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Volume 21, Number 2 Fall, 1994

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Correlations between Preveterinary Admissions Variables and Academic Success in Core Courses during the First Two Years of the Veterinary Curriculum

J. F. Zachary and D. J. Schaeffer
From the Departments of Veterinary Pathobiology and Biosciences,
College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801.


Introduction

The purpose of this study was to determine if there were any correlations between preveterinary academic performance (admissions variables) and subsequent success (academic performance) in core courses taught during the first two years of the veterinary curriculum. Earlier studies that examined: 1) correlations between preveterinary academic preparation and academic performance in veterinary school and 2) the value of standardized tests in the admissions process have in general indicated that preveterinary grade point averages and standardized test scores are predictive of academic success in the veterinary curriculum and that these data should be used to select students for admission to vet-erinary school (1-5). In addition, biographical information, interviews, and admissions committee evaluations were generally found not to be useful in predicting academic success in the professional curriculum. Correlations in these studies were between preveterinary admissions variables and 1) grade point averages obtained by veterinary students at the end of each semester or year of the curriculum or 2) overall grade point averages obtained by veterinary students at graduation. These studies were not correlated with student performance in individual core courses.

Although there is a "controversy" over the usefulness of "traditional" indicators such as preveterinary grade point averages and standardized test scores in determining an individual's rank in a competitive admissions process, the historical evidence (1-5) indicates that such information is valuable and predictive if used in a balanced and equitable manner. These previous studies occurred during times of increasing numbers of applicants to veterinary school, focused on mechanisms to select among large numbers of highly qualified applicants with rigorous academic backgrounds, and apparently occurred without significant challenge to the validity of using such data to select students. In recent years, there has been a significant decline in the number of applications to veterinary school. This decline has raised concerns among teaching faculty about the overall quality of applicants to veterinary school and their ability to survive in a molecularly oriented basic sciences curriculum. Concurrent with the decline in the number of applications, there have been challenges to admissions committees to place less emphasis on traditional admissions variables such as grade point averages and standardized test scores and more emphasis on subjective evaluations.

This study was designed to 1) determine what admissions variables correlated with academic success in core courses during the first two years of the veterinary curriculum from an applicant pool of declining numbers and 2) to determine if this study supported or refuted claims about the predictive value of admissions variables as reported in earlier studies (1-5).

Materials and Methods

Definitions: Class was defined as the calendar year the student was admitted into the curriculum (1985-1990). Year six was the class admitted most recently (1990). Core courses were defined as those instructional units (courses) taught during the first 2 years of the curriculum that were used to determine if a student had met the minimum grade point average requirement to enter the third year of the curriculum in good standing.

Preveterinary Admissions Variables: Preveterinary admissions variables used in this study included those variables used to evaluate students in the admissions process and consisted of cumulative total grade point average (C-GPA); cumulative total credit hours (C-HRS); cumulative science grade point average (S-GPA); cumulative science hours (S-HRS); points assigned from review of the admissions application and the admissions interview (SUBJ); academic points or the current admissions equation used to rank students academically (A-PTS) (6); and the Veterinary College Admissions Test: reading comprehension (READ); quantitative ability (QUANT); biology (BIO); chemistry (CHEM); study reading (S-R); and composite (VCAT). Seventy percent (70 points) of the total points (100 points) used to rank students at the time of admission was determined from objective variables consisting of grade point averages, test scores, and course hours. Thirty percent (30 points) of the total was determined from the subjective portion of the admissions review process that consisted of an evaluation of the student's application by all members of the admissions committee followed by an interview of the applicant with all members of the admissions committee. Established and documented criteria for the subjective evaluation of applicants included: knowledge of, motivation toward, and experience with the veterinary profession, including research or other relevant work experience (10 points); evidence of leadership, citizenship, initiative, and responsibility (8 points); animal contact and experience (7 points); and references from at least one veterinarian and two academic instructors or advisors (5 points). Students who demonstrated substantial improvement after a poor start, who took accelerated courses, or who took heavy course loads were eligible to receive bonus points. The final ranking of applicants used to select the class was determined from the total points.

