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Robert Hsu
The Casual Observer

Photo: Robert Hsu / The Daily Pennsylvanian

We’ve all been there before: receiving a midterm back with an unsatisfactory score.

Some of us blame ourselves by lamenting not studying harder and resolve to study more next time to beat the curve. Others blame external circumstances, such as the difficulty of the test or the professor’s ineptness in writing clear and understandable test questions.

Some are so focused on the number at the top of the front page that they do whatever they can to squeeze points out of the system. Although we all want to do well, is it possible that we can take exam regrades a step too far at times?

Obviously, exams are graded by humans who naturally will make scoring mistakes on occasion or may interpret an answer in a way that does not match the canonical answers defined by the professor.

For example, in a couple of biology classes that I have taken, it’s common for a challenging question to present a hypothetical situation that requires the student to use class concepts to predict what will happen. Sometimes, students may have a plausible explanation that was not thought of when creating the answer key. In these cases, submitting an exam to be regraded makes sense and is justified.

However, students abuse the regrade system at times. Some are downright rude to teaching assistants and attempt to bully them into giving points back. One junior engineering TA I spoke with recalled an unpleasant experience with a student: “He didn’t do well at all. For every single problem he got wrong, he tried to argue why his answer was right, and he argued that the TAs who grade were blind or stupid.”

Others submit pointless regrades without legitimate arguments, hoping to scrape back whatever points they can get, even when most classes release a clear answer key or rubric. “There are two classes of regrades,” the TA said. “There’s one where we just screwed up adding the numbers … the second one is people who got a lot of points off and are really upset, and they submit that and there are angry comments. They never get points back honestly.”

As a student, I understand the academic pressure that we face each and every day. I have submitted regrades before with the hope of improving my score relative to others. Submitting a regrade can be like asking someone a question: The worst that will happen is a “no,” in this case, no points back (unless a class penalizes the student for newfound mistakes).

When I asked the TA why he thought such behaviors exist, he said, “I think some of it is poor manners, and some of it is adjusting from high school where you can bully teachers into what you want pretty easily.”

Allowing exam regrades is an important part of a fair grading system, but we as students must reevaluate our attitude towards them and be more selective when requesting them.

While a point or two could push us above the mean on a test, it won’t actually have any bearing on our final grade — some teachers rightfully prohibit students from submitting regrades for a point or two to avoid overly nitpicky students.

At the end of the day, this entitled attitude towards points misses the purpose and process of learning. As students, we should be more concerned with which concepts we are less familiar with and how we can minimize these deficiencies going forward. A more productive approach would be reviewing the test with a TA to understand how to improve next time.

Bullying TAs for points back may work on an assignment or two, but in the long run, it could backfire. Students don’t realize “how much power [TAs] have over your grade,” I was told. “It actually hurts them because when we’re grading and we see someone who submits annoying regrade requests all the time, we’re less inclined to give partial credit, fight for their solution,” he added.

After all, no one likes a rude customer.

Robert Hsu, a College and Wharton junior from Novi, Mich. His email address is rohsu@sas.upenn.edu. Follow him @mrroberthsu. “The Casual Observer” appears every other Friday.

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