A systematic review of the motivational effects of course grade policies



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Several major achievement motivation theories predict that course grade policies should affect various motivational processes in students, especially when learning in challenging or difficult contexts. However, motivation scholars have rarely studied the effects of course grade policies on these constructs. Meanwhile, grading policies are a contentious area of instruction, generating conflicting advice for instructors. To gauge the evidence base for understanding how course grade policies shape motivation, a systematic review was undertaken. Searches were conducted in five electronic databases, seeking original empirical, quantitative studies examining how course grade policies shape student motivation in U.S. secondary and postsecondary educational settings. Of 1,750 potentially relevant papers, 31 met the selection criteria. The studies provide several basic results for instructors, such as the importance of grade contingencies for motivating effort, the value of grade revision opportunities for students’ expectancies for success and sense of control, the possibility of saving time and reducing performance anxiety with simpler, pass-fail grading levels, the importance of communicative framing for shaping student perceptions of grade policies, and the ways that learning-outcome-based grading might hinder or support motivation. Overall, however, more research in this area needs to be conducted using established motivational research frameworks and constructs.


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