How to Raise Your Exam By 1 Letter Grade in 15 Minutes

By March 14, 2016HACKing Studying
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Do you want to receive a GPA boost by a whole letter grade (e.g. from B to A) in as little as 15 minutes? Forget studying an extra 2 or 3 hours. Just do this:

How I (and you) Walked on a GPA Landmine

During my senior year at Penn State, one of my advanced business classes required the submission of a group project. As I’ve said before, I’m not crazy about group projects. But what can you do when the professor requires one?

Unfortunately, I was stuck with one of the worst groups possible (a major reason why I hate group projects). My five-person group consisted of me, two party-loving sorority girls, and two party-loving fraternity guys. Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with belonging to a fraternity or sorority. After all, I was in a fraternity (check out the picture). Also, I was in a sorority as an honorary sweetheart (cute, right?). But I actually took school seriously. My groupmates, however, did not. In fact, my groupmates’ chronic absence from class prevented us from scheduling our first group meeting until the week our project was due. Not a great start.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our final grade was mediocre at best. We ended up with a B-. In one sense, I couldn’t believe it. After all, our professor was notorious for handing out A’s. In another sense, I was not at all surprised. I never saw our final submission, so I could only imagine what sort of garbage we had submitted. What was supposed to be an easy A resulted in a drag on my GPA. I couldn’t let that happen.

So I emailed my professor, asking to set up a one-on-one meeting. Although I intended to strenuously assert that I deserved a better grade, my email indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to simply seek feedback and improvement. The polite tone I used was critical, because it avoided having my professor becoming defensive. Naturally, the professor agreed to meet.

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Tool: Email Template I Used to Set Up Personalized Meeting with Professor

Mr./Ms. [insert professor name}

I am a student in your [name of class], which I genuinely find engaging and insightful. Your clear presentations demonstrate your commitment to ensuring a great classroom experience for all of your students. I am no exception.

I am contacting you in order to request a one-on-one meeting. Specifically, I would like to discuss our [name of group project] and receive feedback, including ways to improve for next time. I am available to meet during your office hours scheduled for [insert date and time] or [insert date and time].

Thanks in advance for your willingness to meet with me. I look forward to hearing from you.

All the best,

[insert your name]

Why This Template Is Effective

  • Opening paragraph: Sets a pleasant tone. It tells the professor how much I enjoyed her class.
  • Middle paragraph: Presents a specific action-item: my request to meet. It tells the professor what I want to discuss and why. Importantly, it continues my pleasant tone from the opening paragraph. Also, its provides multiple dates of availability. Professors are busy, so they may not be able to accommodate you on one exact date.
  • Last paragraph: Conclude with a pleasant remark.
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    Setting the Stage for the Right Moment

    During the first few minutes of our meeting, my professor and I exchanged simple pleasantries. Shortly thereafter, it was time to get down to business. “I am here to review our group project,” I said. “I haven’t seen it yet, so maybe I could first look at it.”

    “You haven’t reviewed your project yet?” the professor asked in surprise.

    “No,” I said. “My groupmates submitted it without my review.”

    “Oh, I’m glad you told me!” my professor exclaimed, almost sympathetically. “Let me get it for you.”

    So far, this was going perfectly. My opening remarks distanced myself from the rest of my groupmates. I just needed to convince my professor that I deserved special treatment.

    After reviewing my group’s final submission, I was shocked. Our project was terrible, and it was no surprise we received a B-. All things considered, I would have given us no more than a C.

    The “Big Ask” = GPA Boost

    But I still had work to do. I needed to boost my grade. After all, that’s why I was there. So what did I do? Did I aggressively allege how I couldn’t believe the professor had the audacity to give my group a B-? No. That would have gotten me nowhere. Instead, I simply just asked my professor to reconsider my grade. But not the group’s grade. Just my grade.

    “I don’t think this final submission reflects my contribution to the group,” I said. “I can see why you awarded this paper a B-. But if you look at my contribution by itself, I think you’ll see it’s much different in quality than the rest of the paper. Is there any way you can grade me on my contribution alone?”

    The professor thought about it briefly. “Show me your contribution, Kyle.”

    So I did. After five long minutes, my professor finally looked up after reviewing my contribution. “Ok, Kyle. What grade do you think you deserve?”

    Bingo. I had convinced my professor that my grade needed adjustment. Now I needed her to adjust my grade to an A. “Well, typically professors in other classes score my writing as an A,” I said. “I don’t know why this work should be any different.” I was trying to use the opinion of her colleagues to form a basis upon which she could justify awarding me an A. I didn’t want to make her feel that she was doing anything radical, just sensible.

    “I think you’re right, Kyle,” my professor said. “This work is much better than the rest. I’ll award you an A.”

    Boom! In less than 15 minutes, I had taken a B to an A, simply by being polite, persuasive, and persistent. It was the highest returning 15 minutes I had ever spent at college.

    Grades Are Always Subject to Negotiation

    Although grades are often perceived as being final, they are not. As my story demonstrates, if done properly, a carefully crafted argument can result in a boost to your exam score. You just have to ask for it. That’s why I call this the “Big Ask” hack. This post should give you the confidence needed to ask for a grade adjustment, along with the necessary tools to help you execute.

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