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Dealing with pre-med students who aren't happy with course grade?


Shamrock_Frog
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Hey all,

First year TA here, obviously. How do you deal with pre-meds who aren't happy with their course grade? Student who got a B+ overall in an intro class. Student got the same grade on a group project (each member received the same grade) which is why the grade stayed the same (grade was 30% of overall grade). Student is unhappy and freaking out about a B+ because student wants to go to medical school. Also group work did not go well, terrible communication amongst group members, etc. One group member (the student in question) reports doing a large share of the work but other three said it was distributed equally. I cannot do anything about the grading since there was no corroboration between group members about one person doing the majority of the work. I also discussed this with the professor/my boss and due to university policy, b/c there was no corroboration I cannot change the grade. I am meeting with this student at the end of the week to discuss the situation. 

Has anyone had to deal with something like this? This student is a good student overall, and a B+ isn't going to screw up everything. (I used to work at a medical school so...)

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This is tough. When I TA, I always try to make grading as transparent as possible. This means I provide grading rubrics where appropriate and ask the professor to make sure the syllabus shows a breakdown of the course grades. When a student approaches me about their grade, I pull out all of the rubrics and assignments and show them where their work fell in the rubric. It's usually hard for them to argue something like "I think my paper is an A" when I can point to the rubric columns showing that their work is a "B" on the rubric, for example. Sometimes I do make mistakes though and I will gladly adjust grades if I did.

However, I never regrade in front of the student and I don't let students try to make an argument for a different grade. That is, when I pull out the rubric, I am doing so only to demonstrate where their work falls on the rubric. I do not give them a chance to argue for a higher grade by showing me why their paper met the "A" column etc. This is not fair because I am not allowing all students to argue for themselves in this way and I don't want to give advantages to students who are taking extra time to argue for grades. If the student still does not agree with the grade once I show them the rubric, I will say "Okay, I will reconsider your grade and let you know". And, then I will spend whatever appropriate amount of time later re-grading their work (If there is no reason to regrade, I won't).

The second situation is even tougher! I think you really have to follow policy in this case, and I hope you are able to explain this to the student. However, it sounds like the policy isn't very good at your school! It sounds like it's easy for a group to force (through inaction) one of the group members to do most of the work and then the other 3 can just say they all worked on it equally. But you also don't know the student you're meeting isn't stretching the truth either. Looking forward, maybe you can talk to your professor/boss about a better way to manage group work and distribution. 

Some things you could do, but only if they are appropriate given your existing policies, is to ask to meet with all of the group members. Maybe get them all to meet you at the same time in the same room and then ask them to write on a piece of paper, without talking, the parts that each of them worked on. But taking actions like this could be inappropriate---make sure you talk to your professor first. At my current school, there is an independent review board that conducts investigations like this, so the right policy at my school would be to report the case and turn over all evidence to the review board.

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1 hour ago, TakeruK said:

The second situation is even tougher! I think you really have to follow policy in this case, and I hope you are able to explain this to the student. However, it sounds like the policy isn't very good at your school! It sounds like it's easy for a group to force (through inaction) one of the group members to do most of the work and then the other 3 can just say they all worked on it equally. But you also don't know the student you're meeting isn't stretching the truth either. Looking forward, maybe you can talk to your professor/boss about a better way to manage group work and distribution.

Yeah, reading the review sheets the members wrote about each other, this one member really tore into the other group members (in a "i'm a control freak and people weren't responsive enough for me" sort of way). That's another reason why my boss/PI and I decided we couldn't really do anything about it, student complains about all group members but says "Student II and myself told student III and student IV what to do for their parts" but student II did not corroborate this on his own review sheet. 

The students did have a rubric though, and the presentation itself wasn't bad, but it just wasn't A quality either. 

It also seemed like this student expects to get an A because s/he put a lot of work and time and effort into the presentation. But sorry, I don't grade on effort. 

I think part of the complaint on this student (student I) is that one of the group members (student III) has a (much) higher grade than Student I despite not spending as much time and effort on the assignments. Sorry student I, but student III just tests better and that's just the hard truth. 

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When meeting with the student, be polite but firm. Stick to the facts and don't say more than is necessary. Freely invoke the higher authority (you and the professor spoke and agreed that nothing could be changed because of X and Y). You can remind them that a B+ on their transcript isn't the end of the world, but I wouldn't both arguing with them about the effect it has on their med school application, or accuse them of over-reacting. If the student remains obnoxious, tell them that the discussion is over and ask them to leave. 

Hopefully though the student will have calmed down a bit about their grade by the time of your meeting. 

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I've noticed that pre-med students tend to push for regrades more often than others, it essentially is a low risk-moderate reward type of situation. One thing that is useful is to have a clearly set regrade policy. I've seen policies where if one question is contested, then the entire exam is regraded, which means that the student's grade can be lowered. Also group projects are typically a mess, especially in intro classes since work ethic is different for every student at that point and personalities clash. It seems like the student was counting on the group project to lift their grade up and worked harder to achieve that. You could always check the grade averages of the other members of the group. If their averages are much lower, they may believe that their contribution was equal when it wasn't. 

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34 minutes ago, zipykido said:

You could always check the grade averages of the other members of the group. If their averages are much lower, they may believe that their contribution was equal when it wasn't. 

One of the students accused of doing little work has a low grade, the only C in the class (It was actually a D before the group project and paper grades were added into the gradebook). The other student has an A and is actually the 2nd or 3rd highest grade in the class. I think student I is aware that the A student does have a higher grade, and this is partly why the student is upset. 

She didn't actually ask for a regrade, of which there is a firm policy (in writing, can't be submitted until after 24 hours after test/project grades were handed back). Plus it's the friday before grades are due, which is my boss/PI's job to turn in letter grades, not mine. I think she just wants to understand why they all got the same grade. 

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1 minute ago, Shamrock_Frog said:

One of the students accused of doing little work has a low grade, the only C in the class (It was actually a D before the group project and paper grades were added into the gradebook). The other student has an A and is actually the 2nd or 3rd highest grade in the class. I think student I is aware that the A student does have a higher grade, and this is partly why the student is upset. 

She didn't actually ask for a regrade, of which there is a firm policy (in writing, can't be submitted until after 24 hours after test/project grades were handed back). Plus it's the friday before grades are due, which is my boss/PI's job to turn in letter grades, not mine. I think she just wants to understand why they all got the same grade. 

Sounds like she's freaked out about medical school then. Even when I was an undergrad, friends of mine who wanted to go to medical school would go and ask for additional points and argue minute points. I have friend currently TAing that tell me horror stories of students demanding grades be changed even when they are blatantly wrong. I think the only thing you can do is try to assure her that a B+ is not the end of the world for medical school applications and if you want to go the extra mile, critique her on points that would help her earn higher grades in the future. Aside from that, not much you can, should, or need to do. 

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Tough? Pre-med students are the worst grade grubbers. On some plane of existence, I have a little sympathy for them - medical school admissions are insane and the competitiveness adds ridiculous pressure. However, not my life choice and not my fault you got a B+! (Which is, after all, a good grade.)

The AAMC actually has a table of medical school applicant info that may be useful. Basically, even if she got a B+ average throughout college (3.3-3.5 GPA), if she scores well on the MCAT (30+) she's got pretty decent chances of being accepted to medical school.

However, it's probably not very productive to share that with the student...assuming that you have good documentation of your grading, you can just re-explain that the grade is determined such and such way and thus the grade is fair. There's really nothing you can do.

 

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Pre-med students?  I ignore that line "I want to go to med school" as an excuse and give them what they actually earned.  But if I see them actually working in the class, I'll choose the higher grade if I'm on borderline between two grades-- which I would do for any student.  Distance yourself from the students' goals as they can change over time anyway.

Firm, polite tone and authority does the trick.  Keep in touch with the professor and make sure that the two of you are on the same side.  Frame your responses in a way that that if the student decides to go over your authority and go to the professor, s/he won't get better luck.

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2 hours ago, TMP said:

Pre-med students?  I ignore that line "I want to go to med school" as an excuse and give them what they actually earned.  But if I see them actually working in the class, I'll choose the higher grade if I'm on borderline between two grades-- which I would do for any student.  Distance yourself from the students' goals as they can change over time anyway.

Firm, polite tone and authority does the trick.  Keep in touch with the professor and make sure that the two of you are on the same side.  Frame your responses in a way that that if the student decides to go over your authority and go to the professor, s/he won't get better luck.

Agree with this. I've been teaching/TAing for a while, and the "I'm a pre-med student and can't get less than an A!" excuse has been lobbed at me several times throughout the past few years. And it's almost always in response to a B+. I don't know what it is about that B+--it's a good grade. There is absolutely nothing objectionable about a B+, and it certainly won't keep anyone out of med school. Keep doing what you're doing, OP. Stick to your guns. 

Someone gave me a link to this post some time ago about the cruelty of the B+: http://collegemisery.blogspot.com/2010/12/open-bitchy-letter-to-my-students-and.html

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  • 3 months later...
  • 3 weeks later...

It is true that there are cases in my class, some students avoid group works to focus on the exam of the same class and eventually earn higher grade than other members in their groups.

Tough situation. You may want to talk to the student in question in a soft yet firm tone that there is nothing can be done to increase his/her grade since everything is finalized. His/Her group project was good but not of the expected quality that earns an A. Also further investigation into the discordant collaboration among the student's group project members cannot be taken into consideration for his/her grade increase.

 

Edited by ShogunT
Seems to be an obsolete post of mine.
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