Student Data: Six classes of veterinary students (N=453 students for the 6 years) admitted in consecutive years (1985-1990) were included in this study. Grades that allowed academic performance of students to be ranked (percent, total points, or standard scores) were provided by the teaching faculty. In order to be included in this study, students must have completed the first 2 years of the curriculum and entered the third year of the curriculum in good standing. Students who were granted a deferred admission or who entered in a subsequent class due to academic difficulties were placed in their admissions class for analysis not in their graduating class. Students who were dropped from the college for academic or personal reasons within the first 2 years of the curriculum were not included in this study.

Courses Evaluated: Core courses (N=108 for the 6 years) included in this analysis were gross anatomy 1 and 2; histology-embryology 1 and 2; neurobiology; immunology; virology; physiology 1 and 2; bacteriology and mycology; physiology/pharmacology laboratory; pharmacology 1 and 2; parasitology; general pathology; epidemiology; companion animal medicine 1 and 2; special pathology; and clinical pathology.

Analysis of Data: Student grades and admissions variables were numerical values that allowed student performance to be ranked. Data were analyzed for rank correlation by Spearman's nonparametric method, i. e., two-tailed test, positive and negative correlation (7). Level of significance was p<=.05. Results were expressed as individual p values or as the mean of p values. In order to average the correlations, each correlation was transformed into a standard normal deviate, Z, using the formula Z=1/2{loge(1+r) -loge(1-r)] (8). Since the number of students for each correlation was N &#137 80, the Z values were averaged and transformed into the ordinate (height) of the normal curve, p using a look-up table (9). The formula (see reference 8) used to average the Z values was:

Table 1. Percent of core courses in which there was a positive correlation (p<=.05) between student rank in an admissions variable and student rank in a core course (N=108).

 
Admissions variables				p<=.05	p>=.05 

C-GPA (Cumulative grade point average)		88	12 
C-HRS (Cumulative credit hours)			 4	96 
S-GPA (Science grade point average)		91	 9 
S-HRS (Science credit hours)			 1	99 
SUBJ (Subjective evaluation score)		12	88 
A-PTS (Objective evaluation score)		93	 7 
T-PTS (Total evaluation score)			88	12 
READ (VCAT subtest-reading comprehension)	39	61 
QUANT (VCAT subtest-quantitative ability)	14	86 
BIO (VCAT subtest-biology)			37	63 
CHEM (VCAT subtest-chemistry)			21	79 
S-R (VCAT subtext-study reading)		36	64 
VCAT (VCAT composite score)			45	55 


Results

Of the 108 core courses taught over the 6-year period (1985-1990), 91% (98/108) were positively correlated with cumulative preveterinary science grade point average; 88% (95/108) were positively correlated with cumulative total preveterinary grade point average; and 45% (47/108) were positively correlated with Veterinary College Admissions Test scores at a p value <=.05 (Table 1). Similar comparisons between the Veterinary College Admissions Subtest scores and courses documented positive correlations of 39% (42/108) for reading comprehension; 14% (15/108) for quantitative ability; 37% (40/108) for biology; 21% (23/108) for chemistry; and 36% (39/108) for study reading. Cumulative total credit hours, cumulative total science hours, and the subjective evaluation (admissions interview and evaluation of the admissions application) were positively correlated with academic performance in core courses in 4% (4/108), <1% (1/108), and 12% (13/108) respectively of the correlations at a p value <=.05 (Table 1). The regression equation (6) (academic points) used by the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois for the past decade to determine the objective points ranking of the students was positively correlated with academic performance in core courses in 93% (100/108) of the correlations at a p value <=.05 (Table 1). Total points (combined scores of objective points and subjective points) were correlated positively with academic performance in core courses in 88% (95/108) of the correlations at a p value <=.05 (Table 1).

