There he sits, smug in the knowledge that he knows everything there is to know about Political Science. Every week, he spews 45 minutes of what sounds like gibberish at you, shows some PowerPoint slides that he claims are related to the material, and assigns 100 pages of reading. Somehow, he expects you to put these three things together to and pass tests that might as well be written in Sanskrit. Unsurprisingly, you are not doing as well as you would like in the class. Now, you are faced with the difficult task of approaching this PoliSci demigod about how you can improve your grade.
Obviously, approaching an instructor about your grade can be a very intimidating task, even if your instructor is a kind, old grandmotherly-type. It can be embarrassing to admit that you aren’t “getting it” and that you need their help (which, for some reason, can feel a whole lot like begging for a better grade). Never fear! A few simple steps can prepare you for the big moment and help you walk away with the help you need feeling empowered instead of degraded.
First, prepare yourself.
1. Imagine your instructor in their underwear. Okay, maybe imagining them in underwear won’t help, but the idea here is to remind yourself that your instructor is only human, just like you. Most likely, they, too, have had to ask someone for help, whether they would want to admit it or not. It doesn’t matter if they’ll admit to it, all that matters is that you know it. Don’t let a fear of being judged by someone that is imperfect (just like you) keep you from asking for what you need.
2. Evaluate your own performance. If you were going to get a grade for your level of effort in the class, what grade would it be? Do you read the chapters or do you just skim the vocabulary words? Do you study for the tests or do you just try to sit next to someone that you know studies? If you aren’t putting in at least a B in effort, you may want to think of ways you can increase your attempts to pass before you ask someone else to help you pass. If you decide that maybe you need to increase your efforts, make a list of what you can do to improve your grade and be ready to share your plans with your instructor (although you don’t have to share the fact that, so far, you haven’t quite earned an A, or even an E, for Effort).
3. What was it that you wanted, again? Do you want to convince your instructor that you deserve a better grade or do you want find out about opportunities for extra credit? You have to help them help you! If you go in without a clear idea of what you want, you are likely to leave with an unclear idea of what you are getting.
4. Don’t go into battle empty-handed. Bring everything that you have for the class, including the syllabus, notes you have taken or that the instructor has given you, and any graded work you have received. Any of these things may end up being useful in both explaining where you are having the most difficulty and providing your professor with a chance to give helpful suggestions.
Now that you have reached the ideal instructor-approaching Zen state, take the following steps before and during your conversation.
1. Formulate a question. The last thing your instructor wants is a student telling them how to do their job. Asking a question shows that you are not questioning their work, you just want to know how to better complete your work. This ties back in to figuring out what you want to accomplish. You know what you want, now you just need to turn it into a question. For example: “Do you offer any opportunities for extra credit?”, “I’m not sure what happened to me, but I really bombed the last test. Is there anything I can do to bring that grade up?” or “I’m worried about my grade, do you have any suggestions for ways I can improve it?”
2. Identify possible responses that you may receive from your instructor. Your instructor may hear concerns like yours all the time. It is entirely possible that you will receive a cookie-cutter response like, “I offer a study group on Wednesday afternoons,” or “Make sure you study the notes I give you in class.” The problem is, you are not available on Wednesdays or you already study the notes. By identifying what their knee-jerk response may be, you will be ready to explain that you are asking for something other than what they first offer when it doesn’t meet your needs.
3. Prepare reactions to unfavorable responses. If your instructor mentions that maybe you aren’t studying enough, be ready to describe your note-taking and study habits. If you already realized those need to improve, explain what you are planning to do on your end. If your instructor has a strict no-extra-credit policy, ask them to help you understand how to start improving your grade. If your instructor seems unwilling to offer any help, ask if they know of any students that are doing well (or have done well in the past) that might be interested in tutoring you or becoming part of a study group.
4. Approach your professor. Go in, ask your question, and hope for the best. More than likely, your instructor will be happy to help you find ways to improve your grade. Remember, the best evaluation of their work as a teacher is in the grades of their students. And, if the instructor seems resistant to helping, you will be more than prepared to help them help!