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When to Appeal a Final Grade


BadTester

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BadTester
  • Law Student

Hi all, 

I'm looking for insight on whether I should formally appeal a final grade in one of my courses.

Some background:

I just completed our school's intro tax course and received a final grade substantially below what I thought my performance was throughout the course. On paper, I had consistent A's and A-'s on all of my assessments; however, my final grade in the course was Curved to a C+. In a follow-up to my professor, it was indicated that students did "substantially well in the course" and that this resulted in "grades having to be curved harshly", but that they could not discuss those final grades, as it was in the hands of the faculty and not them personally.

My problem with this result is three-fold:

First, our instructor NEVER informed us that these assessment grades were simply "raw scores". I had nothing to go off of that would suggest I needed to improve on my performance within the course relative to my peers... even to improve to a simple being in the middle of the pack. 

Second, our professor seems to have graded on a scale that resulted in A+ assessments being curved to an A, A assessments being curved to a B, and A- assessments being curved to a C; the margins between those grades, in terms of a raw score differential on the assessments, would be a difference of between 1-2 marks out of 25 across each assessment. A curve under this model, with such razor-thin margins, feels pretty arbitrary to me. 

Third, the assessments appear to have been curved without consideration for the difficulty of assessment. The course was evaluated with four assessments - one to be completed for each "unit" of the course. For each "unit", there was a weekly assessment we could pick based on the aggregate of topics we'd discussed from that unit up to that point. What this means is that if you did an assessment early-on the unit, you would have an easier time with the material as there was simply less of it to be tested on. By contrast, selecting the final assessment to write on that unit would be more challenging, as there was more material to address. This is especially compounded by the fact that we were limited to 1000 words per assessment, including footnotes, and we were required to create complete McGill legal citations for all sources used. Not only were the final assessments substantially more challenging in terms of the substantive components of assessment, they were also made more challenging by having to provide more citations for relevant legal sources within the same word count. The reason this third point is important to my gripe is that I, thinking I was doing well in the course, consistently took the latter assignments because I enjoyed the challenge and wanted to demonstrate more comprehensive knowledge. Had I known that my A- assignments were C grades, I would have done earlier, easier assessments to compensate.

Erroneous feelings that I am dumping:

I am at a complete loss here. I worked hard on these assessments. I never received ANY feedback to suggest that I was doing anything less than exceptional in the course. While I never asked if the assessment grades were curved, my feedback from peers in this class suggested I was right there with my cohort; I did not realize that my close peer getting 1.0 marks higher on ONE assessment than I would result in the difference between a B and a C+. I thought they'd be the A+ in the class. Moreover, my feedback from peers who had taken this course in the past was that they had NEVER received grades that high, and finished with a B in the course. Speaking in general speculation, I do not know of anyone in a Tax Law cohort who did "so well" that the median raw score was above an 80% pre-curve. 

I was hoping that Tax would be my thing. I loved the course, I loved the material, and I loved the challenge of the assessments. I thought I was doing well with A and A- grades.  However, my curved grade shows I know nothing about the material and I fail to see how ANY tax employer would even so much as look at my application for Articling, let alone seriously consider it.

I am not the best tester. I felt that I was really doing well in these assessments and that I was finally seeing results in law school that reflected my understanding and capability without the pressure of exams and having a slow typing speed. This shows that I am just a moron across the board. 

What can I take away from this? Despite my interest in Tax, should I just give it up? 

I'm at a loss here. I'm not trying to catastrophize, but I now have a C+ average in law school and don't see how anyone will hire me in the future. I really thought this was my thing, I thought that assignments were my thing, and I feel like a complete idiot for trusting those grades and getting my hopes up with being competent. 

I'd appreciate any insight on this; whether that be good, bad, or ugly. 

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Scrantonicity2
  • Law Student

I suspect that others will be able to chime in on the issues re: the curve (this sounds different from how it works at my law school, so I can't really comment).

What I can say is that you are not a "moron across the board." You are performing at the lower end of a competitive group of intelligent people. This might have something to do with your relative intelligence or aptitude, or you may simply not be as good at law school as many of your peers. Either way, you can still graduate and be a lawyer - even a very good one. One of the best lawyers I know failed a course in law school (which, honestly, seems like it would be almost impossible). 

Law school is a professional program - basically a trade school (although there can be a weird reticence about acknowledging this). While grades can help you  access more work opportunities (or more competitive ones), what matters is that you have enough competence in the subject matter to be able to practice responsibly. If you really liked tax, it would be worth following up with the professor just to make sure that you had a good grasp of the material (based on your grades in class, it seems like you did!). If so, there's nothing stopping you from pursuing a career as a tax lawyer. Your overall average means that more competitive opportunties are off the table, at least for now, but you can start networking with folks who practice tax law, join clubs, participate in moots etc. to show your interest and build up your knowledge.

