The Advantages of a Pass/Fail Grading System

The Advantages of a Pass/Fail Grading System

Pass/fail grading encourages students to dabble in new and interesting subjects without the pressure of earning an A or a B to stayon the Dean's list. A pass/fail grading system is one in which the student receives either a passing grade or a failing grade rather than a more precise rating of success. Any student that does work above a failing level--defined by either the school or the instructor--will pass the class. This type of grading system has been shown to have several advantages.

1 Less Stress

Students in a traditional grading system often feel stress to do exceptionally well on tests, papers and other assignments. When they receive only a pass or fail grade, they do not have to worry about a grade point average, which causes less perceived stress, according to a study of medical students conducted by the Mayo Clinic. Fear of failing is less of a concern when taking a class pass-fail.

2 Improved Mood

Less stress means that students under a pass/fail system have an improved mood due to less preoccupation with homework, upcoming exams and and papers required in a pass-fail course. However, the study shows that this is only a slight difference from students under traditional grading systems. The workload and course requirements are the same regardless of whether the student is taking the class for a letter grade.

3 Group Cohesion

Under a pass/fail system, students do not see other students as competition. Competition among students--especially in cases where students are graded on a curve based on other students' performance--makes students less likely to work together. In a pass/fail system, students can freely work with other students. For instance, getting together in study groups can help students better understand and retain material.

4 More Academic Risks

Some students will avoid classes that they may not excel in because they are afraid that a bad grade will negatively affect their grade point average. Under a pass/fail system, students feel safer trying new things and may be more willing to take academic risks, especially at schools that don't include pass/fail grades in GPA calculation. Trying new subjects helps students gain confidence and become more well-rounded.

5 Fairness in Grading

While some subjects, such as math and science, have objective grading systems, others are more subjective. There is no standard way to judge an art project or an English paper, for example. Under a pass/fail system students know that if they complete the work in a satisfactory manner, they can pass the class. Students often worry that they won't be judged fairly if a professor has a reputation for favoritism or arbitrary grading.

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.