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A moderate-structure Cell Biology course improves student performance but fails to alleviate destructive friction of a final comprehensive exam

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posted on 31.01.2022, 19:53 by ijsbrand kramerijsbrand kramer, frédérique Pellerin, Xavier Nogues
The transition from secondary to higher education remains problematic given low retention figures in science courses, in particular in open-enrolment universities. Adjustment to a new learning environment and dealing with the mass experience are factors at play. We looked for ways to ease the adjustment and to moderate the mass experience by creating a moderate-structure Cell Biology course, characterized by broup-based activities, frequent in-course assessment and reduced weighting of the final exam score. Comparison of 4 years of low-structure with 4 years of moderate-structure courses, after corretion for annual cohort ability, revealed that moderate-structure yields 8% higher grade points and 5% higher retention. However, the overall gain in performance was largely dependent on in-course scores and improvements were only weak for the final exam. The frequency of students underperforming on the final exam, relative to their in-course scores, increased enormously in moderate-structure courses, rom 53 to 90.3%. We see this as a sign that for a substantial number of students, the final exam remained a destructive friction. As a result, we are still dealing with a population that has not assimilated a considerable portion of the Cell Biology knowledge and is starting the second year with significant gaps.


Declaration of conflicts of interest

The lead author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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Lead author country


Lead author job role

Higher Education Lecturer

Lead author institution

University of Bordeaux

Human Participants


Ethics statement

Our institution does not have an Institutional Review Board that would determine what teaching methods are or are not accepted. There are four conditions to be respected: face-to-face learning activities for all the allocated slots for lecture and laboratory-classes, an equivalent course content and equivalent teaching methods for all students enrolled in the same course (equality of chances of success), one mid-course exam (imposed from 2013 onwards) and an anonymous comprehensive final exam (for all years concerned).


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