I am in charge of the grading for an undergraduate class, and I am trying to determine the grading scheme which would best help students figure out what is a correct/incorrect answer without generating too much frustration.
My current position is to be demanding and give very little partial credit. For instance if the question asks to give a definition and the student gives an example, I would give no partial credit even if the example is a good one.
Strict grading is meant to make it clear when the student gives an inappropriate answer (e.g answering a different question from the one being asked, not providing enough of an argument to support an answer,...), and conversely when the student is answering correctly. For every graded piece, I write careful solutions and comments on how to answer properly. Strict grading is also meant to help the student figure out when she or he really needs to go look at the solutions and comments. Somehow, I fear that if students get partial credits more easily, they are more likely to believe that their answer is after all not that bad. Then they may be more likely not to check the solutions/comments, although the answer might be seriously flawed (e.g. they gave the right True/False answer but did not provide a correct justification of it).
In the class I am teaching, final grades are purely relative that is whether one gets an A or B solely depends on one's position in the grade distribution. So if they worry about final grades, student should not care too much about whether grading is strict, or whether partial credits are awarded, but rather whether the grading scheme is applied homogeneously between students. On this last point (making grading homogenous) I put a lot of effort (e.g. if no partial credit is awarded to a student answering "False" to a question without providing a proper counter-example, I make sure the same applies for every student answering "False" without providing a proper counter-example). I explained during class and repeated in all comments note that giving 0 to everyone or 5 to everyone was innocuous in terms of the final grade. I put the same effort in trying to make the purpose of strict grading clear.
However, I realize that there is more to getting a zero on a question than how it affects your final grade. My impression is that some students get frustrated for not getting partial credits. Some students expect to get partial credit as soon as they write something sensible even if it does not answer the question. I want to make clear that I don't blame them for that at all. I understand that this has to do with the grading culture they have been exposed to, and that my grading might be at odd with this culture. What worries me is that such frustration may eventually have detrimental effects on their learning : instead of thinking
" Oh, I got a zero, given what the instructor explained about his grading scheme, that means I am probably not answering the question right. I know that other people also got zero for the same kind of mistakes, so I should not worry about the way it will affect my grade, but I should definitely go check the solutions and comments to figure out what is wrong with my answer, and eventually go to office hours if there is still some confusion"
some of them react in a much different way. For many potential reasons, getting a zero makes them frustrated about the question/test/instructor, to the point that they are less likely to try to figure out what went wrong with their answer. More generally, not receiving partial credit may create discouragement on their behalf which would definitely negatively affect their learning.
Now, I could easily (I think?) solve the frustration problem while maintaining a fair grading procedure by uniformly giving (much?) more partial credit. However, not knowing about the average students' psychology in the class, it is hard for me to figure out which effect will dominate:
- Would the decrease in grading clarity overweight the decrease in frustration and eventually decrease the number of students who thoroughly compare their answer to the solutions/comments (and hopefully learn how to give better answers)?
- Or is the frustration-effect so high that giving more partial credit will have a positive overall effect on their learning?
Because this will differ from one class/university culture/topic to another, I am not primarily interested in guesses about whether 1 or 2 would hold.
What I would be more interested in is getting your insight on grading policies which would potential get me the best of both world, that is making it clear when a question is not answered properly and motivate the student to understand why, while avoiding any kind of detrimental frustration effect.
Thanks in advance for your help,