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Br J Educ Psychol. 2001 Mar;71(Pt 1):115-32.

Approaches to learning in science: a longitudinal study.

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University Study Skills Centre, Flinders University of South Australia, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, Australia.



Longitudinal studies of students' approaches to learning in higher education can tell us much about the impact of the tertiary experience. More information about teaching and learning practices and how students respond to these may enable educators to better assist students to gain the maximum benefit from their tertiary studies.


The study set out: (i) to monitor the change in approaches to learning over a three-year period; (ii) to evaluate the relationship between student age, sex and university entry mode on students' approaches to learning; and (iii) to evaluate the predictive validity of the SPQ scales on one mode of learning outcome, that being annual GPA.


The sample consisted of 200 commencing students studying in a science course at an Australian university.


The Biggs SPQ was administered in a first-year chemistry class and repeated at intervals of 4 and 8 months. This was followed by administration by post after 16 months and 30 months.


Student approach to learning is dynamic and amenable to change as a result of the learning experience. Of the three SPQ scales, the achieving approach appears to undergo the greatest change with time, while the deep approach showed a consistent positive correlation with assessment outcomes. Student age was a major factor in both the SPQ scores and assessment outcomes but no gender effect was evident.


Students see university study, and in particular the first year, as a survival course and adopt strategies suited to that task. Older students adopt approaches to study which differ from their younger colleagues and as a consequence they are in general more successful in the tertiary environment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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