Grading Systems in Medical School: Pass/Fail or A-F Scale?

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Up until medical school, the majority of your classes used the traditional A-F grading scale to rate your academic achievement. Everyone loves to get an A, and receiving an F is a sure sign that you blew it. When you begin your research for medical school, you’ll want to think about the importance of whether a school uses a traditional grading system or relies on Pass/Fail ratings. There are a number of factors to consider, and each medical school grading system has both advantages and disadvantages.        

In a more conventional A-F medical school grading system, future residency options are greatly increased based on that graded performance.  The clear competitive benefit of a conventional grading system is that it can distinguish candidates based on how they performed as compared to their peers.  Unfortunately, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), being ranked in an A-F medical school grading system raises anxiety levels and heightens depression as medical students compete for the most coveted residencies and other post medical career paths.  Medical students must decide whether a coveted residency is worth the added stress inherent in a highly competitive A-F medical school grading system.  These factors increasingly lead more medical schools to adapt the Pass/Fail system.

The simplicity and non-competitive nature of the Pass/Fail medical school grading system depends on the intensity of the medical school curriculum and the degree of the Pass/Fail system.  More schools are implementing a hybrid medical school grading system, where Hospital shadowing ward roundscoursework completed during the first two years is evaluated as Pass/Fail and the final two years are graded using the conventional A-F scale. More widely used is the High Pass-Pass-Fail medical school grading system, which allows for students to distinguish themselves particularly by receiving a High Pass rating. The Pass/Fail medical school grading system places a critical amount of importance on letters of recommendation and national board testing as predictors of your future success in your residency.

At a number of elite medical schools, including both the Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Medical School, the vetting process to gain acceptance to these institutions is so thorough that the grading system is secondary to the prestige of the medical school.  Studies often show that attendance at elite medical schools leads to the most sought after residencies.  A better predictor of student success during medical school and in applying to residency programs is your benchmark performance on the US Medical Licensing Examination. Ultimately, this exam is the most important gauge of a student’s success in medical school.

Residency programs sets their own standards pertaining to acceptance and success.  Acceptance in these programs is based on a number of factors.  One of those is whether your medical school employs a conventional A-F grading system or Pass/Fail system.  Medical school grades are not the only criteria for matching to your ideal residency program, but they are significant enough that you will want to do some research and be informed about the criteria by which you will eventually be evaluated. The road to becoming a medical professional is fraught with choices.  Making well advised and thoroughly researched decisions, like the grading system used by your medical school, is critical to your success.  — Post by Madeliane Kingsbury. 

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