Ultimately, this moment, right here, the one you're in - it sucks. But this moment will not last forever and needn't define your career.

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BadTester
  • Law Student
Quote

If so, there's nothing stopping you from pursuing a career as a tax lawyer.

I appreciate the perspective. Although I'm not sure I agree with it right now, that might be my emotions getting the better of me and I still need some time to process things.

Notwithstanding the grade, it's clear that I don't have a handle on finding success in law school. I have 1 A so far, and 1 Honours on a major assessment; everything else has been C's and B's. I was definitely putting a lot of self-validation on this false tax grade, especially given my interest. I need to do some serious soul-searching this summer and get my shit together for future schooling.  

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LMP
  • Articling Student
3 hours ago, BadTester said:

Hi all, 

I'm looking for insight on whether I should formally appeal a final grade in one of my courses.

Some background:

I just completed our school's intro tax course and received a final grade substantially below what I thought my performance was throughout the course. On paper, I had consistent A's and A-'s on all of my assessments; however, my final grade in the course was Curved to a C+. In a follow-up to my professor, it was indicated that students did "substantially well in the course" and that this resulted in "grades having to be curved harshly", but that they could not discuss those final grades, as it was in the hands of the faculty and not them personally.

My problem with this result is three-fold:

First, our instructor NEVER informed us that these assessment grades were simply "raw scores". I had nothing to go off of that would suggest I needed to improve on my performance within the course relative to my peers... even to improve to a simple being in the middle of the pack. 

Second, our professor seems to have graded on a scale that resulted in A+ assessments being curved to an A, A assessments being curved to a B, and A- assessments being curved to a C; the margins between those grades, in terms of a raw score differential on the assessments, would be a difference of between 1-2 marks out of 25 across each assessment. A curve under this model, with such razor-thin margins, feels pretty arbitrary to me. 

Third, the assessments appear to have been curved without consideration for the difficulty of assessment. The course was evaluated with four assessments - one to be completed for each "unit" of the course. For each "unit", there was a weekly assessment we could pick based on the aggregate of topics we'd discussed from that unit up to that point. What this means is that if you did an assessment early-on the unit, you would have an easier time with the material as there was simply less of it to be tested on. By contrast, selecting the final assessment to write on that unit would be more challenging, as there was more material to address. This is especially compounded by the fact that we were limited to 1000 words per assessment, including footnotes, and we were required to create complete McGill legal citations for all sources used. Not only were the final assessments substantially more challenging in terms of the substantive components of assessment, they were also made more challenging by having to provide more citations for relevant legal sources within the same word count. The reason this third point is important to my gripe is that I, thinking I was doing well in the course, consistently took the latter assignments because I enjoyed the challenge and wanted to demonstrate more comprehensive knowledge. Had I known that my A- assignments were C grades, I would have done earlier, easier assessments to compensate.

Erroneous feelings that I am dumping:

I am at a complete loss here. I worked hard on these assessments. I never received ANY feedback to suggest that I was doing anything less than exceptional in the course. While I never asked if the assessment grades were curved, my feedback from peers in this class suggested I was right there with my cohort; I did not realize that my close peer getting 1.0 marks higher on ONE assessment than I would result in the difference between a B and a C+. I thought they'd be the A+ in the class. Moreover, my feedback from peers who had taken this course in the past was that they had NEVER received grades that high, and finished with a B in the course. Speaking in general speculation, I do not know of anyone in a Tax Law cohort who did "so well" that the median raw score was above an 80% pre-curve. 

I was hoping that Tax would be my thing. I loved the course, I loved the material, and I loved the challenge of the assessments. I thought I was doing well with A and A- grades.  However, my curved grade shows I know nothing about the material and I fail to see how ANY tax employer would even so much as look at my application for Articling, let alone seriously consider it.

I am not the best tester. I felt that I was really doing well in these assessments and that I was finally seeing results in law school that reflected my understanding and capability without the pressure of exams and having a slow typing speed. This shows that I am just a moron across the board. 

What can I take away from this? Despite my interest in Tax, should I just give it up? 

I'm at a loss here. I'm not trying to catastrophize, but I now have a C+ average in law school and don't see how anyone will hire me in the future. I really thought this was my thing, I thought that assignments were my thing, and I feel like a complete idiot for trusting those grades and getting my hopes up with being competent. 

I'd appreciate any insight on this; whether that be good, bad, or ugly. 

This is a bit unfamiliar to me as where I went to school the expectation was that you discuss your grade with the prof before an appeal. Which as I understand it is not possible for you? 

I think there may be merit in digging into this further, at the very least to see if there are grounds for an appeal. 

To start, confirm the requirements for such an appeal. I know my school have significant deference to professors and required a demonstrated error in grading. Determining what the standard will tell you if you have a chance of success. 

