Making the Grade

By Amy McMullan

Teacher and studentLet’s be honest. As a student, you know that grades are important. And, if you are planning to attend college, you probably put some extra effort into getting good grades.

In high school, even as you work hard to get the best grades possible, teachers are usually open to providing additional opportunities.

“High school teachers were willing to provide opportunities to make-up missed work, retake a test or even just give a few bonus points to boost my grade if I was on the fence,” said Andrea Gullixson, a student at Gustavus Adolphus College.

But, in college, grading is very different. Most professors don’t offer extra credit and even fewer are willing to negotiate grades.

“In high school there was enough extra credit to pump a grade up,” said Kayla Tigges, a student at Truman State University in Missouri, “but that isn’t the case in college.”

That isn’t to say that there isn’t ever any extra credit offered in college.

“I was offered extra credit in a class for attending a lecture outside of class and writing a commentary on it,” Gullixson said.

Dana Keuhn, a student at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire added, “Occasionally professors will offer extra credit for attending forums or lectures related to the topic of the class.”

Professor perspectives
Dr. Robert Pearson, assistant professor of applied statistics & research methods at the University of Northern Colorado, explains his reasoning for not offering extra credit.

“I primarily use exams to assess how well students have mastered the material covered in class,” Pearson said. “I don’t feel that offering individual students extra credit opportunities aids in that measurement.”

Dr. Richard T. Toomey, associate professor of chemistry at Northwest Missouri State University, noted that he will only provide extra credit opportunities to the entire class at the same time.

“It isn’t fair to give just one student [extra credit],” Toomey said.

Pearson acknowledged that other professors offer extra credit at their discretion, but that “it just doesn’t fit into my model of grading as an assessment of achievement in a class.”

In regards to negotiating grades, Toomey feels that “it is an issue of integrity. I’m not going to give [students] something that [they] didn’t earn. The bar has been set.”

Don’t pass up any opportunities
You shouldn’t count on extra credit, but if it is offered, take the opportunity.

“Just like in high school, extra credit can make a difference,” Gullixson said. “An A- can become an A with just a few extra points.”

If you pass on those rare opportunities, don’t expect professors to create another extra credit assignment for you near the end of the term.

“Professors would not provide additional opportunities for extra credits,” Keuhn said, “especially if you had not taken advantage of previous ones they had offered.”

As far as trying to negotiate grades, it is probably best not to even try it.

“I’ve never heard of a professor who is willing to [negotiate grades],” Gullixson said. “You are graded based on your performance.”

In Toomey’s opinion, even attempting to negotiate grades shows that you “can’t take responsibility for your actions.”

“Looking for extra credit is the wrong focus,” said Pearson. “Attending class, being engaged and trying to learn as much from a course as possible is the correct focus.”

“All I want out of my students,” said Toomey, “is for them to care about their education.”


About the Author

Amy McMullan