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Many students believe that getting good grades on papers involves merely producing a quality essay that has good ideas and is well written. However, while this is undoubtedly very important, there are many other considerations which will determine what grade the paper actually receives. From the time you receive the assignment, through its completion, and even after you have received your grade, many opportunities exist for you to maximize the grade you get, above and beyond the actual writing of the paper.
The first thing to remember is that any classroom situation is a social environment, and establishing good relationships is key to maximizing your success. The student who sits in the back of the class and seldom contributes, or worse, the student who seldom attends class and never participates, is putting him or her self in a poor position from the start. Although professors try to remain objective when marking papers, social considerations are always present even if unconsciously, and those students who add to the value of the class through being present and offering ideas will receive the benefit of the doubt from professors on their assignments. Those who do not add to the class will not receive any benefit, and may actually be marked more harshly as a result of the opinion the professor has of them.
Next, beginning the paper early and meeting with the professor at several key points will help you to improve your potential grade a great deal. The first meeting should come at least two weeks before the paper is due, and should be a general discussion of your chosen topic and potential approach. This will make sure you have begun on the right track, and that you have not chosen to do something that the professor does not like. Aside from the valuable feedback you will receive, this meeting will also show your professor that you are interested in doing well, and that you are a conscientious and mature student.
After you have hammered out a draft of the paper, it is time to schedule a second meeting, no later than three days before the paper is due. Here, you can review what you have written with your professor and again receive important feedback. Specific details of your paper will be critiqued, and you will receive suggestions for how to improve the essay, as well as other ideas or sources you should explore. Again, both the actual content of the paper and the professor's opinion of you will be improved, meaning you have set yourself up for a better grade. Note that while meeting with your professor is valuable, scheduling too many meeting will be counterproductive. Remember, professors are human, and by constantly pestering them you will do nothing but annoy them. Also, the point of the essay is to see what you can produce on your own, and while professors enjoy helping you along to some extent, holding your hand throughout the essay process is not their job.
Finally, after you receive your grade, whether you approve of it or not, be sure to meet with the professor a day or two later. Do not make the common mistake of rushing to the professor's desk immediately after receiving the paper, or even that same day. The professor will be swamped with others who have the same idea, and your complaints/concerns will not receive a proper hearing. When you go to this final meeting, if you are not happy with the grade, tell the professor you are concerned (this is an excellent term to use in this context), and that you expected to do somewhat better. Remember, being angry or stand-offish will not help here. Voice your concerns maturely, and listen to what the professor has to say. This may result in your grade being raised, and it will also help you to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
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