In a pass fail grading system, students receive either a pass or fail mark, instead of the traditional letter or number grade. This is considered advantageous to both the students and faculty since the level of assessment is only limited to 2 options — a passing or failing grade. Students who receive a C or higher will typically pass, while those who get a D or F will fail. In some cases, only an F is considered a failing mark. With just two grades to consider, teachers will have fewer options to choose from when evaluating a student’s performance.
Students, on the other hand, will get the education that they need without the added stress and pressure of competing for higher grades. According to a testimony of a Yale student, which was posted on the school’s website, “Yale allows you to make your education truly yours without worrying about grade competition”.
Since the 1960’s, Yale has adopted the pass-fail system. Harvard and Stanford only followed suit during the early part of the 21st century.
In a study conducted through the Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota, evidence showed that the pass fail grading system has a positive impact on the mood, stress, test anxiety and group cohesion among medical students. Research showed that students graded through this system have less perceived stress and have greater group cohesion than those students who were graded through the previous 5-interval grading system. In terms of mood, however, the difference between the two groups is not that significant. In conclusion, the pass fail system reduces stress and increases group cohesion.
While the pass fail grading system has its advantages, many of its opponents have something negative to say about it.
List of Pros of Pass Fail Grading System
1. Takes pressure off students at certain levels
In a pass-fail grading system, a student’s actual scores are not reported on the transcript, which means their GPA will not be affected with either a pass or fail mark. This spares students from obsessing about getting a high letter grade, allowing them to relax, while still getting the education necessary for them to land a good job and mold them to become responsible citizens. What is even better is that they will receive credit for the course. Without the worries that come with scoring an A, students may even be encouraged to enroll in more challenging courses that they would have avoided with the traditional letter grading system in place.
2. Give students a clear cut idea of their weaknesses and strengths
Knowing exactly which subject(s) that they fail in, students will easily determine where to switch their focus on. In a letter grade system, they would be wondering whether to study on areas where they are performing so-so (grade of a C) or concentrate all their efforts on where they are likely to fail (grade of a D). Seeing evidence of their competency in certain subjects, students will also learn early on which degree would have a positive effect on their job placement in the future. Chances of being employed would not be solely dependent on their GPA as well.
3. Make class work easier
Without emphasis on achieving a high tier grade, students can focus on true information retention rather than just focus on specific details that will help them receive a C or higher. In a pass fail grading system, knowing generalized amount of information is often enough to achieve a passing grade, so there’s no need to cram for tests just to remember specific data.
4. Lead to better engagement
Classes or courses that are often difficult are best taken as pass fail, as this allows students to engage with the difficult content in a way that is suitable for them. They will have an easier time to learn the difficult concepts, and have an opportunity to excel.
List of Cons of Pass Fail Grading System
1. Eliminates competitiveness
When all that is required of you is a passing mark, you would not find the urgency or the need to work hard to get a higher grade. An A, after all, indicates your best performance, which is far from what an F represents. But without such distinction, you will be satisfied with just satisfactory or good enough. This will result in you becoming lazy and less focused. The same thing could be true with the rest of the student population.
When laziness becomes habitual due to the lack of competitiveness, future performance of students will be affected up to the point when they are already working. Under the circumstances, the pass fail system proves to be a failure.
2. Doesn’t provide accurate representation of performance level and knowledge
So a student passed, but how well exactly did he do in his exam? So-so may be enough in a classroom setting, but not in the real world. If a student failed, how bad did he do, really? Without an accurate representation that a traditional letter grading system provides, there is no easy way of knowing a student’s level of performance and knowledge. The teacher might know, but the student won’t, unless he bothers to ask.
3. Conversion to exact scoring is not possible
Say you worked hard to recover from a failing mark and successfully got a passing score. With a pass fail grading system, you can’t determine if you got an A or a C for all your efforts, which would have made a huge difference in your sense of achievement. An A or a C makes no difference in a pass fail system.
4. Lack of incentives
Proponents of the traditional letter grading system believe that every letter is an incentive to do good, better or best. Knowing they get a B could prompt students to exert extra effort to get an A. After all, they are just one step closer to getting the highest mark. By taking this away, however, students will not have that extra incentive to do well. This is why proponents blame pass fail in the increasing number of students who are mediocre and lazy.
Knowing the pros and cons, can you say that the pass fail grading system is a pass or a failure?