Successes and challenges in implementing specifications grading in skills-based laboratory courses: Experiences at two colleges of pharmacy. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Specifications grading, a grading schema focused on mastery of skills, may provide an alternative to traditional grading. Specifications grading uses three components (pass/fail grading, bundles, and tokens) to allow students to demonstrate competency in specific areas as part of competency-based education. The purpose of this article is to outline specifications grading and review its implementation at two colleges of pharmacy. EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITY AND SETTING: Two colleges of pharmacy used specifications grading within a first-year skills-based laboratory course. Instructors identified key skills for each course and the minimum performance levels for each grade (A, B, C, etc.). Each college evaluated skills that aligned with course learning objectives. FINDINGS: Incorporating specifications grading helped better align assignments and assessments to course learning objectives. Instructors felt specifications grading introduced more rigor into the course. Instructors identified four challenges when implementing specifications grading, including: (1) lack of integration into the learning management system, (2) initial student confusion, (3) modifications needed due to unforeseen circumstances, and (4) logistical issues when implementing token exchange. Many of these challenges can be overcome with instructor tracking of passed assignments and earned/redeemed tokens, periodic reinforcement of the grading schema with students, and creating flexibility within the course, especially the first time the schema is implemented. SUMMARY: Specifications grading was successfully implemented in two skills-based courses. Challenges encountered with implementing specifications grading will be continually addressed. Implementation of specifications grading in other forms of course deliveries (e.g., electives, didactic) may require adjustment and further evaluation.

published proceedings

  • Curr Pharm Teach Learn

author list (cited authors)

  • Joseph, M. L., Miller, S. W., Diec, S., & Augustine, J. M.

complete list of authors

  • Joseph, Merlyn L||Miller, Susan W||Diec, Sandy||Augustine, Jill M

publication date

  • February 2023