Remediation Part 1: Early Intervention for Student Challenges
By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey
Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner. Whether you are the dean of a pharmacy school with 600 enrolled students or running a PA program with 72 enrolled students, remediation is a necessary part of academic life.
You’re probably familiar with some of the reasons:
- Lack of incoming student prerequisite preparedness for didactic education. You may recall back in Issues 7 and 8 of PA Admissions Corner, we discussed two major difficulties facing graduate-level educators:
- Grade Inflation – Students often receive grades that don’t accurately reflect their knowledge of the material.
- Lack of Didactic Preparedness – Even students with high GPAs and plenty of experience can struggle with a didactic environment with greater demands on their time and attention than they’re used to.
- Difficulty of newly enrolled students to handle the rigors of graduate-level health science education. This can happen to anyone; PA education is demanding.
- Struggles within specific didactic courses when prerequisite courses haven’t been sufficiently thorough, successful, or well-remembered.
- Lack of adequate pre-admissions screening of an applicant’s pre-requisite knowledge.
Introducing the Study Skills Seminar
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is an expression that’s just as applicable to medical education as it is to medicine. As incoming cohorts of students prepare for matriculation, you have an excellent opportunity to intervene on behalf of your program. Take this time to remind students of the importance of effort and dedication to improving their study skillset. It can make a major difference in student performance during the didactic year.
The first component of this early intervention is to incorporate a student Study Skills Seminar at your program. The list below provides the basic framework of a study skill workshop that can be incorporated at orientation or during the early didactic weeks of the program.
- Assessment of study skills
- Learning styles
- Metacognitive skills
- Becoming an independent learner
- Time management skills
- Managing stress for success
- Collaborative and cooperative learning
- Academic reading skills
- Note-taking skills
- Getting the most out of lectures
- Effective exam preparation
- Sound test-taking skills
Once your PA program has incorporated a study skill workshop into its framework, your faculty can use the resources provided within this framework to reinforce student development skills.
This model emphasizes the importance of students acquiring the success skills to ensure that they thrive in your program early on. Many of the core reasons that students fail academically stem from an inability to acclimate to a highly accelerated learning environment. These skills have been proven to prevent failures and transform students from failing to earning Bs and As.
How can we provide pre-matriculation support to our students to enhance academic success?
The Study Skills Seminar is an excellent idea that will promote better habits among students and give them an edge, but it will not be of much use to a student who lacks the requisite knowledge or experience to handle the didactic year. Instructors and faculty frequently argue –for good reason – that it is not their responsibility to “babysit” students. At this education level, shouldn’t we expect students to be able to handle their courseload? If they can’t, how much do they belong in the program?
It’s a valid point, but the perspective may be skewed. Problems arise when we consider your PA program’s desire to promote diversity and inclusion. Programs often wrestle with the question of whether students from underrepresented populations have had the same opportunities as the “traditional” 26-year-old white woman applicant with a model GPA. Are all of your students coming from a level playing field? Probably not. Opening our doors to exciting new prospects means giving them every chance to succeed – because we know that they can. Leveling that playing field is our responsibility.
Proactively identifying students who may be at higher risk for attrition and academic difficulty provides an opportunity to better prepare them before the first day of classes. There are several PA programs conducting research studies involving the efficacy of pre-matriculation modules — typically an online class, usually conducted by a qualified third party. In the interest of transparency, we at Exam Master offer a program like that; we’ve seen similar programs used successfully for pre-pharmacy students for several years. Some solutions to common problems are on the table when implementing a pre-matriculation program as a requirement for incoming students:
- Notify the students that they are given a seat in the program contingent upon completion of the pre-matriculation program.
- Consider offering the module at no charge to the student to reduce the burden before entering the program.
- If your institution requires a legal standing to require pre-matriculation study material, consider a one-credit module called, “Free PA Preparation,” for example The student signs up for the module approximately 12 weeks before the beginning of the PA program. Completion of the module results in a passing grade.
How can we identify students at risk for attrition and intervene effectively?
The only way to reliably identify students at risk for attrition and effectively intervene is to use some critical data early on to guide your decision-making.
- Retrospective data on student performance in specific academic classes can be used to predict future performance, through simple descriptive analysis or more complex parametric analysis.
- Analyzing prerequisite performance and subsequent academic performance in the PA program can be an effective tool if conducted annually. With sufficient numbers, protocols can be built into the system. For example, if students receive a lower grade in a highly predictive course, then the student can be started on an academic improvement plan.
- If a retrospective analysis demonstrates that a science GPA less than 3.10 is highly correlated with low performance or attrition in the program, the correlation may give you pause in accepting students with this profile. In some cases, candidates who meet this profile can be started in a pre-matriculation program.
- Admissions exams like the GRE or the PA-CAT can be analyzed for their predictive strength. Student scores from these instruments can be correlated with performance, academic courses, and critical nationally standardized examinations like PACKRAT and PANCE. Over time, performance on these instruments can better inform decision-making involving admission or pre-matriculation intervention.
A Study Skills Seminar and pre-matriculation support modules for at-risk students are two ways your program can help its incoming students prepare for the difficulty and stress of their didactic year. Implementing these preventative measures can make a big difference in your program’s outcomes, helping students from all walks of life enter your program equipped with the tools they need to succeed.
We’ll continue our three-part series on remediation in the next Issue of PA Admissions Corner by discussing the Student Success Coaching Model and introducing ways that struggling students can work alongside advisors to make great strides.
To your admissions and program success,
Jim Pearson, CEO
Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C
Scott Massey LLC
If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.
Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.
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