Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students complain about grades.

Students in this generation tend to consider anything, including grades, as negotiable, and they perceive little or no cost in challenging a grade or requesting a re-grade.

Students’ past experiences (especially from high school) may help to explain this perspective. For example, in an effort to get their children into desirable colleges, many parents will petition teachers to change their child’s grades. As a result, students may get the impression that grades and even requirements are negotiable. In addition, students themselves may have found that making a quick request for a re-grade could garner extra points. This may lead students to perceive re-grade requests as a low-cost endeavor with potentially high pay-off for them, not considering the fact that grading and re-grading can be demanding and time-consuming for faculty.


Require students to follow your re-grade request procedures.

Simply by making an official procedure whereby students must submit a re-grade request in writing (potentially with some amount of explanation of their argument) adds a time cost to the student. This may be enough to deter students from making frivolous re-grade requests. For example, some instructors require that students write out a justification for the re-grade request and staple it to the original graded exam, submitting the entire packet within a limited time period. This procedure ends up saving the faculty member time – e.g., all the relevant documents are together, re-grade requests arrive while the grading of the exam is still fresh in mind – while adding a reasonable activity (with relevant reflection/writing) on the students’ part.

Explain that re-grading means re-grading the whole exam
or assignment.

Some faculty members tell students that they re-grade the entire exam or assignment, and if they discover that points were given that were not deserved,  the student may end up losing points. Clearly communicating that a re-grade request is not entirely risk free may be enough to reduce frivolous requests.

Use rubrics.

Having a clear performance standard makes it easier to justify how students’ grades were derived. Performance rubrics help students understand your expectations for performance (i.e., what qualities you value and what levels of performance are required to go beyond your basic expectations). Although creating a high-quality rubric can involve an initial investment of time, instructors who have developed good rubrics generally find that they expedite the grading process, provide students with helpful feedback, and reduce complaints about grades. When using a performance rubric to grade students’ work, it is also important to share the rubric with students, so they can see the descriptions of different levels of performance (i.e., performance at and above their level).

In addition to using performance rubrics to grade student work, some instructors have given students an assignment of applying the rubric to their own (or their peers’) work. This way the students not only see and reflect on the rubric more deeply, they also have to work through and interpret it relative to a piece of work. Students may need help with this at first (identifying how a piece of work matches a particular level of performance in the rubric). But in giving students this kind of practice, they (and you) can learn where they have misinterpreted what makes high quality work.

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