Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Evaluating the Relationship between General Health Vocabulary and Student Achievement in Pharmacology

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Evaluating the Relationship between General Health Vocabulary and Student Achievement in Pharmacology

Article excerpt


The extent of an individual's vocabulary knowledge is a known indicator of reading comprehension. (1,2) In the context of teaching English as a foreign language, Qian has shown that depth of vocabulary knowledge, as well as vocabulary size, can be used to predict academic reading performance. (3) In the teaching and learning of pharmacology, resources such as textbooks and pharmacological literature (journal articles) are essential resources for students. However, the readability of these texts and literature can be problematic. For example, the textbook Pharmacology: A Pathophysiological Approach (4) has a Gunning Fog index for readability of 18.1, while pharmacology-related journal articles have an average score of 19.2. (5) The Gunning Fog index gives an estimate of the number of years of formal education required to understand a piece of written work after one reading of the material. This method takes into account sentence length and the number of words longer than 3 syllables when calculating the complexity of the material. Material with a Gunning Fog score of greater than 16 is very difficult to read and has a reading level comparable to legal documents. (6) One study found that the reading ability of a group of third-year PharmD students in the United States was below the level required to read the relevant pharmacy literature. (5) An inadequate reading level may give rise to a situation that has been reported in other disciplines where students who cannot understand the concepts resort to rote learning without comprehension. (7)

As part of their research on the effect of English as a second language on the academic performance of pharmacy students, investigators in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States have administered various types of vocabulary tests. In the United Kingdom, students who spoke English as their first language performed better on a vocabulary test than did those who spoke English as their second language. (8) Another study in the United Kingdom found a correlation between scores on a preadmission English skills test and final examination grades at the end of a master of pharmacy degree program. (9) Poor English literacy skills in Australian pharmacy students were linked to failure to complete the degree in the prescribed time. (10)

The above studies focused on the general English vocabulary knowledge of pharmacy students in relation to academic achievement in the pharmacy program. In order to determine the role played by knowledge of vocabulary that is more closely linked to the discipline of pharmacology, Diaz-Gilbert investigated knowledge of common health and pharmacy-related vocabulary terms among US pharmacy students who spoke English as a second language and reported that these students held substantial misconceptions. (11) While these studies linked general English vocabulary to academic achievement in pharmacy, this paper investigates whether general health vocabulary knowledge is related to achievement in the discipline of pharmacology.


The study was undertaken at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in South Africa where the subjects for the research were students enrolled in the BPharm degree program. In South Africa, upon completion of the 4-year BPharm degree, graduates are required to complete a 1-year period of supervised practice and successfully sit for the preregistration evaluation, after which they are allowed to apply for professional registration as a pharmacist. Pharmacology was presented in 3 modules during the second (Pharmacology 2), third (Pharmacology 3), and fourth (Pharmacology 4) years of the program. The duration of each module was 1 academic year. During Pharmacology 2 and Pharmacology 3, the method of content delivery consisted of lectures in which basic principles and relevant therapeutics were presented. Vocabulary was not taught as such, but students were encouraged to read the assigned textbooks and consult relevant dictionaries when necessary. …

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