There was a thread on Twitter recently asking about how college professors can help their students be less anxious about grades. Not surprisingly, many of the responses pointed out that college students worry about grades because college grades have real consequences. They can affect students’ eligibility for scholarships and financial aid and also their chances of getting into grad school or med school or law school. With increasingly large numbers of students relying on scholarships and financial aid, and with grad school and med school and law school becoming increasingly important for students’ financial security and stability post-graduation, it’s no wonder that students are worried about grades.
Reducing those external pressures would obviously be the best way to reduce students’ stress. But, short of that, there are still things professors can do. In my own classes, for example, and based on findings from some of my own research, I try to reduce student stress by: 1) making my expectations as explicit as possible, and 2) grading students based, in part, on effort and improvement, and not just on what they “achieve.”
In practice, that means:
basing part of students’ grades on small, completion-based assignments
(i.e., if you do the assignment, you get full credit)
including “extra” assignments of each type and dropping students’ lowest grades
(that way if students miss an assignment or bomb one, they aren’t overly penalized)
giving students detailed review guides for exams
(not giving them the answers, but outlining what they’ll need to know/be able to do)
offering an extra credit “improvement bonus”
(i.e., rewarding students who improve their scores from Exam 1 to Exam 2)
Essentially, I find that by making my expectations explicit, and by allowing students to earn points, in part, for their efforts and improvements, they feel more ownership of their grades. And they feel more confident about their ability to control how well they do in the class. Which ultimately means fewer grade questions and complaints and freak-outs in the end.