ABSTRACT Specifications grading is a student-centered assessment method that enables flexibility and opportunities for revision. Here, we describe the first known full implementation of specifications grading in an upper-division chemical biology course. Due to the rapid development of relevant knowledge in this discipline, the overarching goal of this class is to prepare students to interpret and communicate about current research. In the past, a conventional points-based assessment method made it challenging to ensure that satisfactory standards for student work were consistently met, particularly for comprehensive written assignments. Specifications grading was chosen because the core tenet requires students to demonstrate minimum learning objectives to achieve a passing grade and complete more content of increased cognitive complexity to achieve higher grades. This strict adherence to determining grades based on demonstrated skills is balanced by opportunities for revision or flexibility in assignment deadlines. These options are made manageable for the instructors through the use of a token economy with a limited number of tokens that students can choose to use when needed. Over the duration of the course, a validated survey on self-efficacy showed slight positive trends, student comprehension and demonstrated skills qualitatively improved, and final grade distributions were not negatively affected. Instructors noticed that discussions with students were more focused on course concepts and feedback, rather than grades, while overall grading time was reduced. Responses to university-administered student feedback surveys revealed some self-reported reduction in anxiety, as well as increased confidence in managing time and course material. Recommendations are provided on how to continue to improve the overall teaching and learning experience for both instructors and students.

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