Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Student Pharmacists' Perceptions of a Composite Examination in Their First Professional Year

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Student Pharmacists' Perceptions of a Composite Examination in Their First Professional Year

Article excerpt


Cumulative tests such as progress examinations that integrate material across courses are used primarily in medical education, but are also present in pharmacy education. (1) Typically, such examinations are administered at infrequent intervals throughout programs and are usually given at the end of a semester or academic year. While some evidence suggests that students perform better when they are tested more often, results have been mixed. (2) Additionally, while it may seem logical that studying consistently would have a better effect on academic performance than "cramming" shortly before an examination, some studies suggest that "crammers" may actually perform better on examinations. (3, 4)

However, cramming does not ensure long-term retention. (5) Frequent testing in itself has a positive effect on retention. (6) Given these relationships between testing process, study habits, and retention, testing content of required courses in an examination that occurs frequently may compel students to study consistently rather than cram, which theoretically should promote long-term retention.

This theoretical framework and the desire to enhance student learning and retention provide the rationale for the development and implementation of a "composite examination" (CE) process by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center's (UTHSC) College of Pharmacy. These CEs are single examinations administered approximately every two weeks and cover most material presented during that time period.

A literature search for peer-reviewed work in four databases, Academic Search Premier, ERIC, PsychInfo, and Medline using various combinations of the terms "composite examination," "composite test," "integrated testing," "integrated examination," "integrated content," "multiple domain," "combined subjects," "combined topics," "compiled subjects," "compiled courses," and "compiled topics" did not identify any studies about the use of this type of composite examination. Although the UTHSC Colleges of Medicine and Dentistry have used the CE format for several years, the CE testing process implemented at our institution has not been described previously.

The objective of our research was to assess first-year (P1) student pharmacists' perceptions of the CE and to determine whether or not this testing format influenced their study behaviors. We hypothesized that perceptions about the CE would change as students gained experience with the format and that behaviors would migrate toward less cramming and more consistent studying.


In 2010, faculty members at the college voted to use computerized testing in required courses. Despite the availability of the 77-seat computer laboratory at the college, implementation of computerized testing was associated with numerous logistical problems. These problems included scheduling limitations that precluded course directors from accessing the computer laboratory as needed, the inability to accommodate a large class in one testing session, and logistical problems coordinating scheduling of other campus testing facilities as a result of six other colleges on campus competing for testing resources.

A task force of faculty members, staff, and students concluded that these logistic factors precluded the administration of computerized examinations using the conventional approach of multiple examinations in each course throughout the semester. For example, once implemented across the first five semesters, computerized testing would be needed for 16 required courses in the fall and 10 required courses in the spring semester. Thus, the task force recommended that the college move to a CE and that implementation begin with the class entering in fall 2011 and continue as that group progressed.

During orientation, P1s are trained on ExamSoft software (ExamSoft Worldwide, Inc., Dallas, TX), including a mock examination, and are scheduled for additional practice sessions over the first two weeks of the semester as needed. …

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