Conflict-Resolution Strategies

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify strategies for resolving conflicts with an instructor
Wall sign with snarky instructions

The most common conflict that students experience with instructors is feeling that they’ve received a lower grade than they deserve. This conflict may be especially common for new students not yet used to the higher standards of college. It can be disappointing to get a low grade, but try not to be too hard on yourself or on the instructor. Take a good look at what happened on the test or paper and make sure you know what to do better next time.

If you genuinely believe you should have a higher grade, you can talk with your instructor. How you communicate in that conversation, however, is very important. Instructors are used to hearing students complain about grades, and they will likely patiently explain their standards for grading. In general, instructors seldom change grades. Still, it can still be worthwhile to talk with the instructor. You will learn from the experience even if your grade doesn’t change.

Here are guidelines for talking about a grade or resolving any other problem or disagreement with an instructor:

  • Go over the requirements for the paper or test and the instructor’s comments. Be sure you actually have a reason to evaluate the grade—not just that you didn’t do well. Be prepared with specific points you want to discuss.
  • Make an appointment with your instructor. For face-to-face classes, don’t try to talk about your concern before or after class.
  • Be polite. Begin by politely explaining that you thought you did better on the assignment or test (not simply that you think you deserve a better grade) and that you’d like to go over it to better understand the result.
  • Allow the instructor to explain his or her comments on the assignment or grading of the test. Don’t complain or whine; instead, show your appreciation for the explanation. Raise any specific questions, or make comments at this time. For example, you might say, “I really thought I was being clear here when I wrote . . . .”
  • Use good listening skills. When you’re talking to your professor, make sure to listen to what they have to say in response to you. Don’t interrupt or raise your voice with them, and try your best to be patient even if you find that your professor disagrees with you.
  • Ask what you can do to improve the grade, if possible. Can you rewrite the paper or do any extra-credit work to help make up for the score? While you are showing that you would like to earn a higher grade in the course, also make it clear that you’re willing to put in the effort and that you want to learn more, not just get the higher grade.
  • If there is no opportunity to improve on this specific project, ask the instructor for advice on what you might do on the next assignment or when preparing for the next test. You may be offered some individual help or receive good study advice, and your instructor will respect your willingness to make the effort—as long as it’s clear that you’re more interested in learning than getting a good grade.

Try It

Communicating with Instructors

The following activity goes over some of the tips we covered for communicating with your instructors, and presents some examples for you to look at.

Read a text-only version of the activity here.