Talk Anatomy to Me: Facilitating Deep Learning Strategies through Oral Exams


Anatomy is integral in the development of student physical therapists.1 In order to determine actual student learning, course assessment techniques must be robust and appropriately matched to course outcomes.2 Moreover, students often prepare for their course assessments in what they perceive to be the most efficient way.3 For example, students who know a test will be open-ended will more likely adopt deeper approaches to studying than students who know/believe the test will be true/false or multiple choice. Deep learning strategies include those that facilitate understanding of content. Surface learning strategies are those that facilitate recall of content when asked.4 Deep learning strategies are related to increases in retained knowledge and are optimal for professional students who will likely have to apply the information to a patient at some point in their careers.5 The purpose of this study is to investigate the changes in study strategies of doctor of physical therapy students for a gross anatomy course with an oral exam component.


A course survey was developed and administered electronically to 117 students from a single institution who had previously completed a gross anatomy course that included oral exams as a student learning assessment. Ninety-two students responded to the anonymous survey for a response rate of 78.6%. The survey included 17 questions: 14 Likert scale items and 3 open text box questions. This research focuses on the relationship between studentsÕ responses to question 3 ÒI modified my study techniques in preparation for the oral component of the anatomy practicalÓ and question 17 ÒI studied for the oral practical by....Ó Question 3 is a Likert scale item and question 17 is an open ended text box. The responses from Question 17 were coded into 11 learning strategies that were then dichotomized into learning strategies that reflect surface learning (memorizing, rewriting, utilizing flashcards) and learning strategies that reflect deep learning (practicing, utilizing classmates, utilizing open lab, palpating, drawing).


Of the 92 students that participated, 84 students offered responses to question 17 that could be coded into learning strategies, 8 did not and as a result were excluded from further analysis. Fifty-three percent (n=45) of students reported never taking an oral exam previously, while the remaining 47% (n=39) reported having taken an oral exam previously. Of the 84 responses included in the analysis, 14 (16.6%) students disagreed or were neutral with regard to the statement indicating that they changed their study techniques in preparation for the oral component of the practical exam. Seventy (83.3%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, indicating that the overwhelming majority of students felt the oral exam required them to change their learning strategies. Within the group of students that did not change their study strategies, 5 (35.7%) had previous experience with an oral exam, while within the group that did change their study strategies 34 (48.5%) had previous experience with oral exams. Interestingly, of the 14 students that indicated that they did not change their strategies, 7 (50%) identified using 50% or more surface strategies. While only 16 (22.8%) of the students that did change their study strategies identified using 50% or more surface strategies, indicating that students who did change their strategies for the oral exam did so in a way that reflected deeper learning strategies In total, the 84 students identified 11 learning strategies utilized in preparation for the oral exam. Utilizing classmates/peers/partners was the most frequently identified deep learning strategy, n=47. The second most frequently cited deep learning strategy was practicing, n=37. The most common surface strategy identified was using flashcards, n=13.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme:

While the use of oral exams is not necessarily an innovation, developing research to determine its effectiveness in physical therapy education is. Knowledge of human anatomy is essential to physical therapy practice and utilizing evidence-based education practices to develop that knowledge is critical. This study demonstrates that when assessed with an oral exam students may be more likely to modify their study strategies. Additionally, when modified, strategies are more frequently modified to facilitate deeper learning. The most frequently identified deep learning strategy is utilizing classmates, peers, or partners, while the most frequently identified surface learning strategy is utilizing flashcards. Understanding how students adapt or modify their learning strategies based on the type of assessment is helpful in fully preparing students for their careers as physical therapists and developing comprehensive courses and course assessment strategies.

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  • Control #: 26841
  • Type: Platform Presentation - Research Type
  • Event/Year: ELC2020
  • Authors: Amy Heath
  • Keywords:

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