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Making the Grade: How to get an A in Subjective Subjects

Updated on October 10, 2019

Give them what they ask for

Unlike math or science classes, assignments in the humanities are not always black or white. So what’s the grade based on? Most teachers will provide some sort of grading system. Whether it is a rubric, a comment on the syllabus, or an assignment sheet, there has to be a method to the madness.

Obtuse as it may sound, the key to getting an A is following the assignment. Pay special attention to the language, and be sure to understand the purpose of the project before beginning.

Say you are given an essay prompt: Thoroughly explore and analyze the use of symbolism in Animal Farm. Before turning in your essay, ask yourself: did I explore? Did I analyze? Was it thorough? It may even help to look up the definition of analyze. Know exactly what your professor is asking for.

Sometimes an assignment will be vague or unclear. In this case: ask questions! Get a straight answer out of your professor, before you get caught with a low grade.

Good old fashioned eye-contact

Another way to guarantee a fair grade is to make sure your professor knows you. If you are part of a big class, make sure to introduce yourself. Look him straight in the eye. Better yet, go to office hours. One-on-one time with your professor will show that you care about the class.

In addition to stroking your professor’s ego, getting to know him will help him attach a face to your name. When he sees your name on top of the page, he’ll know that he’s dealing with the charming go-getter that you are. This makes him much more likely to give you a high grade.

Always be respectful, and try to make a connection. You may find that your professor can be a friend and mentor as well!

Use the first assignment as your guide

So maybe the first grade you get back isn’t perfect. But it is a perfect guide for your future assignments. You now know exactly what your professor does and doesn’t like. Carefully read the comments. Do more of what succeeded, and don’t make the same mistake twice.

If there aren’t comments—or if the comments are sparse—ask. Make a meeting with your professor and find out exactly what wasn’t ‘A material.’ Not only will this help you in the future, but it will also make your professor justify his grade.

Asking how to improve will, naturally, help you get better. But it will also hold your professor accountable: he’d better have a good reason for taking off twelve points. Who knows, maybe you’ll even get your grade adjusted! Best of all, when your professor is grading your next project, he will know that he can’t take off points without good reason—or he’ll have you to reckon with.

Get it in writing

Sometimes, you need solid evidence. Keep the assignments, rubrics etc., as well as the comments on your first paper. You should always have a physical copy of your expectations in front of you while you work.

It’s also a good idea to communicate via email. When you go in to talk to your professor about a grade, use his own words as a guideline. Show him that you’ve done just what he wanted. In an extreme situation, you can even go above his head to question a grade that seems unfair. If you have the proof, you’re bound to get the A.

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    • profile image

      Queenie 

      7 years ago

      Many good ideas here.

      We'll written and helpful advice.

      One other suggestion is to write your paper as early as possible.

      When you are not rushed you think better and you write better too.

      And when you reread your paper the next day you'll be more likely to spot the ways it could be improved.

    • profile image

      Professor Smith 

      7 years ago

      Nicely done fcoveno! Good writing skills and advice! Really enjoyed reading your article!

    • profile image

      Nini007 

      7 years ago

      WOW best advice I've ever received!!! Can't wait for more from this fcoveno!!!! Looking forward to getting straight A's next semester!

    • vandynegl profile image

      vandynegl 

      7 years ago from Ohio Valley

      Very interesting article! I have been on both sides, as student and teacher, so I know what has worked for me and what hasn't. As a past online instructor, we didn't have the "eye contact," but the students who were most involved, and showed the most effort, were more likely to get the better grades. However, it wasn't because I liked them any more or less, but we had a pretty clear cut rubric to follow, so it made the subjective seem less so.

      I can remember as a college student, an instructor had a grading curve that he gave students as an "option" at the beginning of the semester. I was the only one to NOT choose the grading curve. I decided to just get my own grade in a traditional way. Believe it or not, I was the only one to get an A in the class. Weird.

      Good information and thanks for sharing!

    • Man from Modesto profile image

      Man from Modesto 

      7 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      There have been studies which proved out known concepts. Instructors give better scores to the students they know.

      If you visit a professor, and politely challenge a test score, you will get a better score. If you've been doing well all along, you will receive a better score for the same essay as a poor-performing student who submits the same essay.

      When submitting job resumes, ethnic names get less respect than European sounding names. The same is likely true for treatment of subjective grading. When I was at SJSU, English papers were graded anonymously. Each student had a number.

      When I was at UPenn, I learned this very quickly: virtually ALL the students made their way to the professors' office hours. There were lines. These high-performing students made a practice of arguing points and of knowing the professor and developing a friendly relationship. To compete, I had to take up the same practices.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Good advice, but you made it too adversarial-sounding, as if all professors get their kicks by trashing student work. Most of us, don't.

      What you did not emphasize (you should go back and add it to your hub) is that, along with being determined and forceful and holding professors to their words, you need to be polite, respectful, ask questions and try to resolve your issues, before escalating to the demanding stage.

      I totally agree with you that you should save all papers, notes, comments, records. Students should get to know their prof in person and sometimes you do have to go over their head. Nice Hub.

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