Descriptive study of how proportioning marks determines the performance of nursing students in a pharmacology course
Background: In programs with higher proportions of marks allocated to ongoing assessment, the students have higher overall marks than those with a lower proportion allocated to assessment. Little or no attention has been made to how the allocation affects the academic success of students in individual courses. The purpose of this study was to determine how the allocation of marks to examinations, tutorials and an assignment affects the performance of nursing students in a pharmacology course.
... thods: For students who passed a pharmacology course (i) the marks for examinations and ongoing assessment (tutorials and/or an assignment) were compared, and (ii) regression line and correlation analysis was undertaken to determine any association between these marks. In addition, for completing students, modelling was undertaken to determine the effects of changing the allocation of marks on passing and failing rates.Results: Nursing students who passed a pharmacology course obtained significantly lower marks in examinations than ongoing assessment, and for the ongoing assessment, lower marks in the assignment than tutorials. Regression line analysis showed that the marks in ongoing assessment (tutorials and/or the assignment) versus examination marks were a poor line-fit. The correlation coefficients between ongoing assessment and examinations were weak to moderate. A high percentage of students passed the course (> 90%) and, modelling for completing students, showed that decreasing the marks for examination would have led to slightly more students passing the pharmacology course with higher grades. In contrast, increasing the marks for examination would have dramatically decreased the number of students passing the course, and their grades.Conclusions: The allocation of marks can have a major effect on student performance. As ongoing assessment is only a weak or moderate indicator of performance in examination this has implications for students who rely on passing examinations for their advancement. For instance, nursing students in some countries (e.g. USA) are required to pass examinations prior to registration, whereas in others (e.g. Australia) they are not. Consideration needs to be given as to whether it is appropriate for nursing students who fail examinations to pass courses/programs.