MAASTRICHT. The Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences are going to experiment with a pass/fail assessment. In the upcoming second-year block of Man and Machine, students will not receive a grade for their exam, but just a pass or a fail. Block co-ordinator Herco Fonteijn, initiator of the experiment, hopes that because of this students will feel freer to study the material that they find interesting and in doing so experience less stress.
“We notice that students in the group discussions mainly focus on the material that is important for the exams,” says Fonteijn. “They are afraid of scoring one tenth less if they spend too much time on what they like but might not come up.” Looking for information yourself instead of studying books that have been prescribed was always one of the starting points of the Problem-Based Learning system, but this approach came under pressure as the years passed. “This should improve the group discussion. We hope that students will feel that they have done something useful.”
Another point is stress resulting from the focus on grades. A lower grade for an exam can bring down a student’s average (GPA). For many master’s programmes a high GPA is a requirement in order to be admitted. Students will receive a mark on a scale of one to ten for the experiment, but they will only get to see that if they go to the exam inspection session and it is only meant as a form of feedback. “I think that this form of assessment will eliminate the stress for some of the students,” says Fonteijn. At the same time, it will require some adjustment for others. “Those who are good in a subject, may fear that there is no longer a possibility for them to show their excellence.” It is possible that those students will try to find additional activities to distinguish themselves, which could in turn provide more stress.
The pilot project will run for three years. The well-being of students, the mutual co-operation, the diversity of topics during the group discussions, the exam results, and the students’ satisfaction will be monitored throughout that period. If the results prove to be positive, the pass/fail assessment will be implemented in other blocks too.
There was some criticism for the plan at the Faculty Council meeting on 17 January. The student fraction wondered whether student well-being and the degree of stress could even be evaluated properly. After all, no baseline measurement has been carried out. This comment will be taken into account.