Proceedings of The Physiological Society

University of Manchester (2010) Proc Physiol Soc 19, PC79

Poster Communications

The impact of introducing continuous assessment on student performance

A. Al-Modhefer1, E. A. Tansey1, S. M. Roe1

1. Biomedical Sciences Education, Queens University Belfast School of Medicine, Belfast, United Kingdom.


There have been many studies exploring the linkage between learning and assessment (Biggs, 1992; Ramsden, 1992). Research suggests that students will use different forms of learning depending on the type of assessment. At University level there is an increasing emphasis on encouraging students to become active, life-long learners (Biggs and Tang 2007). It is therefore incumbent on university staff to tailor teaching and assessment to this end. This is especially so with the so-called “strategic learner” who bases their study around the assessment method, emphasising module grades over actual understanding of module material (Ramsden, 1992). It is pointless to develop a curriculum that encourages a deep approach to learning if the assessment encourages students to adopt a surface approach (Davies, 1994). This study examines the change in student performance with the introduction of in-course assessment. A comparison was made between the performances of students of a level 1 biomedical science module (Human Structure and Function - Principles) in the 2008 and 2009 examination. The performance of the 2008 cohort was determined by a single end of semester written examination and a single practical spot test examination. In 2009 various forms of in-course formative and continuous assessment were introduced to prepare students for the end of semester examination and also provide feedback on their performance and understanding of practical class material. Results are expressed as means ± S.E.M., with unpaired t-tests being used to test for statistical significance. End of year results improved significantly from 45.5% ± 1.62%; (n=80) in 2008 to 55.13% ± 0.93%; (n=89, P <0.01 in 2009). Practical marks from the continuous assessment in 2009 (74.3% ± 0.8%) were significantly greater than those from the end of semester practical examination examination in 2008 (52% ± 1.67%, P < 0.01). The results tend to suggest that introducing in-course formative and continuous assessment positively affects the performance of students. We believe the introduction of in-course and continuous assessment together with feedback on coursework provided students with the mechanisms to help them understand more fully how the body works. The results, however, need to be treated with caution. The overall performance of the 2009 cohort may suggest an academically stronger group of students and this could cast a bias on the results. It is also unclear to what extent attendance affected performance.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements