Q&A: Questioning a grade in an online class

A: A lot of variables enter into the equation here, so answering your question may require a bit more real estate. Here are a couple of return questions to guide you through the grade dispute process:

A. Was this a grade for a specific assignment in a course you're still taking?

If so, e-mail your instructor immediately, using your school e-mail account. Be careful with tone and language. Be respectful and professional. Include course title, section number, instructor and your college ID number.

Don't challenge the grade. Instead, ask for quick feedback on the following:

  • What you should have done differently?
  • Can you revise what you submitted, turn it in, and improve your grade, even if you've been docked points?
  • Can you do a different or an additional assignment to make up some of your lost points?

B. Was this an end-of-semester grade?

If so, go to your college's home page immediately. Look for "support services" for current students, or search the site for a student handbook that includes grading policies. If you can't find it easily, look up the Registrar's phone number/e-mail address, get in touch and ask for the URL of the handbook, which should be online on the school's website.

Follow the handbook's procedure when questioning a grade. Start with contacting the instructor; ask for feedback. Online students can do this via e-mail or can set up a phone "date/time" to talk at a mutually-agreeable, coordinated time zone.

If you and the instructor still disagree, schedule an e-conference or phone call with the chair of the department the course is listed under: speech, business law, biology, etc.

If the department chair still backs the instructor, go up the line, but follow the steps listed in the student handbook, such as bringing in the Dean of that College or an equivalent administrator to hear the problem and recommend a resolution. Some schools may refer you and your problem to a special academic council that will discuss the problem and listen to your complaint.

If they say your grade stands, ask if you can retake the course later for a different grade, even if the original grade has to stay on your transcript. If so, find out if the "new," presumably higher grade will be the one counted in your cumulative GPA.

However,  many schools won't challenge the professional judgment of the instructor or change a grade except under certain conditions:

  • Grades resulting from deviations in the instructor's established and announced grading procedures
  • Errors in application of grading procedures
  • Modification of grades for non-academic reasons
  • Gross error in judgment by the instructor

Many schools have a time limit for grade questions after grades have been posted. Beyond that date (often two weeks after semester's end) you can't appeal a grade. If you've missed the final date to bring this up, you're probably stuck with the grade you got, no matter how much you don't like it. What's in the policy handbook for your online school generally determines the outcome.


Jan teaches online courses for Harper College and traditional courses for Roosevelt University, and has been teaching in higher education for 20 years. She's also written seven books in a career series for young adults, and numerous articles about banking, workplace safety, and manufacturing processes. Jan has the MBA in marketing and the Master of Arts in Training and Development (MATD) degree with a concentration in e-learning. Her bachelor's degree is from Cornell University.