An investigation into the impact of question structure on the performance of first year physics undergraduate students at the University of Cambridge

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Jardine-Wright, L 
Bateman, E 

We describe a study of the impact of exam question structure on the performance of first year Natural Sciences physics undergraduates from the University of Cambridge. The results show conclusively that a student's performance improves when questions are scaffolded compared with university style questions. In a group of 77 female students we observe that the average exam mark increases by 13.4% for scaffolded questions, which corresponds to a 4.9 standard deviation effect. The equivalent observation for 236 male students is 9% (5.5 standard deviations). We also observe a correlation between exam performance and A2-level marks for UK students, and that students who receive their school education overseas, in a mixed gender environment, or at an independent school are more likely to receive a first class mark in the exam. These results suggest a mis-match between the problem-solving skills and assessment procedures between school and first year university and will provide key input into the future teaching and assessment of first year undergraduate physics students.

gender, physics, assessment, undergraduates, Cambridge
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European Journal of Physics
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IOP Publishing
We would like to thank the Institute of Physics (IoP) for funding this research. We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Cavendish Laboratory's undergraduate Teaching Committee, the markers of the exam scripts and the students who volunteered to undertake the mock exam.