Mastery Learning – Grading System

March 29, 2012 at 8:55 am 2 comments

As I mentioned in the previous blog, I have started using a mastery learning based grading system in my developmental math courses.


I give 6 tests in each course.
These tests are worth 0 points if the student scores below 70% or 1 point if the student scores 70% or higher.
If a student has satisfactory online scores (90% or higher on each exam and 70% or higher on each quiz) then they can earn bonuses on their test score. In that case, a student earns 2 points for a test between 70% & 79% and 3 points for a test that is 80% or higher.
A student who earns 0 points on a test but has satisfactory online scores earns the option to retake the test the following week for 1 point.

Take note that the online scores do not directly count to a student’s overall grade in any fashion.

There are 6 tests, so a student can earn up to 18 points from their tests.


For one exam (the one that students historically struggle with) I double the points for students with satisfactory online scores. That means that there are an additional 3 points up for grabs here.


I have a 34 question review quiz associated with a 136 question personalized homework assignment that serves as a review for the final exam. Students who score above 90% on the homework and 70% on the quiz earn 4 points to their total.

Final Exam

The final exam is worth 100 points.


There are 125 points available in my course. Students need 100 points for an A, 88 points for a B, and 76 points for a C. I set up the C grade by reasoning that a student who did not do the online homework but managed to pass all 6 exams and the final exam should pass the class: 6 x 1 + 70 = 76. I then escalated the grades from there.

Last Semester

Last semester I started with 47 students, and managed to keep 46 of them. 28 of the 46 passed (61%), with 15 of those grades being A’s. The pass rate at my college is in the mid 40’s for reference.

My students took a common final with four other classes, and the grading was shared between instructors. (I graded problems 1-7, another instructor graded 8-13, …). Students in my class had a mean score that was 12.5 points above the other classes, and the median was 14 points higher. 65% of my students scores 60 or higher (control: 37%), and 35% of my students scored 80 or higher (control: 7%). This shows that my students understood the material at a higher level than those not participating in the mastery learning approach.

In the next blog I will talk about some of the game design elements that really help make this work.


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –


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Mastery Learning – Doing Homework For The Right Reason Moving This Blog to a New Site

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sonny Mohammadzadeh  |  July 25, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Hi George.
    Are you still using this system? If so for what courses, and how do you think it is working? Have you used it for a class that doesn’t have an on-line component?

    • 2. georgewoodbury  |  July 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      I have used this grading system for 4 semesters now. Things are going really well – success rates are still high and my students are outperforming other classes on our common final exams.
      I have not used this setup without an online component, but I do not see why that could not be done. You just have to find a way to tailor it to what you do in your class, and what you value.


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