Rewarding higher marks with money doesn't make the grade

November 22, 2010

( -- Rewarding good grades with money has only a modest effect on students, says a new study conducted by researchers Tony Chambers (OISE) and Philip Oreopoulos (economics and U of T Mississauga) at the University of Toronto and counterparts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The study, commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, aimed to learn more about the potential for financial rewards as motivation for improved .

All first-year and second-year students on financial aid at the University of Toronto Scarborough were invited to participate. UTSC was chosen because the researchers had used UTM for part one of their study and wanted a campus with a similar commuter population.

Those selected by lottery into the study were given money for obtaining course grades above 70 per cent. They were also given free access to regular peer advising services to discuss academic matters as well as issues arising from campus life. For each one-semester course, students received $100 for obtaining a grade average of 70 per cent, and $20 for each percentage point above a grade of 70 per cent.

Before the study got underway, participants, on average, indicated that they expected the program to be somewhat helpful in improving their grades. Well over half of the participants said they were very concerned about having sufficient funds to complete their university degree.

The results show that the had a modest positive effect on grades, and had very small positive effects in the subsequent year, after the financial offer ended. The authors note, however, that the effects were stronger for those participants who had a better understanding of how the program worked.

While the program was popular with participants and both sign-up rates and engagement were high, the modest impact on is consistent with other studies evaluating interventions of this type. The authors characterize financial incentives as “an expensive approach for trying to generate modest effects on retention and performance.” They acknowledge that different incentive schemes, such as offering larger amounts of money or rewarding improvement on grades that are lower than 70 per cent, might lead to stronger effects.

The authors suggest that ineffective study habits may be a barrier to academic achievement and that the real issue may be more a lack of academic preparation than a lack of effort or motivation. They note that the availability of peer advising does not appear to have helped extensively. They conclude that other potential avenues for improving performance, or alternative approaches to teaching, are needed at the high school and postsecondary levels.

Explore further: Financial barriers to attending college affect academic goals in young students

Related Stories

Better student performance with peer learning

October 18, 2010

Engineering students with average grades from upper secondary school can manage difficult courses just as well as students with high grades. At least, if a group of them meet an older student once a week during the first ...

Moderate pay best for job performance, study suggests

November 19, 2008

( -- Employers hoping to get the best out of employees with huge performance contingent payments may actually be helping them to do worse, suggests a new paper published by a team of researchers in behavioral ...

Academic probation hits college guys harder

May 13, 2010

Male college students, especially those who had done well in their high-school classes, are much more likely than females to drop out when placed on academic probation after their first year in school, according to a researcher ...

Do good looks get high school students good grades?

April 22, 2009

Do personal traits predict success in school? If so, which dimension of one's outward appearance can tell the most about academic achievement? The answers to these questions are found in a new study by researchers from the ...

Recommended for you

New paper answers causation conundrum

November 17, 2017

In a new paper published in a special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, SFI Professor Jessica Flack offers a practical answer to one of the most significant, and most confused questions in evolutionary ...

Chance discovery of forgotten 1960s 'preprint' experiment

November 16, 2017

For years, scientists have complained that it can take months or even years for a scientific discovery to be published, because of the slowness of peer review. To cut through this problem, researchers in physics and mathematics ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.