Appealing the Unappealing Grade

Have you ever received a mark that you thought was low? Not just disappointingly low, but undeservedly low?

I received a mark like that recently, a dismal 70% on an essay, which was worth 25% of the final course mark. I’ve written many essays for many AU courses. Usually I have a good sense of what mark an essay will garner when I submit it. The first essay for a course is the most difficult to gauge, but once I get to the third essay, as in this case, I’ve figured out the tutor’s marking style and the marks an essay is likely to produce.

When my essay came back with only 70%, it was far below my own assessment. While I knew it was not my best essay, it was a far cry from my worst. I’d never received a mark so low for that type of assignment.

After carefully reading the tutor’s comments on my essay, reviewing the course manual and the assignment instructions, and re-reading the essay itself, I decided to appeal the mark.

AU’s Student Appeals Policy allows students to appeal a mark they believe is inappropriate. Students can appeal their marks for course components which contributed to the final grade, including essays, assignments, exercises, and exams.

Appeals can be made on substantive or procedural grounds. Substantive grounds means the student believes the mark was based on something other than academic achievement, that the evaluation standards applied differ from those in the course syllabus, or that the evaluation standards applied are unreasonable or differ from those described in the course manual. Procedural grounds means the student believes a university policy or procedure has not been followed in the assignment of a grade. Most appeals are on substantive grounds.

An appeal on substantive grounds is not something undertaken lightly. It’s not whether or not you’re happy with the mark you received, but whether you truly believe the mark is out of step with the value of the work you submitted. When considering an appeal, keep in mind that the result may not be a higher grade: the grade could remain the same or even be lowered.

The appeals policy lays out the steps a student can take when appealing on substantive grounds:

Step 1 – Request for an Informal Review by Marker. Within 30 days of receiving the grade, contact the person who marked it and ask for a review. You must explain on what grounds you are appealing, so read the policy carefully. If the marker doesn’t believe you’ve established sufficient grounds for the appeal, they can decline to proceed with the appeal. If the marker accepts your appeal, they will re-mark your coursework and assign a grade which can be higher, lower, or the same as the original grade. The marker has 10 business days to respond to you with a decision.

Step 2 – Appeal to Course Coordinator. If you are not satisfied with the decision arising from step one, you can go up the chain of command. You have 30 days after receiving the step one decision to pursue step two. Look up the course coordinator for the course and contact them with your reasons for making a further appeal. The course coordinator can review and remark the coursework under appeal, assign another marker to remark it, or decline to proceed if they believe sufficient grounds have not been established. The course coordinator has 10 business days to provide you with a decision.

Step 3 – Appeal to the Dean. If you’re still not satisfied after step two (and you’re really confident your appeal has merit), you can appeal to the top cheese. Look up the dean responsible for the course, and contact them in writing with your reasons for making a further appeal. As with the first two steps, the student can expect to receive a decision within 10 business days. The decision of the dean is final, and no further appeal can be made.

For my appeal of an essay mark, I went through steps one and two. The result of step one was an increase of the assigned mark from 70% to 75%. After careful consideration, and feedback from a non-AU-related reader of my essay, I made a further appeal to the course coordinator. Step two resulted in a minor boost to 76%.

While the ultimate mark my essay was awarded is still unsatisfying, 76% is still better than 70%. After careful consideration, I decided not to appeal further.

I’m glad I pursued the appeal. I found the process a bit time-consuming, but fair. The appeal process was easy to follow and those involved were respectful.

The decision to appeal a mark is difficult. When a student makes an appeal, they are, in effect, questioning the marker’s judgement. If you plan to appeal, take the time to understand the process and the possible outcomes. Avoid firing off your appeal in a huff after receiving a disappointing mark. You have 30 days to launch your appeal, so you have ample time to reflect. Read and follow the Student Appeals Policy carefully. And good luck!

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario.

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