Students' Study Approaches in a New Curriculum

Article excerpt

Background and Purpose. Teaching and evaluation methods affect students' study approaches. A deep study approach, characterized by the use of evidence and critical analysis, is fostered by relevant interactive classes and reflective evaluations. A surface study approach, characterized by memorization, is fostered by heavy workloads, passive teaching methods, and fact-based evaluations. A strategic study approach emphasizes determination to excel, organization, and utilization of resources. Deep and strategic study approaches may be related to success in educational programs. The purpose of this study was to measure changes in students' study approaches throughout a new curriculum. The new curriculum taught basic sciences more traditionally in the first year, and taught clinical sciences more interactively in the second. Students who demonstrated academic difficulties were required to consult with a Student Progress Committee (SPC).

Subjects. One hundred seventy-two female and 27 male physical therapist students from 4 classes signed informed consent One hundred forty-two students provided complete data.

Methods. Students completed the Revised Approaches to Study Inventory (RASI) at entry and at the end of each year. The RASI measures deep, surface, and strategic study approaches, as well as academic self-confidence and lack of direction. Program success measures were program grade point average (GPA) and National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) scores. Repeated measures analyses of variance (ANOVA) followed by paired t-tests or Mann-Whitney U-tests and Pearson's correlation coefficients were used for analysis.

Results. Compared with entry, students at the end of the first year retained their use of deep and surface study approaches, used the strategic study approach less, and demonstrated decreased academic self-confidence and increased lack of direction. Strategic study approach and academic self-confidence were positively correlated with GPA. At the end of the second year, these same students used the deep study approach more and the surface and strategic study approaches less; academic self-confidence and lack of direction returned to the levels they were at entry. Academic self-confidence was correlated with both GPA and NPTE scores. Compared with students who were not referred, students referred to the SPC used a deep study approach less at the end of the first year and showed an increase in lack of direction across both years.

Discussion and Conclusions. The greater clinical emphasis and interactive teaching methods of the second year were associated with the increased use of a deep study approach. The pattern of study approach changes during the first year prompted additional revisions and lengthening of the curriculum to allow increased use of interactive teaching methods designed for better integration of the basic and clinical sciences.

Key Words: Study approaches, Physical therapist education, Curriculum evaluation.


Students demonstrate different study approaches that involve more or less active engagement with the material. Study approaches of students in education programs for health professions are affected by curricular design, instructional strategies, and evaluation methods.1"3 Classes that are interesting and relevant based on case studies, clinical examples, and shared experiences, as well as examination methods that require reflection and using previously acquired knowledge, tend to encourage a deep approach.1"4 In light of the goal of the physical therapy profession to provide evidence-based care, as stated in the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA's) Vision 2020,5 a deep approach, which involves evidence, logic, and meaningful critical analysis6 is a desirable approach and worthy of encouraging in professional education. Heavy workloads, long classes, passive teaching methods, and poorly organized classes, together with examination methods that focus on factual knowledge, encourage use of a surface approach. …


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