Development of a baseline assessment tool to establish students’ foundational knowledge of life sciences at entry to university

L Pienaar, R Prince, A Abrahams


Background. Universities in South Africa use the Grade 12 school-leaving examinations to measure whether students have the knowledge and skills needed to enter tertiary-level education. However, there is much discussion on the effectiveness of these assessments to measure the preparedness of students for their first year at university. To facilitate the appropriate teaching and learning of anatomy and physiology, there is a need to assess students’ baseline knowledge of life sciences at entry to their first year at university.

Objectives. To develop and refine an anatomy and physiology foundational knowledge assessment (A&P foundational knowledge assessment), which looks back to the content of the Grade 12 life sciences curriculum and forward to the first-year anatomy and physiology curricula.

Methods. Three hundred and seventy-one first-year students (occupational therapy, physiotherapy and MB ChB) wrote the A&P foundational knowledge assessment. Classic item and test analysis was done using Iteman 4.3 software (Assessment Systems Corp., USA).

Results. The Kuder-Richardson formula 20 (KR-20) reliability score, which ranges from 0 to 1, was 0.64 for all the students. For MB ChB students, the KR-20 value was lower (0.57) compared with that for occupational therapy and physiotherapy students (0.66). The KR-20 scores for the 21 physiology and 16 anatomy items were 0.48 and 0.57, respectively. A KR-20 score of >0.50 is considered acceptable. The mean difficulty index (range 0 - 1) for physiology was 0.60, and the mean discrimination index was 0.15. For anatomy, the mean item difficulty index was 0.57 and mean discrimination index was 0.21.

Conclusion. Based on the acceptable reliability value, the assessment was shown to be an effective instrument to measure students’ foundational knowledge in human anatomy and physiology, which is part of life sciences.

Authors' affiliations

L Pienaar, Department of Health Sciences Education, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

R Prince, Centre for Educational Testing for Access and Placement, Centre for Higher Education Development, University of Cape Town, South Africa

A Abrahams, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

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Formative assessment; Life sciences; Pedagogical content knowledge; Reliability; School/university interface

Cite this article

African Journal of Health Professions Education 2021;13(1):77-82. DOI:10.7196/AJHPE.2021.v13i1.1226

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-04-08
Date published: 2021-04-08

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