A model of the pre-assessment learning effects of summative assessment in medical education

Francois J. Cilliers*, Lambert W. T. Schuwirth, Nicoline Herman, Hanelie J. Adendorff, Cees P. M. van der Vleuten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

57 Citations (Web of Science)


It has become axiomatic that assessment impacts powerfully on student learning. However, surprisingly little research has been published emanating from authentic higher education settings about the nature and mechanism of the pre-assessment learning effects of summative assessment. Less still emanates from health sciences education settings. This study explored the pre-assessment learning effects of summative assessment in theoretical modules by exploring the variables at play in a multifaceted assessment system and the relationships between them. Using a grounded theory strategy, in-depth interviews were conducted with individual medical students and analyzed qualitatively. Respondents' learning was influenced by task demands and system design. Assessment impacted on respondents' cognitive processing activities and metacognitive regulation activities. Individually, our findings confirm findings from other studies in disparate non-medical settings and identify some new factors at play in this setting. Taken together, findings from this study provide, for the first time, some insight into how a whole assessment system influences student learning over time in a medical education setting. The findings from this authentic and complex setting paint a nuanced picture of how intricate and multifaceted interactions between various factors in an assessment system interact to influence student learning. A model linking the sources, mechanism and consequences of the pre-assessment learning effects of summative assessment is proposed that could help enhance the use of summative assessment as a tool to augment learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-53
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Determinants of action
  • Health sciences education
  • Higher education
  • Learning effects of assessment
  • Medical education
  • Pre-assessment effects
  • Mechanism of impact
  • Model
  • Source of impact
  • Summative assessment

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