OBJECTIVE: Timely intervention, based on early identification of poor performance, is likely to help weaker medical students improve their performance. We wished to identify if poor performance in degree assessments early in the medical degree predicts later undergraduate grades. If it does, this information could be used to signpost strategically placed supportive interventions for our students. METHODS: We carried out a retrospective, observational study of anonymised databases of student assessment outcomes at the University of Aberdeen Medical School. Data were accessed for students who graduated in the years 2003-07 (n = 861). The main outcome measure was marks for summative degree assessments from the end of Year 2 to the end of Year 5. RESULTS: After adjustment for cohort, maturity, gender, funding source, intercalation and graduate status, poor performance (fail and borderline pass) in the Year 2 first semester written examination Principles of Medicine II was found to be a significant predictor of poor performance in all subsequent written examinations (all P < 0.001). Poor performance in the Year 3 objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) was a significant predictor of poor performance in Year 4 and 5 OSCEs. Relationships between essay-based summative assessments were not significantly predictive. Male gender appeared to significantly predict poor performance. DISCUSSION: Examinations taken as early as mid-Year 2 can be used to identify medical students who would benefit from intervention and support. Strategic delivery of appropriate intervention at this time may enable poorer students to perform better in subsequent examinations. We can then monitor the impact of remedial support on subsequent performance.
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