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Understanding the Grades: A Guide to Examination Review

As grades are posted on the MyUM system, you may find yourself confused about some of your grades and wish to go over some of your examinations with the faculty members who taught the courses. This article outlines the best way to go about doing so.

What you can gain from reviewing an exam:

Reviewing an exam in a course where your grade was not as high as you expected can help improve your performance in the next set of exams. Not all problems are exam-related, but you may find out that there are aspects of how you approach exam-writing that are undermining your ability to communicate fully what you have learned. There are several things you can do to review your performance:

  • Just re-reading your answers, in conjunction with the exam, may give you some insight into problems with the way you write your exam. A few faculty members write comments on exams, which are worth reading. (Most faculty members do not write comments, since it could delay getting the grades in and there are many students who don't review their exams.)
  • If the faculty member has made a model or sample answer available, you should read it in conjunction with your own answer.
  • If the faculty member has scheduled a session to go over the exam, you should attend it.
  • If the faculty member is available to go over your exam with you individually, you should take advantage of that opportunity.
  • You should try to learn whether the deficiencies in your exam answer were as a result of organization, analysis of legal issues (and/or being too conclusory), issue-spotting, knowledge of substantive law, writing (including grammar and punctuation.) This information is important as you try to improve your skills for the spring semester. The Academic Achievement Program will hold an Examination Workshop and will expect you to analyze your strengths and weaknesses in these areas.

The Student Handbook (p. 34) provides that students have a right to examine their essay examination papers, if they so request within a semester of the completion of the examination. While faculty members are not required to meet individually with students, most are available for such appointments. You should be aware, however, that faculty may impose conditions on your review:

  • They may, for security reasons, provide you with a photocopy of your examination paper rather than the original, require you to sign the bluebooks out, or require you to examine them under the supervision of their assistant, rather than taking them away.
  • In some cases faculty members maintain banks of examination questions, and thus may impose limitations on the circulation of the exam itself.
  • In order to ensure a more productive meeting, faculty members may impose such conditions as requiring that students read a model or sample answer before meeting with the faculty member.

If you have any questions about the procedures and policies that faculty members have, the best way to find out is to ask the faculty member or his or her assistant. You will need to make sure you comply with those procedures, as faculty members have sound reasons for developing the exam review procedures they have in place.

What you should not expect when reviewing an examination:

  • A grade change: Law School policy forbids changing grades in exam courses once they've been submitted to the Registrar, except in the rare instance where "an arithmetic or transmitting error is discovered" or where cheating is discovered, as the Law School Handbook sets out. The instructor must contact the Associate Dean to support the basis for the change of grade in those rare instances where there is a basis for a change of grade and the final authority rests with the Associate Dean.
  • Information on whether any required grade distribution was followed: We have a grade distribution for the first-year and for upper-level adjunct courses and seminars. There is no need for any student to check a faculty member's compliance with the curve. The Registrar carefully checks grades against any required curve, and does not post them on MyUM until the grades are in conformance with the curve. Any questions about compliance are referred to my office before posting.
  • Unlimited access to information about how the exam grade was arrived at: There are some things you can reasonably expect, and others not.

You may:

  • Ask a faculty member to re-check the addition if you are concerned that there might have been an arithmetic error.
  • Ask a faculty member to confirm that there was no error in transmission (i.e., that the final grade they gave you is the grade recorded in your record);
  • Ask a faculty member to let you know whether there were other factors that affected your grade, and how (e.g., class participation; written exercises; excessive absences).

You may not:

  • Expect the faculty member to engage in a discussion of how your performance compared to another student's exam.
  • Insist on access to grading or point sheets.
  • Insist on knowing point cut-offs for particular grades.

When to review an exam: Your bluebooks should be available for you to review soon after the grade is posted. Typically that should be a week or at most two. Remember, though, that it may take longer for a faculty member to have a sample or model answer prepared and that often there's really very little to be gained just by re-reading your bluebooks if the professor is going to prepare a model answer.

You should also consider that faculty members are not required to schedule appointments immediately, and may set out a block of times when they will be available. In the spring semester, when students seek to go over fall exams, many faculty are not immediately available for appointments. Getting a model or sample answer typed up and proofed may take up to a few weeks. In addition, right after they hand in grades in one class, faculty members may be focusing on current classes or finishing grading exams in another course, or they may have other things they've put off while grading that they have to attend to first. Ordinarily, faculty who are scheduling appointments would begin doing so within a month of the posting of grades, and some would be available earlier.

Don't wait beyond the end of the Spring semester to review Fall semester exams (and don't wait beyond the end of the next Fall semester to review Spring or Summer exams). While there is no rule forbidding you from waiting longer than that, remember that the whole purpose is to improve your performance on the next round of exams. Also, we do not typically save bluebooks for more than a year after the exam was given. Finally, even if an arithmetic or transmitting error were discovered, the Handbook provides that any resulting grade change could be made no later than the end of the semester following the semester in which the exam was given.

While a number of faculty members are available over the summer to review spring exams, you should be aware that not all faculty will be around during the summer. Others have intense summer teaching schedules or research projects that may make meetings difficult over the summer. You should be able at least to examine your bluebooks during the summer, however, and faculty who have not been able to meet with students over the summer about spring semester exams will typically be available in the Fall to do so.

Once again, if you have any questions about when faculty members will be available to meet with you, the best way to find out is to ask the faculty member or his or her assistant.

The Dean of Students is always available for advice and guidance on your academic performance. However, note that the Dean of Students does not have authority to change grades nor is there a formal appeal process.