The link between upper secondary grades and higher education achievement
Several earlier studies have shown that the prognostic capacity of criterion-referenced grading is unexpectedly good, even slightly better than that of norm-referenced grading and considerably better than that of the university aptitude test. However, there is reason to differentiate the picture by studying the significance on higher education achievement of grades in individual subjects and courses, as well as the significance of taking specialised courses.
The purpose of this study is to examine (a) links between grading increments in individual subject courses and achievement in higher education; (b) effects on achievement in higher education of receiving at least a pass grade on courses with different levels of specialisation in individual subjects; and (c) effects on achievement in higher education of received grades in all studied courses for individual subjects.
The study covers all students who left upper secondary school in the spring term of 1998-2002 and who began an MSc engineering, BSc engineering, or Master of Laws programme in the 1998/99 -2003/04 academic years. However, for the Engineering programmes, only those who began studies in the autumn terms are included. In total, 19,289 MSc engineering students, 16,501 BSc engineering students and 4,264 Master of Laws students are included. The choice of programmes is based on principal subject content, prescribed entrance qualifications, and application pressure. The examined subjects and course levels are, to the greatest extent possible, the same for all three programmes: mathematics A-E, physics A and B, social studies A-C, Swedish (including Swedish as a second language) A-C, and English A-C.
The results show distinct patterns, of which some are characteristic of a single programme and others apply generally across programmes. Characteristics of individual programmes include the finding that grades in mathematics and physics are most important for achievement on the Engineering programmes, even if somewhat less so on the BSc engineering programme, and that Swedish and social studies grades are most important for achievement on the Master of Laws programme. Patterns that apply to all programmes include the finding that differences in credit point production are greater between the grade increments Pass and Pass with Distinction than between Pass with Distinction and Pass with Special Distinction, which suggests that there is a greater spread in knowledge demands for a Pass grade than there is for the Pass with Distinction and the Pass with Special Distinction grades. Results are primarily from the first year of studies, but appear to apply for years two and three as well, albeit with a somewhat weaker link.