How To Appeal A Final Grade

Ever gotten a grade back on an assignment or exam and felt like screaming? You studied relentlessly, participated in class, and turned everything in on time, yet the grade you received just doesn’t reflect the effort you put in. Frustrating, right?

Well, you don’t have to just accept it. In most cases, you have the right to appeal your grade as an education lawyer can explain. But what exactly is a grade appeal, and how do you go about doing it? And when should you consider getting legal help? Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about appealing a grade, including when to get a lawyer involved.

How Common Are Unfair Grades?

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that over 1.5 million students in the United States dispute their grades each year. That’s a significant number, and it shows that unfair grading is a widespread problem.

There are many reasons why a student might receive a grade they believe is unfair. Maybe the professor made a mistake in calculating the final grade, or perhaps the grading rubric wasn’t clear. In other cases, there might be extenuating circumstances, such as a personal illness or a family emergency, that impacted the student’s performance.

Here’s a guide on what to consider, the grounds for appeal, and the step-by-step process to challenge a final grade.

Before You Appeal, Key Considerations

  • Burden of Proof: The responsibility to prove the grade is incorrect lies with the student. You must demonstrate that the grade does not accurately reflect your knowledge of the course material.
  • Initial Resolution Attempts: Always attempt to resolve the issue with your instructor first. If this doesn’t work, escalate it to the Chair/Director of the teaching department. Early communication is crucial.
  • Timeliness: Address any academic performance issues with your instructor or department as soon as they arise. Failure to do so may weaken your appeal.

Grounds For A Final Grade Appeal

You can only appeal a final grade if you have valid grounds. Here are the four primary grounds as told to us by our friends at K Altman Law:

  1. Course Management: If the instructor deviated from course policies or the course outline, or demonstrated bias or unfair treatment, you may have grounds for appeal. Note that personal bias is distinct from prejudice as defined under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
  2. Extenuating Circumstances: If unforeseen events beyond your control significantly impacted your ability to meet academic requirements, you might appeal under this ground.
  3. Procedural Error: If there was an error in applying university policies that affected your grade, you could appeal based on procedural error.
  4. Prejudice: If your grade was affected by prejudice based on a protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code, this is a valid ground for appeal. If this is your claim, your appeal will be forwarded to Human Rights Services.

Levels Of Appeal

There are three levels to which you can typically appeal:

  1. Department/School/Program Level: Start here with your appeal.
  2. Faculty Level: If you disagree with the Department’s decision, appeal to the Dean of the Faculty.
  3. Senate Level: The final level of appeal is to the Senate Appeals Committee. Their decision is final.

Appeal Submission Process

  1. Prepare Your Appeal: Your appeal must include detailed answers to these points:
    • Why the appeal should be considered based on the grounds for appeal.
    • Actions taken to address the issues during the semester.
    • The outcome you are seeking (e.g., make-up exam, re-weighting of course components).
  2. Gather Evidence: Collect all relevant documentation to support your claims, such as health certificates, course outlines, graded coursework, and correspondence with instructors.
  3. Submit Your Appeal: Use the online Appeal Submission Portal for submitting your appeal. Ensure you meet all deadlines and include all necessary documentation.


  • Submission: You typically have ten business days from receiving your final grade to submit a 1st level appeal. Subsequent appeals normally must also be submitted within ten business days of receiving the decision letter from the previous level. Check this though as each school sets their own timelines.
  • Decision: Decision-makers at each appeal level will respond within ten business days. For Senate level appeals, you’ll be notified within ten business days if your appeal meets the grounds to proceed.

Legal Options For Students

If you feel your grade appeal was not fairly handled, you can explore legal options:

  • Mediation and Alternative Dispute Resolution: This involves working with a mediator or arbitrator to resolve the dispute.
  • Filing a Complaint: If mediation fails, you may file a formal grievance with your school or seek legal recourse through a lawsuit. Consulting a lawyer to fight unfair grades can be beneficial in such cases.

Appealing a grade can be challenging, but understanding the process and being well-prepared increases your chances of success. Ensure you document all relevant interactions and gather substantial evidence to support your appeal. If needed, seek legal advice by hiring a lawyer to fight unfair grades to navigate the complexities of grade disputes. Remember, timely and clear communication with your instructors and departments is key to resolving issues early and effectively.

Scroll to Top