Grading - Is There a Better Way?

Concurrent Session 5
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Curious about alternatives to traditional grading practices? In this hands-on session, you will learn about specifications grading. You’ll take away a list of examples from various disciplines and a plan for using specifications grading in your course.


Julie Mendez is a Clinical Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC), where she teaches a variety of undergraduate courses, primarily in the areas of thermal-fluid science and design. She is a Senior Faculty Fellow of the Indiana University Mosaic Active Learning Initiative and a recipient of an Indiana University Trustees Teaching Award. Julie earned a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Case Western Reserve University and a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Her scholarly interests include active learning strategies, online course development, and alternative grading practices.

Extended Abstract

The last few years have seen a rise in nontraditional grading practices. One such method is specifications grading, in which instead of using points or partial credit, assignments are scored pass/fail according to whether the assignment met the provided requirements. The grader can relatively quickly determine if the assignment specifications were met; with less time spent on determining partial credit, more time can be devoted to providing feedback. A student’s course grade is determined by the number of assignments successfully completed. Students have the opportunity to revise and resubmit some assignments.

In this express workshop, the presenter will provide an overview of specifications grading with examples from courses in a range of disciplines. Participants will have the opportunity to work individually and in small groups to write specifications for assignments. Attendees may find it helpful to bring their course learning outcomes. The presenter will provide guidance in creating a plan to use specifications grading in your course. All materials will be available on the conference website.

After this session, you will be able to

  • Describe the basics of specifications grading
  • Write specifications for an assignment
  • Draft a plan for using specifications grading in your course


Blackstone, B., & Oldmixon E. (2019). Specifications grading in political science. Journal of Political Science Education, 15(2), 191–205.

Blodgett, B. J. (2017). Grading matters in theological education. Teaching Theology & Religion, 20(4), 314–326.

Mirsky, G. M. (2018). Effectiveness of specifications grading in teaching technical writing to computer science students. Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, 34(1), 104–110.

Nilson, L. (2014). Specifications grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time. Stylus Publishing.

Talbert, R. (2017, April 28). Specifications grading: We may have a winner. Robert Talbert, PhD.

Williams, K. (2018). Specifications-based grading in an introduction to proofs course. PRIMUS, 28(2), 128–142.