Mean p values for Spearman correlation analysis between preveterinary admissions variables with significant positive correlations from Table 1 and all core courses of the first 2 years of the veterinary curriculum for 6 classes admitted consecutively (N=108) were p=.0036 for cumulative total grade point averages; p=.0015 for cumulative science grade point averages; p=.001 for objective points; p=.0017 for total points (objective and subjective); and p=.0276 for Veterinary College Admissions Test Scores (Table 2).

Evaluation of correlations between preveterinary admissions variables and academic performance in core courses on the basis of each consecutive class documented trends similar to those reported in Tables 1 and 2. Cumulative total grade point averages, cumulative science grade point averages, and objective evaluation (regression equation) scores were significantly and positively correlated with a student's rank in the core courses (Table 3) for each subsequent class. Veterinary College Admissions Test scores also were correlated with academic success in most classes. There were no temporal trends in any of these variables over the period of the study.

Of the correlations between one preveterinary admissions variable and another preveterinary admissions variable, inverse (negative) and significant (p<=.05) correlations only were found between 1) cumulative total grade point averages and both cumulative total and science credit hours and 2) between cumulative science grade point averages and both cumulative total and science credit hours for 5 of the 6 classes (1985-1989) (Table 4). These correlations were not found in Year 6 (1990) of the study.

Table 2. Mean p values for Spearman correlation analysis between admission variables with significant positive correlations from Table 1 and all core courses of the first 2 years of the veterinary curriculum for 6 classes (1985-1990) admitted consecutively (N=108).

Variable	C-GPA	S-GPA	A-PTS	T-PTS	VCAT 
 
		0.0036	0.0015	0.001	0.0017	0.0276 
[N=108]		(2.909)	(3.170)	(3.277)	(3.142)	(2.203) 

C-GPA = Cumulative grade point average S-GPA = Science grade point average A-PTS = Objective evaluation score T-PTS = Total evaluation score VCAT = VCAT composite score ( ) = Mean Z score calculated from


Table 3. Mean p values for Spearman correlation analysis between admissions variables with significant positive correlations from Table 1 and all core courses of the first 2 years of the veterinary curriculum for 6 classes admitted consecutively (1985-1990).

Class		C-GPA	S-GPA	A-PTS	T-PTS	VCAT

Yr. 1, 1985	0.0017	0.0002	0.0003	0.0063	0.2411
[N=16]		(3.135)	(3.703)	(3.588)	(2.730)	(1.172)

Yr. 2, 1986	0.0162	0.0059	0.0029	0.0093	0.0373
[N=18]		(2.403)	(2.751)	(2.976)	(2.601)	(2.082)

Yr. 3, 1987	0.0087	0.0063	0.0036	0.0036	0.0112
[N=18]		(2.621)	(2.729)	(2.913)	(2.911)	(2.536)

Yr. 4, 1988	0.0182	0.0059	0.0027	0.0083	0.0527
[N=18]		(2.362)	(2.752)	(3.006)	(2.640)	(1.936)

Yr. 5, 1989	0.0023	0.0040	0.0003	0.0001	0.0037
[N=19]		(3.054)	(2.877)	(3.587)	(3.965)	(2.899)

Yr. 6, 1990	0.0003	<0.0001 0.0004  0.0003  0.0387
[N=19]		(3.637)	(3.986)	(3.510)	(3.616)	(2.067)

C-GPA	=	Cumulative grade point average
S-GPA	=	Science grade point average
A-PTS	=	Objective evaluation score
T-PTS	=	Total evaluation score
VCAT	=	VCAT composite score

(  ) = mean Z score calculated from 

Discussion

The results of this study demonstrated 3 important points: 1) grade point averages and standardized test scores correlated with academic success; 2) the regression equation (6) used by the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine to determine objective points to rank applicants for the admissions process for the last decade was highly correlated with academic success; and 3) interviews and applicant evaluations (subjective evaluation) were not correlated with academic success. This study reaffirmed the results of previous studies (1-5) that objective variables such as grade point averages and standardized test scores were correlated with academic success in the veterinary curriculum and that other subjective variables such as interviews and evaluation of applications were not correlated with success.

