convenient as possible for your teacher.
Some guidelines to follow include:
- Thank your teacher, regardless of the outcome. The goal isn’t to “butter up” a teacher in order to grade grub – the goal is to convey respect. Even if your teacher doesn’t round up the grade, thanking him or her for a great semester is a gesture that won’t be forgotten.
- If you are hoping for an 89.5%, an 89.9%, or even an 89.1% to be rounded to an ‘A,’ simply ask your teacher if they have a policy for rounding up to the next integer (whole number). This opens the door for the teacher to “round up” your grade, without looking like you are grade grubbing. If the teacher responds by saying that your 89-point-whatever rounds down to a “B,” you can still ask them whether they are willing to make an exception to this policy.
- If you are concerned that your final exam (or final paper) was graded incorrectly, ask if your teacher is willing to double-check the accuracy of the grading. Your teacher may even allow you to look back at the exam to verify that it was scored correctly.
- Asking for extra credit or a “re-do” is questionable (at best). I personally wouldn’t make this request unless the class size is small and I have a good relationship with my teacher. And only make this request if you took advantage of every possible opportunity for extra points throughout the course of the semester. If there were chances for extra credit or re-do opportunities that you bypassed throughout the semester, it is disrespectful to ask for another chance at these opportunities when final grades are due.
- Lay some groundwork before the final exam. For middle/high school students, make sure your teacher knows how badly you want the higher grade before final grades are due. For college students, this will be more challenging, especially at universities with larger class sizes. In a lecture hall of 200 students, there may not be any way of showing your professor how much you care. But if you can attend office hours, study sessions, or somehow communicate your motivation to your professor, it can only benefit you when final grades come due.
As a teacher, should I bump grades?
To begin, “should you?” versus “will you?” are two different questions.
There are a few key points to consider here.
First, you need to act fairly and uniformly, keeping in mind that no matter where you draw the line there will always be someone on the fringe.
Second, you need to be transparent with students about their grades so that nobody feels unfairly treated.
And third, you need to set the rules at the start of the semester, ideally in the syllabus or another written format. Be prepared for every possible scenario, because even the most unlikely scenarios will eventually occur.
There are two primary ways of viewing the situation.
On one hand, the teacher is in control of the classroom. The teacher generally makes the rules and then enforces the rules. So I don’t blame teachers for becoming jaded by the constant barrage of grade grubbers asking for their 82% to be rounded up to a 90%.
On the other hand, it is reasonable for a teacher to be human and accept that students are human, too.
Being flawed, imperfect, and looking out for our own self-interests are all defining characteristics of the human experience. So if you have a student that’s a good kid that slacked off on a few assignments, maybe rounding an 89.4% up to a 90 is “the right thing to do” no matter what the syllabus says.
There isn’t a black and white answer to any of this. Which brings us to our next point.
Think of the students’ perspectives
As a student, I enrolled in many courses that didn’t specify anything in the syllabus except for 70+=C, 80+=B, and 90+=A. Not only was this lazy, but it invited controversy come semester’s end. At minimum, it should say 89.5+=A, rather than using integers only.
Keeping the students’ perspectives in mind, you need to remember that there will be somebody on the wrong side of the cut-off no matter what you do. And missing a higher grade by one point will sting for any student.
My recommendation is as follows:
- Spell out, in the syllabus, your exact grade rounding policy. If you will round an 89.5% but not an 89.46%, your students should know this (in writing) long before final exams.
- If you choose to deviate from your stated policy, adjust grades before anyone asks, and then draw a line in the sand. Decide with your head, and then stand firm. If the class average was lower than expected on the final, feel free to “help” your students by making an 89% the new ‘A’ cut-off. But don’t forget that there will still be a frustrated student with an 88.9% showing up in your office.
- If you are going to deviate from your stated policy, look for a natural break in the distribution of students’ grades. It seems to me that almost every semester there is a sizable break somewhere in the grade distribution which makes for a perfect cut-off. Then, of course, about 20% of the class is bunched up in the 79.1%-79.9% and/or 89.1%-89.9% range. If you can change the “A”/”B” cut-off to a natural break that exists at 88% and help yourself and your students sleep better at night, go for it!
Asking a teacher to round up a grade is a delicate situation that should be handled carefully.
On one hand, your goal is to produce an ideal outcome (in other words, you want your grade to be rounded up). On the other hand, you don’t want to lose the respect of your teacher, and you don’t want to put them in an uncomfortable situation.
Remember to be respectful and appreciative with your request, and things might just work out in your favor.
And finally, remember that a bad grade isn’t the end of the world. It might be painful now, but the difference between an ‘A’ and a ‘B,’ or even a ‘C’ and a ‘D,’ simply won’t matter a few years from now.
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