Does Changing Grade-Based Marking to Pass-Fail Marking Change Student Achievement in a Postgraduate Psychology Course?

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The impact of traditional versus pass-fail grading on student achievement in professional postgraduate psychology courses remains undetermined. The effects of these marking systems on achievement levels for students enrolled in a postgraduate psychology course were examined. It was anticipated that performance would not differ as a result of the change in assessment approach. Data from 73 postgraduate students enrolled in one component of a psychology program during 2012–2015 were collated. Forty-three students were enrolled in the 2 years immediately prior to the change in marking and received grade-based marks. Their grades were compared to 30 students who were enrolled in the subsequent 2 years and marked using a pass-fail system; grade-based marking was additionally undertaken with this cohort but not provided to students. A significant difference was observed in scores for grade-based, M = 83.8, SD = 5.0, and pass-fail marking, M = 78.4, SD = 3.8, t(71) = 5.07, p < .001. This equated to a large group difference in mean grade between the cohorts, with a mean difference of 5.5, 95% CI [3.3, 7.6], d = 1.2. Although a reduction in performance was evident, students continued to demonstrate excellent achievement of the course learning objectives with the change to pass-fail assessment. Competency-based assessment in postgraduate professional psychology curricula with competent/not yet competent grading may be the best way to proceed.

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