Why You Should Not Ask for Extra Credit in Your Math Courses

It is an all-too-common experience for a student to be failing a course and then (often in the last weeks of the semester) come to the professor to ask if they can have an opportunity for "extra credit" to improve their grade. Some students will even have the audacity to ask if they can re-take exams or re-do homework to try for a higher score.

You should never do this!

It is highly unprofessional for you to ask for special treatment by requesting "extra credit" that is available only to you. All too often "extra credit" is just a euphemism for "remedial credit"; some sort of escape route for either having not done the required work in a satisfactory manner or trying to improve a letter grade. This is not how college (or the real world) works. If you mess up or you don't do the work, you don't get another chance when you finally realize you are going to have to pay a price for your performance.

You may think that asking for extra credit is a last ditch effort, and if you're failing the class anyway it can't hurt to ask. You're wrong. If you fail a class it simply means you didn't know the material or do the work. If you ask for an unfair way to earn more points or raise your grade, it implies something about your character.

Here are some reasons why extra credit such as this is not allowed:
  1. All students have to be graded by the same standards. You can't base one student's final grade on homework and exams, and then base another student's final grade on an "extra credit" project. It is simply not fair.

  2. The syllabus given at the beginning of class is required to describe exactly how final grades are calculated and what each student's grade will be based on. The syllabus is a contract between the professor and the students, and professors are not supposed to change the grading criteria in the middle of the semester. Some professors may have "extra credit" opportunities built in to their syllabus, giving you ways to earn extra points through the semester by attending talks or participating in activities related to the course. However, there are two important factors when this is done: (1) opportunities are announced at the beginning of class so all students know how it affects grading, and (2) opportunities are available to all students equally. When you ask for "Ad Hoc Extra Credit", you're asking for the grading policies of the course to be changed from the syllabus (which is not allowed) and for these changes to be applied only to you (which is also not allowed).

  3. You can't get a "do-over" on exams or assignments. This isn't fair to students who got it right the first time. If one student gets a C on an exam, and a second student fails an exam but is then allowed to re-take it and gets a C, it would not be fair for these two students to receive the same grade. You get one chance to take each exam and turn in each assignment. (Not to mention, being able to re-do the work later reinforces the incorrect belief that you don't have to work hard the first time because whatever you miss you can make up later.)

  4. Creating and grading an "extra credit" project, particularly one designed to help you learn the course content and accurately measure your knowledge of the material, would be a lot of work for professors. Professors are very busy. It's inappropriate for you to ask them to do so much additional work, especially if you're asking them to do it because you didn't do your work when you were supposed to.

  5. In some cases, you may feel that you worked diligently and sincerely throughout the class but did not receive as high of a grade as you would like. Maybe you feel as though your grades on exams didn't accurately reflect your knowledge, or that you deserve an opportunity to boost your grade because you worked really hard, were never absent, did all the reading, and turned in all the assignments on time. Unfortunately, none of these things warrant giving you a special opportunity to improve your grade. The professor has to be fair, and your grade must reflect your performance --- not your effort or what you think you deserve. You have to be given the grade you earned, not the grade you tried to earn.

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