Specifications Grading at Scale: Improved Letter Grades and Grading-Related Interactions in a Course with over 1,000 Students

Kate J. McKnelly, William J. Howitz, Taylor A. Thane, Renée D. Link

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


In our previous work, we piloted a specifications grading system in an organic chemistry laboratory course with 37 students. Our current work describes the scale up of that specifications grading system to a course with over 1,000 students. Strategies used for keeping the system manageable and mitigating the time commitment required to do so are described. We found that the time necessary to grade student work and manage the specifications grading implementation of the course was not any greater than for the previous, points-based course, that grade-related interactions were more positive, and that student letter grades increased. Despite the increase in the final letter grades, we encountered some resistance to the grading system from students and graduate teaching assistants. Here, we explore their concerns and address the difficulty of alternative grading methods in overcoming habituation to traditional points-based grading systems. Future work is needed to evaluate student and graduate teaching assistant buy-in, to assess potential improvement in student work, and to address questions regarding equity in specifications grading systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3179-3193
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 12 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Published by American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.


  • Alternative Grading
  • Chemical Education Research
  • Collaborative/Cooperative Learning
  • Graduate Teaching Assistants
  • Organic Chemistry Laboratory Instruction
  • Resistance to Change
  • Second-Year Undergraduate
  • Specifications Grading
  • Testing/Assessment


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