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Acad Med. 2011 Nov;86(11):1367-73. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3182305d81.

Relationship of pass/fail grading and curriculum structure with well-being among preclinical medical students: a multi-institutional study.

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Department of Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota 55901, USA.



Psychological distress is common among medical students. Curriculum structure and grading scales are modifiable learning environment factors that may influence student well-being. The authors sought to examine relationships among curriculum structures, grading scales, and student well-being.


The authors surveyed 2,056 first- and second-year medical students at seven U.S. medical schools in 2007. They used the Perceived Stress Scale, Maslach Burnout Inventory, and Medical Outcomes Study Short Form (SF-8) to measure stress, burnout, and quality of life, respectively. They measured curriculum structure using hours spent in didactic, clinical, and testing experiences. Grading scales were categorized as two categories (pass/fail) versus three or more categories (e.g., honors/pass/fail).


Of the 2,056 students, 1,192 (58%) responded. In multivariate analyses, students in schools using grading scales with three or more categories had higher levels of stress (beta 2.65; 95% CI 1.54-3.76, P<.0001), emotional exhaustion (beta 5.35; 95% CI 3.34-7.37, P<.0001), and depersonalization (beta 1.36; 95% CI 0.53-2.19, P=.001) and were more likely to have burnout (OR 2.17; 95% CI 1.41-3.35, P=.0005) and to have seriously considered dropping out of school (OR 2.24; 95% CI 1.54-3.27, P<.0001) compared with students in schools using pass/fail grading. There were no relationships between time spent in didactic and clinical experiences and well-being.


How students are evaluated has a greater impact than other aspects of curriculum structure on their well-being. Curricular reform intended to enhance student well-being should incorporate pass/fail grading.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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