Sometimes life is not fair, and you can’t do anything about it. But when it comes to receiving a grade you feel doesn’t reflect your work on an assignment, you don’t have to take injustice sitting down. Going up against a teacher is a scary proposition, and it often doesn’t feel right to argue even if you know you can, especially when a teacher seems to believe their word is beyond questioning.

You might need to contest a grade for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps the assignment instructions were unclear and you didn’t do exactly what the teacher wanted, or they changed their mind on how an assignment was being graded. Or maybe there simply was a misunderstanding that you don’t have the authority to fix yourself as a student.

It’s important to remember when contesting a grade that in the eyes of your teacher, you messed up in some way. Even if you’re right about an unfair assignment or a mistake, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have any say in the matter as a student. Whether you’re listened to or not, you still have the right to speak up for yourself and make your case. You owe it to yourself to try at least.

If you find yourself in the situation where you have to contest grades, there are steps you can take toward trying to get the final decision in your favor.

First, before anything else, make sure you actually know why you got the grade. If you have to ask a teacher why they graded you a certain way, that should be enough to start a discussion about the work in a constructive way.

Second, know for certain what instruction was given to you and your classmates. Make sure you did follow the instructions you had access to before approaching your teacher to make your case.

Be direct. If you do contest, make it clear that is what you are doing. In my experience, some teachers don’t want to deal with you. If you are not direct from the beginning, you might just get brushed off as asking a question about a past assignment.

If it comes down to an issue with clarity, interpreting the directions or a mistake the teacher made, make a case explaining your understanding with evidence. I stress that you need to be polite about it, no matter what.

I would strongly recommend going to talk to a teacher in person. It does require a lot more confidence and you can’t craft a carefully worded email from the safety of your couch, but it is easier to deal with things then and there, reaching a resolution quickly without much deliberation.

Contesting can be a battle, and you need to hold your ground. Teachers might need to be reminded of your perspective or what they said. Build a case first.

I have had situations where a teacher expects something but does not make it clear in the posted assignment instructions. Treat those written instructions as legal documents and hold people accountable for their words.

I have had professors whose excuse was, “I told you in lecture,” even though it was never written down on any official document. Go ahead, point that out. If a teacher expects something to be done a certain way, it will benefit everyone if the instructions are made crystal clear and accessible on the official mediums we use.

Hopefully your educators will work with you and make things right, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the people involved become spiteful or even unethical. I rarely have contested a grade with a teacher who is totally flexible and willing to change my grade right away. Some teachers do not appreciate having their mistakes pointed out and will fight you. You should be on your guard.

I have had professors who got incredibly defensive and closed to any form of protest, taking it as harsh criticism. That’s why being polite is very important, and so is recognizing that contesting might not get you anywhere if the other party is unwilling to reason.

I’ve even had teachers revise the assignment instructions posted online after I contested them, preventing me from having any argument and leaving me with no leg to stand on. I have had teachers just refuse to listen to me or accuse me of lying. And while this is more of a college issue, I have had a professor be incredibly rude about me approaching them at all.

If it comes to something important and you are dealing with someone difficult, document everything. Create a folder on your computer and fill it with screenshots and any relevant information. Capture timestamps of online documents, a history of who has edited documents and when. This is a good practice for life in general. You have evidence, and you have proof of changes made.

Should talking to a teacher fail, there is nothing wrong with going to the administration. It sucks because it can ruin any respect with a teacher.

You should be there to learn, not argue about an assignment. It is a lengthy, irritating and tedious process. But fighting for a good grade sometimes has to be done. Be the person who causes responsible parties to double check and make sure that no issues exist for future students. Don’t be afraid to hold your professors and teachers responsible.

Good luck.

Ben Timm is a freshman at the University of Utah. Contact him at

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