January 18, 2018

What to Say About That Retake


Hello, Campus Talk Blog community! I am a seasoned professor of over 13 years and an award-winning educator and public speaker. And here I am starting my first blog post by piggybacking on another blog post. That’s right: One that’s been written by somebody else!

Let me explain: When I received the opportunity to join Campus Talk Blog, I, of course, looked at the articles already written. When I came across Reconnect After Your Exam to Make Up for Lost Ground from Tawan Perry, I was absolutely thrilled: Here was someone from the higher ed community helping students self-advocate with professors! Even more importantly, Mr. perry encouraged students to self-advocate about tests which, as we all know, seems to be a necessary evil—er, constant staple—of college life.

Given that my mission is similar to Mr. Perry’s—to help students self-advocate—my twist is slightly different. You see, I’m known as The Chatty Professor. Why? Because my mission is giving students the words to self-advocate. So often, students are given great advice, but they still do not know how to start the conversation.

This is where I come in: I’m going to help give you the words that will help you confidently, rather than cluelessly, manage issues with your professors!

Are you ready? Let’s talk about Mr. Perry’s ideas, which were spot-on:

To bring you back to the days of yester-post, you took a test, you did not do well, and typically, you’d go home and dive into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, complain to your good friend about the crappy questions (or, let’s be real here, the crappy professor who wrote the questions), or go run a few laps around the track to blow off steam.

What most students don’t do is circle back with the professor, as Mr. Perry suggests. Why not? Because students perceive a test as an end-point… a period at the end of the sentence, if you will.

Then, you read Mr. Perry’s suggestion that you can go back to your professor and discuss that test. He said:

“Simply meet with your professor and in a calm, humbling matter request a retake of the exam.”

How do you start that conversation?

By making an appointment with your professor, and respectfully and calmly saying, “Professor Jones, I am very concerned about the grade I received on the last exam.”

Then, clearly and specifically state your reason for your concern: “I felt that many of the questions covered were not covered in class. When I rechecked my notes and the book, I didn’t find the material.”

Finally, make your intention statement of what you would like to happen: “I am wondering if there are any retakes allowed for this test? – or “Can you show me where the material is that I should have studied since I am having trouble finding it?” – or “Is there another way I can make up some of the points I missed on this test? I am concerned they will bring down my entire grade.”

Like Mr. Perry said, you must provide a compelling reason for requesting a retake or any type of special accommodation, such as: “I was extremely ill the day I took the test. I should have told you about this on the day of the test, but I was not thinking clearly.”

You must have a very credible reason for this request, and, your other grades must be rock solid in order for your professor to take you seriously.

Finally, realize that you are asking your professor to make a pretty mammoth decision here: You are advocating for little old you. Your professor has to think about the ramifications of giving the option he may give you to the rest of the class… or not.

Another tip: While you may have a mixture of emotions, ranging from rage to fear to anger to frustration, keep your tone and your words in check. If you fly out of control, make threats or yell, you could likely have bigger problems than your poor test grade. Enter campus security!

Stay collected and consistent, keep reiterating your concern, and back yourself up with hard facts, and you will have a case.

If you cannot get anywhere with your professor and are absolutely convinced in your position—and have documented facts to back you up—then your next chain of command is that person’s department or division chair. Sometimes, a third party can be helpful in listening to your position as well as the professors, and finding a solution that will serve both of you.

Bravo to you for taking the step to confront a professor. Doing so professionally and assertively will be incredible practice for you when you have similar situations in the future. If your request works out, you will have an opportunity to improve your grade and revisit your learning. If your request doesn’t work out, you’ve gained a pretty big life lesson. And those life lessons will benefit you far beyond any test.

(Okay, you can put back the Ben and Jerry’s now. You’ve got this student-professor communication plan covered!)


About the Author: Ellen Bremen (17 Posts)

Ellen Bremen is tenured faculty at Highline Community College and the author of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success (NorLights Press, April 2012). Ellen stops at nothing to help students strengthen their communication skills: Peanut butter and jelly to illustrate problematic messages, pipe cleaners to teach communication models, and Post-it notes to reduce speaking anxiety. Ellen holds degrees in Post-Secondary Education and Communication. As an interpersonal communication expert, Ellen has watched students struggle to navigate their classes, especially their communication with professors. Ellen's goal? To help students correctly--not cluelessly--speak/deal with those who teach them. The outcome? Better student-prof relationships, improved grades, and confident and competent communication skills for college and beyond. Ellen's philosophy: College is THE safe training ground for students to practice and hone assertive and professional communication skills. Then, students can transition this sought-after skill to their professional and personal lives. Ellen looks forward to answering students' simple and complex questions about communication in college, and particularly professor-related challenges.


  1. Ellen,

    First and foremost, welcome to Campustalkblog.com! Thank you for your kind words and most importantly for piggybacking! You are absolutely right as the devil is in the details. Providing students with how to say it is just as important as telling them what to do. My hope is for students to really understand that self advocacy is a skill that can serve them mightily well beyond their college years. At worst its a survival skill and at best self advocacy is a networking tool that will lead to a lifetime of opportunities. Keep up the good work and I can’t wait to read your next post!

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