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A Preliminary Exploration of Student Attitudes about a Continuous Grade Point Average Scheme

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 21: Student Grades and Feedback

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Wan Kyn Chan Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering)

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Wan Kyn Chan is a undergraduate student in Purdue University currently pursuing his Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering and will be graduating in Spring 2019. Beyond academic courses he is engaged with, he also pursues research in the areas of Color Changing Metamaterials and Engineering Education. Coming from Singapore, a country with high educational rigor, the latter area of research has been an interest and passion of his since high school as he always seeks new ways to the improve the education system in order to maintain students' passion and interest towards areas of study.

Apart from academic and industrial pursuits, Wan Kyn also has a passion for Fine Arts and Design which has allowed him to gain a diverse range of experiences that have influenced him to develop creative and out-of-the-box solutions to problems beyond engineering. He has also been in numerous local and international exhibition displaying his artworks that seek to bring together art and engineering to create a harmonious hybrid.

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Edward J. Berger Purdue University-Main Campus, West Lafayette (College of Engineering) Orcid 16x16

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Edward Berger is an Associate Professor of Engineering Education and Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University, joining Purdue in August 2014. He has been teaching mechanics for over 20 years, and has worked extensively on the integration and assessment of specific technology interventions in mechanics classes. He was one of the co-leaders in 2013-2014 of the ASEE Virtual Community of Practice (VCP) for mechanics educators across the country. His current research focuses on student problem-solving processes and use of worked examples, change models and evidence-based teaching practices in engineering curricula, and the role of non-cognitive and affective factors in student academic outcomes and overall success.

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This work-in-progress paper explores attitudes about and impact of different Grade Point Average (GPA) schemes. Research into college GPA has been on-going for the past few decades with debates on the impact of various grading systems. This includes research on comparing the traditional GPA (i.e. A, B, C, D, F) and plus/minus (i.e. A+, A, A-, etc.) systems on counteracting grade inflation and increasing differentiation between students, in an attempt to make GPA a better representation of students’ aptitude during and coming out of college. However, few papers consider the correlation of GPA to students’ enthusiasm, interest, or motivation with their coursework. This paper explores the relationship between interest in engineering and GPA, exploring the current grading systems as well as considering a more continuous scaling of GPA. We consider a continuous scale where course performance, expressed as a final percentage (0-100%), maps directly onto a 0-4.0 scale, without divisions associated with other schemes (e.g. A=4.0, A-=3.7, etc.). This approach creates greater numerical grade differentiation, and in this paper we explore the hypothesis that it may also increase student interest in engineering. in a traditional scheme, students in a specific grade band all get the same GPA (72%-78% corresponds to a “C” grade, which corresponds to 2.0GPA), implying the possibility that students near the lower threshold may perceive little opportunity to improve their letter grade and therefore not work to their full capacity. Under a continuous scale, students always have an opportunity to improve their GPA, and we suspect this may translate into a more consistent commitment to their coursework.

This research explored these areas using three distinct methods. Initially, primary analysis was conducted using simulated and gradebook data which compared the impact of a continuous GPA system with that of both traditional and plus/minus schemes, with the goal of observing the numerical differences between these systems. These results were then supplemented with surveys exploring the relationship between these systems and students’ attitudes about both coursework and overall college experience to understand how they affect motivation.

Our analysis suggests that a continuous grading scheme maintains the basic distribution of student grades in the course but reduces the sensitivity of an individual student’s GPA to actual course performance near grade boundaries (i.e., 77.8% is a C, while 78.2% is a C+). Survey responses also suggest that students take great interest in the greater GPA resolution associated with the continuous scale. However, although faculty consider this a research area with great potential, current university policies offer little opportunity for such a system to be used. However, with these apparent positive relationships between the relationship of GPA and motivation in engineering students, this research shows potential for greater understanding, and the possible implementation of a continuous scheme should not be discounted.

Chan, W. K., & Berger, E. J. (2019, June), A Preliminary Exploration of Student Attitudes about a Continuous Grade Point Average Scheme Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31983

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