Does academic assessment system type affect levels of academic stress in medical students? A cross-sectional study from Pakistan

Madiha Ali, Aga Khan University
Hamna Asim, Aga Khan University
Ahmed Iqbal Edhi, Aga Khan University
Muhammad Daniya Hashmi, Aga Khan University
Muhammad Shahjahan Khan, Aga Khan University
Farah Naz, Aga Khan University
Kanza Noor Qaiser, Aga Khan University
Sidra Masud Qureshi, Aga Khan University
Mohammad Faizan Zahid, Aga Khan University
Imtiaz Jehan, Aga Khan University


Introduction Stress among medical students induced by academic pressures is on the rise among the student population in Pakistan and other parts of the world. Our study examined the relationship between two different systems employed to assess academic performance and the levels of stress among students at two different medical schools in Karachi, Pakistan. Methods A sample consisting of 387 medical students enrolled in pre-clinical years was taken from two universities, one employing the semester examination system with grade point average (GPA) scores (a tiered system) and the other employing an annual examination system with only pass/fail grading. A pre-designed, self-administered questionnaire was distributed. Test anxiety levels were assessed by The Westside Test Anxiety Scale (WTAS). Overall stress was evaluated using the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS). Results There were 82 males and 301 females while four did not respond to the gender question. The mean age of the entire cohort was 19.7±1.0 years. A total of 98 participants were from the pass/fail assessment system while 289 were from the GPA system. There was a higher proportion of females in the GPA system (85% vs. 59%; p<0.01). Students in the pass/fail assessment system had a lower score on the WTAS (2.4±0.8 vs. 2.8±0.7; p=0.01) and the PSS (17.0±6.7 vs. 20.3±6.8; p<0.01), indicating lower levels of test anxiety and overall stress than in students enrolled in the GPA assessment system. More students in the pass/fail system were satisfied with their performance than those in the GPA system. Conclusion Based on the present study, we suggest governing bodies to revise and employ a uniform assessment system for all the medical colleges to improve student academic performance and at the same time reduce stress levels. Our results indicate that the pass/fail assessment system accomplishes these objectives.