South African Journal of Higher Education

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Academic performance and pass rates: Comparison of three first-year life science courses

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First year students’ academic performance in three Life Science courses (Botany, Zoology and Bioscience) was compared. Pass rates, as well as the means and distributions of final marks were analysed. Of the three components (coursework, practical and theory examinations) contributing to the final mark of each course, students performed best
in the coursework. Subcomponents of the theory examinations of each subject showed students performed more poorly in the essay section. As the highest frequency of students achieved a final mark in the 50–60 per cent category for all three subjects, it is clear that the weighting of the examinations to the final mark should not be increased as this would lower students overall performance and decrease pass rates dramatically. It appears that improvement of appropriate assessment tasks linked to learning outcomes, and appropriate development of learning opportunities need to be ongoing in both coursework and examinations for the three courses.

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