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Responding to attitudes of academic entitlement – what grad students can do

We’ve all heard it.

“I deserve a better grade than that.”

“I tried hard and my mark doesn’t reflect how hard I tried.”

And the especially common in Biology “I am applying to medical school and I got an 87%. I need a 90%. What can we do about this?”



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But actually, what can we do about this?

Academic entitlement, which is defined as “the tendency to possess an expectation of academic success without a sense of personal responsibility for achieving that success1” is a growing problem. There have been several recent studies which presented various information about this sense of academic entitlement in today’s students. Based on my research, it was a few years after the millennium that this really started to become an issue. An article from 2008 presented findings from a survey of 400 undergraduates between 18 and 252. A few of the surprising (or not) findings included: over 65% of students agreed that if they explained to a Professor that they were trying hard, then that Professor should reconsider their mark2. 40% of students thought they deserved at least a B simply for completing the majority of readings for a class, and more than 30% thought they deserved the same grade just for attending most of the lectures2.

Its entitled attitudes like the ones above that result in dialogues like “I deserve a better mark than the one you gave me”. And as graduates students working as TAs or TFs we often get the brunt of these complaints. It can be overwhelming and disheartening and can certainly make you doubt your abilities as a marker, as an educator, etc.

There are lots of recommended strategies I have found in the literature, and also some I have noticed worked over the years.

1. Show them what excellent work is3,4

I really love this idea and I don’t think it is used enough. Students might complete an assignment and subsequently think because they completed it, and did as they were asked, they deserve a good mark. Show them an example of a piece of excellent work, explain why it is excellent, and how theirs was different and this could be an eye-opener for those just looking to do the least amount of work for the greatest return.

2. Give them something to lose3,4

This is one that is practiced a lot in our department. If students asking for re-grades or mark increases is becoming a big problem, develop a policy (in the syllabus) welcoming regrades, but that marks can go up or down, and that the regrade mark is final. This often scares away students that are complaining just for the sake of complaining. I realize this is not something that a TA necessarily has any control over, but if students asking for mark changes is starting to bog you down and use up your contracted TA hours that should be used elsewhere than I encourage you to seek help from the course coordinator.

3. If they did something well, tell them that

This is something I tried over my years as a TA and I have found that it works quite well. My first TAship ever involved strictly marking and I was responsible for grading 125 poster assignments. I was provided with a detailed rubric and while the marking was somewhat subjective, I stuck to the rubric as closely as I could. The day the marks were released to students my inbox was bombarded with emails from students who were certain I had made some mistake because they tried really hard and didn’t get the mark they deserved. I was instructed to tell them where they lost marks and refer them to the course coordinator if they had any further problems. For some this worked, for others it just fueled them to persist with their argument.

“I spent 10 hours on this, surely that’s worth a 90%.”

So I began starting these mark inquiry responses with “I really liked the following things about your poster…” and then proceeded to list all the places they lost marks. Focusing on the positives and the negatives can be helpful in showing students that just because you completed an assignment doesn’t mean you’l receive a stellar grade.

These are just a few of the many suggestions for dealing with students who feel they deserve better marks and academic entitlement in general. For more information see the list of references at the end of this post.

Do you have strategies for dealing with academic entitlement in students? We would love to hear them in the comments below!



1 http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/edu/101/4/982/

2 http://www.canada.com/topics/news/story.html?id=6f8e11db-6ed2-4e17-b271-1368cc9bd123

3 http://biz.colostate.edu/mti/tips/pages/StudentEntitlementIssuesandStrategiesforConfrontingEntitlementintheClassroomandBeyond.aspx

4 http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/student-entitlement-six-ways-to-respond/



Posted in All, General, New Students, Student Perspective, Teaching Tagged with: , , ,
One comment on “Responding to attitudes of academic entitlement – what grad students can do
  1. Colette says:

    I am sure many will find these strategies just what they need, but I am sure there are others out there. Come on grad students, help each other and let everyone know what works for you.

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