Table 4. The p values for Spearman correlation analysis between grade point averages and credit hours for 6 classes admitted consecutively (1985-1990).

Class			C-GPA		S-GPA

Yr. 1, 1985	C-HRS	<0.0001 (-)	 0.0003 (-)
		S-HRS	 0.0007 (-)	 0.0007 (-)

Yr. 2, 1986	C-HRS	<0.0001 (-)	<0.0001 (-)
		S-HRS	<0.0001 (-)	<0.0001 (-)

Yr. 3, 1987	C-HRS	 0.0002 (-)	<0.0001 (-)
		S-HRS	 0.0020 (-)	 0.0008 (-)

Yr. 4, 1988	C-HRS	<0.0001 (-)	<0.0001 (-)
		S-HRS	 0.0012 (-)	<0.0001 (-)

Yr. 5, 1989	C-HRS	 0.1454 (-)	 0.0486 (-)
		S-HRS	 0.0205 (-)	 0.0018 (-)

Yr. 6, 1990	C-HRS	 0.6004 (+)	 0.2203 (+)
		S-HRS	 0.8234 (-)	 0.4249 (+)

C-GPA	=	Cumulative grade point average
S-GPA	=	Science grade point average
C-HRS	=	Cumulative credit hours
S-HRS	=	Science credit hours

(  ) = Type of correlation

Previous studies (1-5) on the predictive value of admissions variables were initiated because of the difficulty in selecting among a large pool of highly educated and qualified applicants. In contrast, this study was 1) initiated to determine what admissions variables and components of the admissions process could predict academic success in an era of declining numbers of applications and 2) was a component of a larger study that examined the admissions practices and trends at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine over 6 consecutive years (1985-1990). The impetuous for this study arose from classroom observations and experiences of teaching faculty regarding a steady decline in the quality of students admitted to veterinary school, grade inflation, applicants to veterinary school who obtained their primary educational experiences at less rigorous academic institutions, and the increased need for remediation in the veterinary curriculum.

The results of this study indicate, that even in times of declining numbers of applicants, the traditional and readily available variables of cumulative science grade point averages, cumulative total grade point averages, and standardized test scores should be used to rank students in an admissions process and that subjective evaluations have no predictive value in assessing academic success in the first 2 years of the veterinary curriculum. These results were expected and in agreement with similar studies published over several previous decades (1-5). A parallel study (10) that examined correlations between student performance in one core course and other core courses during the first 2 years of the veterinary curriculum documented that the best students essentially remain the best students in all classes during the first 2 years of the veterinary curriculum. In addition, this study also demonstrated that average and poor students remain average and poor students in all classes during the first 2 years of the veterinary curriculum.

The lack of correlation between academic performance in veterinary school and subjective scores (interview scores and scores for evaluations of admissions applications) also was expected. Students considering veterinary medicine as a career in high school or college have access to admissions information that states clearly the subjective criteria that will be used to select students for admission to veterinary school. It is reasonable to assume that all students in the applicant pool to veterinary school would have similar scores because the applicants are expected to meet a set of criteria. As a result, admissions committee members review applications from a population of very focused applicants and independently assign subjective scores that under the defined criteria have no discriminatory ability.

The inverse (negative) correlations between grade point averages and course hours were not expected. These data suggested that students who were in college for a protracted period of time before admission to veterinary school had lower values for preveterinary admissions variables than students who were in school for a short (minimum) period of time. The population of applicants that comprised this group (low grade point averages and high numbers of course hours) probably consisted of students with marginal academic credentials who repeatedly applied for admission to veterinary school and gained admission during the period of declining numbers of applicants. This correlation did not exist for the most recent year and its significance in light of the 5 previous years is unclear at this time but may be related to a leveling-off of the decline or slight increase in the number of applicants to veterinary school.