For example, if seen appeals work in the past for things like attendance or participation makes being off. Or from certian work being weighted incorrectly. 

It is also probably useful to check your school's policies to see if an assessment can yield a lower mark. If that's not a risk there really is no reason not to pursue this.

 

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Scrantonicity2
  • Law Student
9 hours ago, BadTester said:

I appreciate the perspective. Although I'm not sure I agree with it right now, that might be my emotions getting the better of me and I still need some time to process things.

Notwithstanding the grade, it's clear that I don't have a handle on finding success in law school. I have 1 A so far, and 1 Honours on a major assessment; everything else has been C's and B's. I was definitely putting a lot of self-validation on this false tax grade, especially given my interest. I need to do some serious soul-searching this summer and get my shit together for future schooling.  

I don't want to minimize how you're feeling - it sucks feeling like you did well and not seeing that reflected in your grade. It may be worth (as LMP has suggested) contesting the grade. Otherwise, take the time you need to feel shitty, listen to some angry music, eat some icecream, whatever your process is.

But I'm going to give some additional unsolicited advice because, although I am but a lowly law student right now, I am also old. By that, I mean I worked for just under 10 years after finishing my undergrad before starting law school. This doesn't mean I have any special insight into the world, but I do have the advantage of having orbited the sun a few more times than K-JDs.

How do you define "finding success in law school"? Only As? Because that will not happen for the vast majority of law students. And that vast majority is not failing at law school. Those Bs? Those mean that you are in the middle of a pack of smart people. That's a great place to be! Those Cs? Yep, something there didn't go as well - although, based on your unfortunate tax experience, it might just mean that EVERYONE did well and the curve was tougher than usual.

Its fine to want to do better, but please, for the love of God, and for the sake of your own wellness and sanity, do not hang your sense of self-worth on performing at a level that is, by definition, exceptional. That way lies madness and misery (speaking here from experience). 

You probably aren't going to clerk at the SCC, but you can have a wonderufl, satisfying career in law with a middling law school performance. THAT is the definition of "finding sucess" in law school. 

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HarryCrane
  • Articling Student
On 5/12/2024 at 12:14 PM, BadTester said:

I appreciate the perspective. Although I'm not sure I agree with it right now, that might be my emotions getting the better of me and I still need some time to process things.

Notwithstanding the grade, it's clear that I don't have a handle on finding success in law school. I have 1 A so far, and 1 Honours on a major assessment; everything else has been C's and B's. I was definitely putting a lot of self-validation on this false tax grade, especially given my interest. I need to do some serious soul-searching this summer and get my shit together for future schooling.  

There are plenty of students (and eventual lawyers) who will go their entire law school career without getting an A in a class. Whether or not you get an A will not determine how successful you will be as a lawyer. Law is a profession, and success is not based solely on one aspect of your 3 years of law school grades.

 

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LawNewbie
  • Law Student
On 5/12/2024 at 12:54 PM, LMP said:

This is a bit unfamiliar to me as where I went to school the expectation was that you discuss your grade with the prof before an appeal. Which as I understand it is not possible for you? 

I think there may be merit in digging into this further, at the very least to see if there are grounds for an appeal. 

To start, confirm the requirements for such an appeal. I know my school have significant deference to professors and required a demonstrated error in grading. Determining what the standard will tell you if you have a chance of success. 

For example, if seen appeals work in the past for things like attendance or participation makes being off. Or from certian work being weighted incorrectly. 

It is also probably useful to check your school's policies to see if an assessment can yield a lower mark. If that's not a risk there really is no reason not to pursue this.

 

I'm attending the same school, but interestingly, all the professors of the courses I did relatively poorly were reluctant to see me and discuss the exams... Do you have insights on what to do in such scenario? Do I get to appeal the grades given that the professors are not willing to see me?

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LMP
  • Articling Student
2 hours ago, LawNewbie said:

I'm attending the same school, but interestingly, all the professors of the courses I did relatively poorly were reluctant to see me and discuss the exams... Do you have insights on what to do in such scenario? Do I get to appeal the grades given that the professors are not willing to see me?

Yeah so when you appeal you need to attach proof you tried to talk to the prof. So just have that ready to go.

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atg95
  • Lawyer

Scaling down from A and A- on all assignments to C+ is over the top and seems like a poorly managed course the way you have described it. Re-read the syllabus to see if there is any information provided on course average, scaling, etc.  I would check into the rules and procedure involved in challenging a grade at your law school and what exact rights you have in that process. It may be there is an intermediate step where you can get a better understanding of what happened in this course before you make the decision on whether to challenge. Try seeing if grades and averages are listed for past years in your course to get an idea how this course has been handled, search online to see what the exact percentage rules are for a class of this size, etc.  

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