Academic journal article College and University

COMPARISON OF Biology Student Performance in Quarter and Semester Systems

Academic journal article College and University

COMPARISON OF Biology Student Performance in Quarter and Semester Systems

Article excerpt

Colleges and universities have long debated the utility and effectiveness of different academic calendars. While many calendar systems exist, the early-start semester and the modern quarter system are the most common. The early-start semester begins after Labor Day and runs until Christmas; late-start semesters run from mid-September until late January (Stainburn 2008). The modern quarter system has a year-round calendar such that most students study for three consecutive quarters with an optional summer quarter. The decision to adopt one calendar over another has been based primarily on the perceived benefits to students (Table 1, on page 14) and on the perceived ad- ministrative, logistical, and faculty benefits (Table 2, on page 15) associated with each.

Much thought has been devoted to the pros and cons of the semester and quarter calendars, but relatively few studies have addressed their effect on student performance. One study that examined student attitudes about personal performance in each system found that although students had a slightly lower G PA in the semester calendar (1.443 vs.1.568), the students believed that the grades they received more accurately reflected what they learned (Mertes 1969). The study's authors speculated that students may have performed better in the quarter system because (1) they were under more pressure to learn the material, (1) the semester exams were more challenging and open ended whereas the quarter exams were based more on fact-recall questions, and/or (3) faculty on the quarter system may have graded less stringently (Mertes 1969). Another study found that changing from a quarter to a semester calendar had an adverse effect on student grades and course completion rates (Coleman, Boite & Franklin 1984). Because data were examined only from one quarter before and two semesters after the change, this decrease could have been a temporary result. A review of Dutch studies that have examined the effect of academic calendars on student performance revealed that rather than studying throughout the term, students on a semester calendar tended to study right before their exams (Jansen 1993). The review concluded that the "extra time" in the semester encouraged cramming and procrastination.

This work investigates changes in student performance in BIOL 1009, a non-major general biology course at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (umntc) two and a half years before and two and a half years after changing from a quarter calendar to an early-start semester calendar. Undergraduate student performance was assessed by examining mean final course scores, grade distributions, and question-specific performance on exam questions that were asked both before and after the change in calendar. The exam questions were categorized according to the following topics: evolution, genetics, ecology, cell biology, organismal biology, metabolism, and the chemical and physical basis for life (capb). This categorization allowed investigation of whether the change from the quarter to the early-start semester calendar had a disproportionate effect on student performance on a particular topic. This study seems to be the first to assess student performance before and after a change from a quarter to a semester calendar by using the same set of questions to measure student learning.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

Student performance on exam questions from two and a half years before and two and a half years after umntc's switch from a quarter to a semester calendar was analyzed. The terms that were examined included eight quarters (win- ter, spring, and fall 1997; winter, spring, and fall 1998; and winter and spring 1999) and five semesters (fall 1999, spring and fall 2000, and spring and fall 2001). This time interval permitted evaluation of student performance differences that were not directly related to the change itself. It also maximized the similarities in the student body before and after the change and reduced or eliminated other variables that might have confounded the study. …

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