THE SECRET TO NEGOTIATING A BETTER MARK WITH YOUR PROFESSORS
There will be times throughout your university career when negotiating a better mark is something you will feel obligated to do. Professors, and the TAs that often mark papers for them, are only human, and stress, time demands, apathy, even bias can show in the way they mark your work. You might have written what you felt was the best paper of your life, and spent night after night putting together something you considered your best work when you turned it in, only to get back a disappointing grade.
NEGOTIATING A BETTER MARK IS ALWAYS AN OPTION
While your professors are certainly highly educated, and are intimately familiar with the subject matter you are being asked to write about, their mark, at the end of the day, is still their subjective evaluation of your work. If you receive a paper, or a written essay back with a grade you feel is not representative of the quality of the work, it pays to know how to negotiate a better mark with your professors. Here’s how:
Before walking into your professor’s office hours, or sending off an email, make sure you’ve made a solid case that goes into specific detail. While you may think it is unfair to have received a low mark on something you put so much time into, that, in itself, is not a justification for receiving anything more than you’ve already been given. You have to be able to point to what you see as flaws in the marking. Go through your paper with a fine-tooth comb. Read each comment and cross-reference it with the essay rubric/marking criteria. If marks have been deducted for failing to do something not mentioned in the rubric, make a note of it. If marks have been deducted for using a word the professor didn’t like, or for which they suggested a synonym, that’s a personal preference, and you shouldn’t be penalized for not sharing it with your professor.
Typically, you will just receive a mark and that’s it. You are paying good money for an education, and should receive (and you should demand it if you don’t) a thorough breakdown of what you did wrong, where and why you lost marks, and thoughtful written criticism from the marker. If you ever receive a number or a letter on a piece of paper with no elaboration, and don’t like what you see, you should be asking whoever marked it to justify the mark they gave you straight away.
NEVER NEGOTIATE ANGRY OR COME IN ARROGANT
“You must have your heart on fire, and your brain on ice,” Vladimir Lenin said, and it is a good rule of thumb for any negotiation. It is essential you be, and appear passionate about what you believe in, but it is equally essential you don’t allow emotions to override your critical faculties. If your professor sees that you are passionate about the material, and about what you wrote, they will be more receptive to your arguments than if you appear simply, and glibly to be after a few unearned percentage points. They will not, however, be receptive if you come in with accusations, or are arrogant.
In fact, one of the most important ‘don’ts’ of any negotiation where you are after more of something (money, recognition, a higher mark, etc.) is don’t be arrogant. Arrogance makes it seem like you’re entitled to a better grade than you got. While you might be deserving of more, negotiating a better mark is going to be impossible if your professor doesn’t like you. Remember, he or she is not obligated to give you anything. In no part of the fine print on anything you’ve signed as a university student does it say your professors are to give you grades that make you happy.
DON’T MAKE YOUR NEGOTIATION A PRESENTATION
Negotiating a better mark should be a two-sided conversation, not a lecture or a presentation. Don’t come in with a speech prepared, come in with a list of points you plan to argue and wait for an opportunity to interject. It is also not a good idea to ambush your professor or TA. If you are scheduling an in-office meeting, let whomever you are going to be speaking with know what your intentions are: you’re coming to talk about a mark you received.
Be professional. You should treat asking for a better grade as you would asking for more money. You want to convince the professor that your work is undervalued and you deserve more for it. Tell them you want to respond to each one of their comments individually. Point to a comment, speak your piece, and then continue on. If your prof or TA sees that your responses are thoughtful and fair, you might not get all the extra marks you were hoping to get, but you may get some – which is better than nothing.
DON’T BE A SORE LOSER
Not every negotiation is going to go in your favour. You might sit down with your professor and end up realizing the mark they gave you was justified. Maybe you wrote a compelling, top-notch paper, but it failed to answer the essay question directly. Maybe you were asked to comply with some basic formatting requirements, but, in your excitement, forgot to do so.
In the event that your professor’s defense of their marking makes more sense than your request for a reconsideration, don’t assume your professor is your enemy. Don’t be rude, don’t leave in a huff, don’t make it seem like you are a spoiled child who can’t take their criticism. Thank your professor for their time, tell them you will tweak your writing on the next project, and wish them a nice day. Chances are if you come off fair and reasonable, you are much more likely to get a more receptive, more lenient marker the next time around, and you will have conserved a relationship you may need to call on at some point – for a reference letter, for an extension on a project, etc.