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A study of factors affecting pass rates of level 5 written assessments for undergraduate adult nursing students

21 March 2024
Volume 33 · Issue 6


Nursing programmes were flexible during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering simulation to replace clinical hours and adjusting supervision and assessment. However, second-year students in two modules had lower results despite no changes to the material, team or delivery. Objectives: A retrospective cohort study was conducted, on second-year adult nursing students who submitted written assignments, to analyse recurring patterns that could explain the failure rate. Method: Data were analysed from 265 university students to identify patterns of association in demographics, module results and student engagement indicators. Results: A positive correlation was found between age and assignment results, with older students achieving higher grades. Clustering identified three patterns of student engagement. Students demonstrating engagement with all aspects of the course (30.2%) performed significantly better than those in other clusters (P<0.001). Students with disabled student support recommendations performed notably worse than those without. All sizeable differences were resolved following the return to campus and the implementation of additional writing support. Discussion: Age, cross-medium engagement and preparation were all shown to have an impact on marks. These findings can influence how higher education institutions drive and monitor engagement, as this study suggests that all parts of a blended learning approach are equally important.

In the UK, undergraduate students studying for a BSc in Adult Nursing are assessed using a range of strategies, which include an examination of their ability to critically discuss and articulate their understanding of specific topics through written pieces of work such as essays. The academic level that needs to be demonstrated to achieve a pass mark of 40% increases each year of the 3-year course, from level 4, to level 5 and then finally level 6. Students who fail to achieve this usually have only one more chance to resubmit before it impacts their ability to progress.

During the second wave of the pandemic, Northumbria University adopted a blended-learning approach for first-year adult nursing students. This included increased flexibility in clinical skills teaching, student supervision and assessment. To ensure that COVID-19 restrictions did not disadvantage nursing students, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (2020) implemented emergency regulations that allowed simulated learning to be used towards the 2300 clinical placement hours required for registration. When these students progressed to the second year, for the first semester, some of these restrictions were still in force and so they continued to be taught using a blended-learning approach prior to submitting two level 5 written assessments. However, during the marking and assessment process, the academic teaching team noticed that the assessment marks for these students were significantly lower than in previous years. Additionally, the failure rate increased from 11% to 23%, even though there were no changes in module content, team or delivery. These assignments represented the students' first experience at level 5, and informal feedback from markers highlighted concerns about academic writing.

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