Contracts in the classroom: An unconventional promising grading system

Use of contract grading to improve grades among college freshmen in introductory psychology

From SAGE Open

While contracts are an indispensable tool in the modern workplace, this study has found that they may also be very effective in contemporary classrooms. Students designed their own course based on a contract and this lead to both higher grades and higher student satisfaction than traditional points-based courses. A total of 40 college freshmen enrolled in one introductory psychology course to a traditional or contract grading system. Those assigned to the contract system signed a contract at the beginning of the semester in which they indicated what grade they were aiming to receive and specified which assignments they would complete to receive that grade. Students who wanted to receive a better grade had to complete more assignments and receive a higher score on exams than those aiming for a lower grade. Though the instructor and course materials were identical for both sections, at the end of the semester, the group of students who were graded contractually were three times more likely to earn an A grade, one third as likely to fail or withdraw from the course, perceived a higher degree of control over their grade, and consistently rated their own effort, their instructor, and the course overall more favorably.


The use of behavioral techniques in college teaching has declined during the past three decades. The purpose of this study was to compare a behaviorally based grading approach with a traditional point-based system. A total of 40 college freshmen were randomly assigned to a Traditionally Graded or Contract Graded Introductory Psychology course. Contract graded students were one third as likely to fail or withdraw, 3 times more likely to earn an A grade, and were more likely to perceive a high degree of control over their grade. These findings support use of a contract grading system in the contemporary college classroom.

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Article details
Lindemann, D., & Harbke, C. (2011). Use of Contract Grading to Improve Grades Among College Freshmen in Introductory Psychology SAGE Open DOI: 10.1177/2158244011434103

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