Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

An International Comparison Study of Pharmacy Students' Achievement Goals and Their Relationship to Assessment Type and Scores

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

An International Comparison Study of Pharmacy Students' Achievement Goals and Their Relationship to Assessment Type and Scores

Article excerpt


The quality of and motivation behind student learning is of great interest to tertiary educators, and considerable effort is devoted to evaluating that quality and enhancing it. Research that seeks to understand the relationships between student motivation and their academic performance is essential to this endeavor.

Achievement goal theory has been an important framework used to study undergraduate students' motivation. Achievement goal theorists posit that students pursue 1 of 2 broad types of goals when they face any academic activity. They either try to understand this activity as much as possible (mastery goal) or they try to compete with each other (performance goal). (1) Gaining competence is the main reason for pursuing either goal. (2) Competence is viewed differently by students depending on their goal orientations. Students who adopt the mastery goal believe that competence can be gained by understanding the task at hand as thoroughly as possible and seeking help when they need it. (3) They use self-referential standards to differentiate between success and failure. (3) Students who adopt a performance goal, on the other hand, believe competence is gained by outperforming their peers and appearing talented in front of their teachers. (4) These students adopt their teachers' standards of success and failure. (5)

These 2 types of achievement goals are further subdivided into 4 types: (1) mastery-approach, where the individual is motivated to learn or improve skills; (2) mastery-avoidance, where the individual is motivated to avoid learning failures or declines in skill; (3) performance-approach, where the individual is motivated to outperform others; and (4) performance-avoidance, where the individual is motivated to avoid doing worse than others. (6,7)

Research conducted with undergraduate students from disciplines such as psychology, sociology, business, biology, and art investigated the impact of achievement goals on students' interest in academic activities, academic achievement (eg, scores), anxiety, surface learning (eg, memorizing), and help seeking. (4,8,9) The results for mastery-avoidance and performance-avoidance goals are consistent in terms of their negative effects on students, including poor scores, low interest in the subject, anxiety, and cheating. (10-12)

In contrast, the mastery-approach goal is linked to positive attributes, such as deep learning strategies, (13) high interest in the subject, (14) and seeking help when needed. (15) From the teacher's perspective, this goal orientation is highly valued. Despite these positive effects, however, empirical research to date has found no significant relationships between this goal and academic achievement. (4) Adopting a performance-approach goal is linked to mixed outcomes. For example, students who adopt this goal use surface learning strategies such as memorization and are more anxious. (16-18) Other studies find students who adopt this goal orientation achieve higher scores on their examinations. (3,19)

What is currently missing from the literature on goals and academic performance is an exploration of the types of examination undertaken. In universities, different types of assessments, such as oral, essay, and multiple choice-question examinations, are intended to measure student knowledge. Each of these examination types has its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, an advantage of essay style examinations is their capacity to assess deep understanding and critical thinking, while a disadvantage is their relative subjectivity when grading. (20) Multiple-choice question examinations address this subjectivity by limiting the answer to "one correct" answer, yet this method promotes surface approaches to learning. (21) Goal theory would suggest that students who are strongly performance-oriented (and thus more likely to use surface learning and memorization) are expected to perform better on multiple-choice questions, whereas students who are more mastery-oriented are more likely to demonstrate deeper understanding and thus perform better on essay style questions. …

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