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

27 April 2023, Version 2
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


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 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.


specifications grading
alternative grading
graduate teaching assistants
resistance to change

Supplementary materials

Specifications Grading at Scale Supporting Information
IRB statement, Student Grade Tracker, Token Trade-In List, Flow Chart to Manage Token Economy, TA and Student Open-Ended Questions, and Full Letter Grades Graph Including +/- Grades


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