In spite of the "politically correct" trend to minimize the significance of preveterinary academic preparation, the traditional and readily available variables in this study, cumulative science grade point averages, cumulative total grade point averages, and standardized test scores should be used to rank students in an admissions process. These findings and those reported by others (1-5) indicate that traditional indicators of preveterinary preparation are still the most reliable indicators of a student's ability to matriculate in rigorous curricula of veterinary schools. Students must master the knowledge presented to them in all years of the veterinary curriculum but attrition rates (11) due to academic inability tend to be highest during the first 2 years of the curriculum when students learn the basic principles that will serve as the foundation for their clinical rotations, postgraduate experiences, and continued medical competency. Therefore, it is essential to select students who have the behavioral and intellectual resources to excel and not merely survive in the academic rigors of the veterinary curriculum. Although there is discussion of relying more heavily on subjective evaluations in the admissions process, there presently is no justification for placing any weight on subjective interviews and application evaluations until some well-validated and extremely fair alternative is available to admissions committees. The behavioral variables (innate intelligence, motivation, reading ability, creativity, problem-solving skills, independence, self-initiation, dedication) that influence success in most aspects of professional and personal life could form a basis for the development of future subjective evaluation processes. Grade point averages and standardized test scores are likely, in part, to represent a melded reflection of many of the above listed behavioral traits. Until other well-documented and validated methods are developed for measuring the quality of applicants to veterinary school (12, 13) and thus ensuring the future quality of the veterinary profession, admissions committees must continue to rely on a balanced utilization of grade point averages and standardized test scores in ranking students in the admissions process.

Summary

The relationships between performance in preveterinary academic preparation (admissions variables) and academic performance in core courses taught during the first 2 years of the veterinary curriculum were examined using Spearman rank correlation analysis (two-tailed test, p<=.05) for 6 classes admitted in consecutive years (1985-1990). The results of this study demonstrated 3 important points: 1) grade point averages and standardized test scores correlated with academic success; 2) the regression equation (6) used by the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois to determine objective points to rank applicants for the admissions process for the last decade was highly correlated with academic success; and 3) interviews and applicant evaluations (subjective evaluation) were not correlated with academic success. This study reaffirmed the results of previous studies (1-5) that objective variables such as grade point averages and standardized test scores were correlated with academic success in the veterinary curriculum and that other subjective variables such as interviews and evaluation of applications were not correlated with success.

References and Endnotes

1. Render GF, Jackson HD: Preveterinary performance, admissions criteria and personality variables as predictors of success in veterinary school. J Vet Med Educ 2:3-6, 1975.

2. Niedzwiedz ER, Friedman BA: A comparative analysis of the validity of pre-admissions information at four colleges of veterinary medicine. J Vet Med Educ 3:32-38, 1976.

3. Julius MF, Kaiser HE: Pre-veterinary medical grade point averages as predictors of academic success in veterinary college. J Vet Med Educ 5:162-164, 1978.

4. Kelman EG: Predicting success in veterinary medical college. J Vet Med Educ 8:92-94, 1982.

5. Shane SM, Kearnery MT: Evaluation of criteria for admission to a school of a veterinary medicine. J Vet Med Educ 16:40-44, 1989.

6. Fierke WF: Pre-admissions factors as predictors of achievement within the college of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Doctoral Thesis, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1976.

7. Statview SE + Graphics, Abacus Concepts, Inc., Berkeley, CA 94704.

8. Snedecor GW, Cochran WG: Statistical Methods. Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1972, pp 185-188.

9. InStat, GraphPad Software, San Diego, CA 92121.

10. Zachary JF, Schaeffer DJ: Positive correlations of academic performance in core courses during first two years of the veterinary curriculum. J Vet Med Educ Accepted for publication, 1994.

11. Shane SM, Talbot RB: A review of student attrition in United States schools of veterinary medicine. J Vet Med Educ 16:14-16, 1989.

12. Latshaw WK, Sydiaha D: An admissions interview system which has high reliability and is capable of rigorous analysis. J Vet Med Educ 10:56-60, 1984.

13. Herron MA, DiBrito W, Alexander PA: Comparison of a measure of problem-solving ability with admissions criteria for first-year veterinary students. J Vet Med Educ 18:21-24, 1991.


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