Background: In 1992-93 the University of Michigan Medical School revised its first-year curriculum. An evaluation system using honors, high-pass, pass, and fail grading and only two examinations (a midterm and a final) was replaced with a system using pass/fail grading and weekly quizzes in addition to the two examinations. The objective was to increase students' satisfaction while maintaining a high level of achievement.
Method: Students' performance scores and survey data from the final year of the former system (1991-92, 222 students) and the first year of the new system (1992-93, 195 students) were used to investigate whether overall performance decreased and whether the students liked the new approach to grading. Statistical methods used were one-sample t-tests, Student's t-test, and Fisher's Z-test.
Results: Under the new system, the average scores for courses remained well above passing, and no evidence was found that the students achieved at lower levels than had their predecessors with the former, more traditional grading system. Also, higher cumulative pre-final scores (i.e., scores on the weekly quizzes as well as the midterm) did not predict lower, "just passing" achievement on final examinations. The students' responses to the surveys included comments that pass/fail grading eased anxiety and reduced competition while encouraging the students' co-operation.
Conclusion: Despite concerns that implementing pass/fail grading for all first-year courses would result in lower overall performance and decreased motivation among students, during the first year of implementation these fears proved to be unfounded as the students continued to perform well and reported greater satisfaction with the new system.