Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 469–477 | Cite as

Pass–fail grading: laying the foundation for self-regulated learning

Article

Abstract

Traditionally, medical schools have tended to make assumptions that students will “automatically” engage in self-education effectively after graduation and subsequent training in residency and fellowships. In reality, the majority of medical graduates out in practice feel unprepared for learning on their own. Many medical schools are now adopting strategies and pedagogies to help students become self-regulating learners. Along with these changes in practices and pedagogy, many schools are eliminating a cornerstone of extrinsic motivation: discriminating grades. To study the effects of the switch from discriminating to pass–fail grading in the second year of medical school, we compared internal and external assessments and evaluations for a second-year class with a discriminating grading scale (Honors, High Pass, Pass, Fail) and for a second-year class with a pass–fail grading scale. Of the measures we compared (MCATs, GPAs, means on second-year examinations, USMLE Step 1 scores, residency placement, in which there were no statistically significant changes), the only statistically significant decreases (lower performance with pass fail) were found in two of the second-year courses. Performance in one other course also improved significantly. Pass–fail grading can meet several important intended outcomes, including “leveling the playing field” for incoming students with different academic backgrounds, reducing competition and fostering collaboration among members of a class, more time for extracurricular interests and personal activities. Pass–fail grading also reduces competition and supports collaboration, and fosters intrinsic motivation, which is key to self-regulated, lifelong learning.

Keywords

Assessment Collaborative learning Grading Pass/fail grading Self-regulated learning 

References

  1. Bloodgood, R. A., Short, J. G., Jackson, J. M., & Martindale, J. R. (2009). A change to pass-fail grading in the first two years at one medical school results in improved psychological well-being. Academic Medicine, 84(5), 655–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Deci, E. L. (1992). The relation of interest to the motivation of behavior: a self determination theory perspective. In K. Renninger, S. Hidi, & A. Krapp (Eds.), The role of interest in learning and development. Mawah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  3. Dietrick, J. A., Weaver, M. T., & Merrick, H. W. (1991). Pass-fail grading: A disadvantage for students applying for residency. The American Journal of Surgery, 162(1), 63–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Gonella, J. (2004). An empirical study of the predictive validity of number grades in medical school using 3 decades of longitudinal data: implications for a grading system. Medical Education, 38, 425–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gutman, L., & Grufferman, S. (1985). Impact of medical school class ranking systems on applicants’ ratings for residency positions. Journal of Medical Education, 60, 684–691.Google Scholar
  6. Kohn, A. (1986). No contest: The case against competition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  7. Phelps, R. P. (Ed.). (2005). Defending standardized testing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.Google Scholar
  8. Phillips, J. (1965). An application of intermittent grading. The Clearing House, 39, 306.Google Scholar
  9. Pintrich, P. (1994). Handbook of self-regulated learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  10. Pintrich, P. R., & DeGroot, E. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82(1), 33–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Provan, J. (1995). Preferences of program directors for evaluation of candidates for postgraduate training. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 153(7), 919–923.Google Scholar
  12. Robins, L., Fantone, J., Oh, M., Alexander, G., Shlafer, M., & Davis, W. K. (1995). The effect of pass-fail grading and weekly quizzes on first-year students’ performances and satisfaction. Academic Medicine, 70(4), 327–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Rohe, D., Barrier, P., Clark, M., Cook, D., Vickers, K., & Decker, P. (2006). The benefits of pass-fail grading on stress, mood and group cohesion in medical students. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 81(11), 1143–1148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (Eds.). (1998). Self-regulated learning: from teaching to self-reflective practice. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  15. Scoles, P. (2008). Comprehensive review of the USMLE. Advances in Physiology Education, 32, 109–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Smith, K. A., Sheppard, S. D., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2005). Pedagogies of engagement: Classroom based practices. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(1), 1–15.Google Scholar
  17. Vansteenkiste, M., Simons, J., Lens, W., Sheldon, K., Kennon, M., & Deci, E. (2004). Motivating learning performance and persistance: The synergistic effects of intrinsic goal contents and autonomy-supported contexts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 246–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Vosti, K., & Jacobs, C. (1999). Outcome measurement in postgraduate year one of graduates from a medical school with a pass-fail grading system. Academic Medicine, 74, 547–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Weed, L. (1997). New connections between medical knowledge and patient care. British Medical Journal, 315, 231–235.Google Scholar
  20. Weller, L. (1983). The grading nemesis: An historical overview and a current look at pass-fail grading. Journal of Research and Development in Education, 17(1), 39–45.Google Scholar
  21. White, C. B. (2005). Self-regulated learning and self-assessment in medical education: Is it all Latin to medical students? Doctoral Dissertation, University of Michigan: AAT3186789.Google Scholar
  22. White, C. B. (2007). Smoothing out transitions: How pedagody influences medical students’ achievement of self-regulated learning goals. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 12(3), 279–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. White, C. B., & Gruppen, L. D. (2007.) Self-regulated learning in medical education. Association for the study of medical education: Understanding medical education.Google Scholar
  24. Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulation: Social-cognitive perspectives. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. H. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  25. Zimmerman, B., Bonner, S., & Kovach, R. (1996). Developing self-regulated learners: Beyond achievement to self-efficacy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Michigan Medical SchoolAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations