The mechanism of impact of summative assessment on medical students' learning

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


It has become axiomatic that assessment impacts powerfully on student learning, but there is a surprising dearth of research on how. This study explored the mechanism of impact of summative assessment on the process of learning of theory in higher education. Individual, in-depth interviews were conducted with medical students and analyzed qualitatively. The impact of assessment on learning was mediated through various determinants of action. Respondents' learning behaviour was influenced by: appraising the impact of assessment; appraising their learning response; their perceptions of agency; and contextual factors. This study adds to scant extant evidence and proposes a mechanism to explain this impact. It should help enhance the use of assessment as a tool to augment learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)695-715
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • Assessment
  • Learning
  • Mechanism of impact
  • Determinants of action

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