Developing Grit

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My classes are rife with groans and sighs when passing back exams and quizzes.  To try and encourage student persistence and grit development, I decided to implement mastery based quizzes like Kevin mentioned in a previous post


I gave students three attempts to pass a quiz on dimensional analysis.  The first attempt was given in lecture.  The second and third attempts were taken outside of class.  Since I am on campus daily, I set aside time – while I was teaching labs, had office hours, or was working in my office – for students to take it.  By the day of Exam 1, 50 students passed the mastery based quiz on dimensional analysis while 84 did not. 



Passed Benchmark Quiz

Did not Pass Quiz

Number of Students



Average Exam 1 Score



Passed Exam 1



Did not pass Exam 1




Not only did the students who passed the benchmark quiz do better on the exam, but only 20% of students in this group got a score below 60%.  Many of them were in 50-60% range.  On the other hand, of the students not passing the benchmark quiz, 74% of them did not pass the exam, and many of their scores were in the 30-50% range.

I also instituted benchmark quizzes in my Intermediate algebra class, and noticed similar results.  Benchmark Quiz #1 was related to exam 1, and Benchmark Quiz #2 was directly related to Exam 2. 



Exam 2 Average

Passed Both Benchmark Quizzes


Passed Benchmark #1 only (Related to Exam 1)


Passed Benchmark #2 only (Related to Exam 2)


Passed only one Benchmark Quiz


Did not pass any Benchmark Quizzes



The data shows a strong correlation between passing the benchmark quiz and higher exam scores in both classes.  Therefore, I decided to continue using benchmark quizzes to give students an attainable goal prior to their first exam, knowing that students who are successful on the benchmark quiz will have a higher probability of success on the subsequent exam.


In response to the student exam performance in both courses I showed students a short TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth, on Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  A few days later, I gave my students a short article called “The State of Being Stuck” and asked my chemistry students to write half-page reflection paper on it, discussing how they would apply the concepts of grit and the growth mindset to Introductory Chemistry this semester.


The chemistry students are currently working on passing their second benchmark quiz, which is on nomenclature.  Exam 2, which covers nomenclature will take place on Friday, October 13, 2017.  I will update this post once the exam is graded and the data has been analyzed.

Other Resources on Grit and Growth Mindset:


Quotes from Reflection Papers:


“I will not be afraid of a challenge just because it looks hard to do.”

“I always tell myself, ‘This too shall pass.’”

“As a future teacher … I want my students to give it all they have and not give up, therefore that is what I am going to do in all my classes.”

“I sit next to someone who is failing this class and complains about it every morning.  She always seems to be blaming other people instead of herself.  When I ask her what she does to study or take notes, she tells me that she does not even watch the videos.  My motivation for wanting to come to this class is that I want to be able to engage in class work.”

“There’s nothing wrong in getting help from other people who get something more than what you may be understanding yourself.”

“Fear of failing hinders me from even beginning sometimes.”

“I’m actually pretty proud of how far I’ve come because I could have easily gave up … I told myself if I don’t pass this class, what does it mean for my future, am I going to do the same thing when it comes down to everything else in my life?”

“It’s OK to fail in things that you do in life, but the important part is to be gritty.  You don’t have to be super smart to survive in this life.  You just have to be gritty.”

“I always found science classes to be difficult for me, so I never really put the most effort in them.”

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About the Author
Brandon Tenn earned his Bachelor's of Science degree in Math and Chemistry from the University of Hawai`i at Manoa in 2001 and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from UC Davis in 2009. Between 2006 and 2010 he taught at both Sierra College and the California Maritime Academy. Since 2011 he has taught math and chemistry at Merced College. He is very interested in teaching developmental and introductory science and math courses utilizing an active learning approach. He has flipped every math and chemistry course he taught since Spring 2015 and continues to research best practices for the technique based on his target student populations.