The debate of grading systems in medical schools


High school students work diligently every day to ace tests, complete projects, and maintain high GPA’s to be admitted into selective colleges. Number grades effectively motivate students to work by providing them the incentive of getting a good grade and potentially getting accepted into their dream college. The biggest advantage of this grading system is that students who get a 97 and students who get a 94 would be separated rather than clumped together under the general group of “pass”. High school students at SIS prefer to have their scores distributed on a 0-100 scale because they are able receive an exact score that distinguishes them from their peers.

“I wouldn’t like a pass/fail system because while the system might be better for people with low grades, students with higher grades would be less rewarded and therefore might be less motivated,” said Leo Park (11), a junior who disagrees with the pass/fail system.

However, the situation is different in medical schools. Recently, Yonsei Medical School adopted the pass and fail grading system. While Yonsei is one of the first schools in Korea to implement this system into their curriculum, some of the most prominent US medical schools such as Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have already adopted this grading system. Furthermore, Korean medical schools such as Ulsan Medical School are aware of this trend and are debating the matter. The pass/fail system in this context encourages a more lively and positive atmosphere through cooperation among classmates and peers rather than competition. This increases teamwork among the students. Furthermore, since most if not all medical school students are already motivated enough, it would not make sense to add unnecessary stress by using a number grade system.

“I would be satisfied if the pass/fail system is implemented in our school because we don’t want competition and this system will lessen competition among students. If there is less competition, students will help each other study and produce effective results. Also, students will focus on more important things such as the actual learning rather than being obsessed over grades. Demotivation won’t be an issue because medical school students all want to be the best and have a better future,” said Jeong Ji-Won, Ulsan medical school student.

Although the pass/fail system creates a better atmosphere, one thing must be considered. After being informed about this new trend, Dr. Gerhard asked, “If you’re in need of a critical surgery, would you want to get the surgery from a surgeon who passed medical school with a 66%?” There’s a need to debate about the standards of ‘pass.’ If the threshold is low, the grading system wouldn’t be effective in distinguishing who is qualified as a physician.”

The question of implementing a pass or fail system depends on the system. High school students will need more motivation to study than medical students who already instinctively study. Medicals schools are debating whether giving students who have already gone through numerous years of highly competitive education a time to breathe with a pass/fail system or whether it’s better to be selective about their choices by keeping them graded based on a tiered grading system. For high school students who want to pursue this type of career, it would be beneficial to be aware of this difference.