Pass/Fail Effect on students’ Drive to Learn

After Penn State has put the new pass/fail rule into effect this year, I have been lenient on my studying and focusing on my schoolwork.  As finals are coming soon students realize the grade they need for a certain grade in their course.  For example, I need a 90% on my final to get a B in a class.  But, I am saying to myself I don’t really need to study because I am going to “pass” this class so it doesn’t affect my GPA.  Students realize that they don’t have to affect their GPA at all, and I believe this was a very bad idea for Penn State. Being a student, I love it, and I understand why the University did this.  It is a good option for students during this terrible time and it gives them the opportunity to not get bad grades since it may be harder to learn not being in class and learning on Zoom.

Many different schools have opted to do this for their school and it has gotten many different reviews by students, teachers, and parents.  Most of the parents and students believe this is a great idea because it is technically a lot harder to learn online and they are not getting the correct education that they paid for.  The dean of the College of Iowa says, “This benefits students at this moment by providing more agency and flexibility to students within an ever-shifting set of circumstances that few people saw coming” (Harris).  She is exactly right and this opens up many other opportunities for the students.


10 thoughts on “Pass/Fail Effect on students’ Drive to Learn

  1. I understand the benefits and the worries about the new grading system for this pandemic. I also saw some friends not even studying for any courses thinking they will just go the Satisfacotries. However, for me, I think this system is very supportive and helpful. Since I don’t have to worry too much about the grades that will affect my total GPA, I was able to focus more on typical subjects that I really care about and concentrate more on that grades. There can be negative opinions towards this new grading system, but especially in this period, I think this grading system is one of the best solutions that can ease students’ worry towards grades during this pandemic as many are spread around the world with time differences and worries towards both their health and grades.

  2. I think that students lost their motivation when we first transitioned to online learning. At that point, I was hearing from my peers that they were also finding it difficult to concentrate on school with all the impending doom around us. After that, social media confirmed what I already knew which is that everyone was having an upsettingly difficult time adjusting to the new set up. Students on every online platform have been sharing their struggles of staying on track. In short, I think the motivation was long gone before alternative grading was implemented. However I understand where you are coming from. I don’t think the grading scale has taken away motivation as much as it has relieved some anxiety and tension that people already had about remote learning. This is because students are still worried about their transcripts if they are applying to graduate programs, or something of the like.

  3. Being a student at home has been a great challenge both academically and mentally. The desire to want to go on my computer, log onto canvas, to then go onto zoom and listen to my professor give a lecture has been lacking since day one. One could say it is just from the fact of being home and being comfortable at home, but I truly believe I lack motivation in the online learning world because I just do not like the idea of it at all. I have noticed that since being home, the last thing I want to do is listen to a lecture and actually try to learn something. I know I am the type of person that always likes to have something to do and is always looking for something to learn about, but being home now that has just not been the case. I am frustrated not only as a student but as a person that this is how I am forced to get my education. Now that the pass/fail system has come into light, I believe that this is also a very strong factor for my lack of motivation. Looking at the classes that I know “don’t matter” because they do not count towards my major, the last thing I want to do is put any effort into something I know I am already going to pass no matter what passing letter grade it actually is. I have adopted the mindset that I just need to pass the class and get the credit to just move on because it will not effect my GPA, which is a very sad thing to think about. I came to Penn State to try hard in all of my classes, get the grades I needed to have the best GPA possible for all future job opportunities, but now being home with this new system that same logic is no longer with me.

    Looking at this pass/fail system even further, it really only effects the people that choose to believe in it. According to this article published by Inside Higher Ed, students need to be careful about deciding whether or not choosing to pass/fail a class is the right option for them. Many students who are looking to go into medical school, graduate school, CPAs, and students looking to transfer, do not actually have the option to pass/fail certain classes. There are certain requirements to be able to take tests like the CPA exam, the MCATS, the GMATs, etc., where if a student chooses to pass/fail a class they are lessoning their likelihood of being accepted into these programs. I think it is a very tough situation for colleges to decide if they are going to implement the pass/fail option into their curriculum because it really may be only having an impact on a small percentage of students. This option could be a great GPA booster for those who are taking general education courses, but for those who are taking high level courses that are a determinant of the future, it may not be such a good idea.

