Increasing Academic Performance Through Mark Withholding

Increasing Academic Performance Through Mark Withholding

By Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel

I have recently published a paper (with co-author Paul Gardner) on the effects of temporary mark withholding on academic performance and feedback views in university students (1). Temporary mark withholding is a feedback strategy whereby on assignments students are provided with the feedback first without their marks – then, a few days later, the marks are released to them. The idea behind temporary mark withholding is to provide students with time to engage and process the feedback before releasing the grades. Students tend to focus on grades at the expense of written feedback – which may be detrimental to increasing future performance. The exciting part about our paper is that we report two experiments that we ran in authentic learning environments where students worked on credit-bearing assignments. Thus, the conclusions that we can draw from our findings are highly relevant for real-world learning settings. In this post, I give a brief overview of the paper highlighting the findings and practical implications.


What did we do?

The experiments were run at two Scottish universities. The first experiment involved second-year Psychology students who worked on a report in their first semester. Half of the cohort was randomly assigned to the Grade-before-feedback condition – receiving their grades three days before their feedback – and the other half was assigned to the Feedback-before-grade condition – receiving their feedback three days before their grades. We were interested whether this manipulation would affect a similar future assignment in the second semester.

The second experiment used a bit of a different approach. We assigned an entire student cohort of third-year Psychology students to the temporary mark withholding condition for their report assignment in semester 1 and measured their performance in a similar assignment in semester 2. However, it was important to have a control condition to compare any changes in performance between the two semesters to. We used a historical control for that purpose: As historical control we took the third-year students from the previous year who did not experience mark withholding (marks and individual feedback were released at the same time) and looked at their semester 1 to semester 2 report performance change. In addition to academic performance, we were also able to look at whether students viewed their feedback in semester 1 or not.