  4. I agree with your you notion that pass/fail affect a students drive to learn, but at the same time I would argue that it might improve a students drive to learn. A significant amount of students definitely will see this situation and will worry less about passing their tests because they can just pass/fail the course, however there will be those students who will capitalize on this situation by making them less stressed out about doing well on their exams and passing and will be more focused on just learning the material and gaining the information. This would be the ultimate goal of the pass/ fail option and probably the hopes of administrators and instructors

  5. I agree with you that this pass/fail option has affected student’s drive to learn. Although there are mixed reviews on whether this option is a good or bad idea, I believe that during these times, it was a crucial thing to do. I think the university did it in a way to lessen the burden and hardships that students are going through during this unknown time. While reading an article on this topic, written by Josh Moody, he says that “College officials see the pass-fail grading option as a way to allow students to focus on learning outcomes rather than a letter grade, which could ease pressure on students.” Given this statement, I believe that officials knew it would affect student’s drive to learn, but I think it was more important to make sure students were still successful academically during unprecedented times.


  6. I definitely think these new pass/fail systems are lessening students’ drive to learn, but I think their implementation is appropriate given these less than ideal circumstances. Personally, I have found it incredibly difficult to complete assignments with the distraction of everything going on in my home, and going to a library is not even an option anymore. It’s also incredibly tempting to cheat on assignments and exams now with their online format, which gives me even less reason to actually learn the course material. Although I could likely do well this semester if I tried really, really hard, it is difficult to focus on my education when I am not in a physical school environment. I understand why some argue against this pass/fail system, but I do not believe every student can be expected to preform well in this situation. Online learning certainly does not benefit everyone, which is why I believe having this system in place is necessary.

  7. The pass/fail system that has been implemented as a part of Penn State’s remote learning period is necessary, but I do agree that it can change students’ drive to learn. I think this because certain kids are not able to learn as well in an online environment, and as a result, they should not be penalized. This is why it is essential to have this system in place because students should not have to worry about their GPAs being ruined due to the pandemic. We have other things to worry about right now, so worrying about school more than usual should not have to happen.

    I also believe that this does affect my drive, personally, to do well in my classes. I have been constantly questioning whether or not it is worth it to put in extra work. This is because I understand that I can just “pass” classes that I am not as interested. This may not be the best mentality, but it is just the reality for me along with many of my classmates.

  8. I agree that due to the pass/fail system students may use for this semester, it may bring a lack of motivation to focus on school work and try as hard as you can. With that being said, the given circumstance, I believe, deems this system fair. What I think would have been more beneficial is coming up with some sort of limitation to how many classes you are allowed to change to pass/fail. Students may take advantage of the pass/fail system because they don’t have to hurt their GPA if they do not want to. But by placing a limitation on how many classes they can change, it may motivate them to still work to the best of their abilities. On the other side of the situation, transcripts should also make notice of this semesters situation for when students apply to grad schools or anything else. This can just be a reminder as to what was going on during this semester.

    Overall it is up to the student to determine what is best for their specific situation and take control of their academic career. If they want to put forth the effort and get the best grade they can that is up to them. They should just do the proper research before making any decisions because some classes do not allow a pass/fail option. The university should still make limitations and take precautions in order to make sure that students are still a little bit motivated during this time since it is technically not the end of the semester.


  9. I understand both points being made here. On one end it allows students to be able to focus on their home lives a bit more if they are hit by the pandemic. On the other side, it has the potential to take away students drive to get good grades and makes them just do enough to get the pass. I however tend to side with it hurting a bit more than people think. My big con with it is how it will affect employers looking at potential workers transcripts. What would an employer think if one of the applicants had a solid GPA but saw a semester of 6 classes marked pass. Would the employer assume that the student got all A’s and but chose to mark them all as pass, probably not. The employer would probably assume that the student got all C’s and doesn’t have a good work ethic. I believe students need to take this into consideration before choosing whether to pass/fail certain classes.

  10. I understand the frustration with this system. I myself have been a little more laid back with my studying and work ethic during this time. However, I believe that this idea is smart because not everyone was prepared for the pandemic to hit. People may not have brought their school items home with them and do not have the proper tools to effectively study. As well, they could be living far enough that they can not fly to their school due to the pandemic. It is also in the students’ hands on whether they want to make it an excuse to slack or an opportunity to work even harder. This is because it is your choice whether you want to change a grade to pass/fail. It allows the hard workers to put in the necessary time and effort to achieve the GPA they desire while those on the opposite end of the spectrum giving themselves an excuse to do less. Overall, I understand your point, but there are more positives to this idea then you are realizing.


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