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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 98-102

Correlation between academic achievement goal orientation and the performance of Malaysian students in an indian medical school

1 Department of Biochemistry, Melaka Manipal Medical College (Manipal Campus), Manipal University, Manipal, India
2 Department of Microbiology, Melaka Manipal Medical College (Manipal Campus), Manipal University, Manipal, India
3 Department of Community Medicine, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal University, Manipal, India

Date of Web Publication29-Oct-2013

Correspondence Address:
Sreejith Govindan
Department of Microbiology, Melaka Manipal Medical College (Manipal Campus), Manipal University, Manipal - 576 104
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1357-6283.120701

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Context: According to goal orientation theory, achievement goals are defined as the terminal point towards which one's efforts are directed. The four academic achievement goal orientations commonly recognised are mastery, performance approach, performance avoidance and work avoidance. The objective of this study was to understand the goal orientation of second year undergraduate medical students and how this correlates with their academic performance. Methods: The study population consisted of 244 second year Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) students of Melaka Manipal Medical College, Manipal campus, Manipal University, India. Students were categorised as high performers and low performers based on their first year university examination marks. Their goal orientations were assessed through a validated questionnaire developed by Was et al. These components were analysed by independent sample t-test and correlated to their first year university examination marks. Results: Confirmatory component factor analysis extracted four factors, which accounted for 40.8% of the total variance in goal orientation. The performance approach goal orientation alone explained 16.7% of the variance followed by mastery (10.8%), performance avoidance (7.7%) and work avoidance (5.7%). The Cronbach's alpha for 19 items, which contributed to internal consistency of the tool, was observed to be 0.635. A strong positive correlation was shown between performance approach, performance avoidance and work avoidance orientations. Of the four goal orientations, only the mean scores in work avoidance orientation differed for low performers and high performers (5.0 vs. 4.3; P = 0.0003). Discussion: Work avoidance type of goal orientation among the low performer group may account for their lower performance compared with high performer group. This indicates that academic achievement goal orientation may play a role in the performance of undergraduate medical students.

Keywords: Goal orientation, mastery, performance approach, performance avoidance, work avoidance, medical students, academic performance

How to cite this article:
Barkur RR, Govindan S, Kamath A. Correlation between academic achievement goal orientation and the performance of Malaysian students in an indian medical school. Educ Health 2013;26:98-102

How to cite this URL:
Barkur RR, Govindan S, Kamath A. Correlation between academic achievement goal orientation and the performance of Malaysian students in an indian medical school. Educ Health [serial online] 2013 [cited 2023 Jan 29];26:98-102. Available from:

  Context Top

Medicine is one of the esteemed professions with highly competent people. According to medical education research, students who enter medical school are highly motivated. [1] The admission criteria used in medical schools are generally based on their academic competency proven through strong secondary school performances, motivation to become lifelong learners, personality and communication skills. [2],[3],[4],[5] Research in education has shown that positive attitude, beliefs and motivation improve learning. [6] Students in professional schools have significantly higher motivation than students of other disciplines, possibly because they are more career oriented. [7],[8],[9] Jan et al.'s study in a pharmacy school provides evidence that students in professional schools demonstrate a strong preference for measurable goal orientation. [10]

Motivation theory says much about the role of goals. Goals are defined as the terminal point towards which one's efforts are directed. Studies have shown that students in health professional schools including medicine and dentistry are more strongly motivated by intrinsic values in serving people than by the prospect of extrinsic rewards. [11],[12],[13],[14],[15],[16]

Goal orientation theory is a significant area in educational research. Goal orientation theorists define achievement goals as the reason why one engages in an achievement task. [17],[18] In an academic situation, students' orientation to mastery and performance approach is crucial for achieving the intended learning objectives. Students oriented towards mastery are focused on what he or she learns as well as its application. Students oriented towards performance concentrate more on their performance in assessments by trying to do better than their fellow mates, rather than developing their skills, per se. These students' focus will be on their class ranking or grades. These two types of goal orientations have been the major focus in achievement motivation researches in the past. [17],[19],[20]

Recently it has been argued that students adopt one of four principal goal orientations. [21],[22] In addition to the older achievement and mastery orientations, two recent additions are performance avoidance goal orientation (academic alienation) and work avoidance goal orientation. Students with performance avoidance goal orientation hide themselves trying not to get involved in any activity. They do this either because of their inability to perform a particular task or due to hesitation. The focus of students with work avoidance goal orientation is to complete the task at hand with as little work as possible. Here failure is avoided, exerting a minimum of hard work.

Knowing medical students' motivation to learn is relevant for medical educators as it helps in making decisions on admission, curriculum design and assessment in a medical programme. [23] The objective of this study was to understand the association of undergraduate medical students' goal orientation with their academic performance, and to identify the difference in type of goal orientation between high performer and low performer group of students. The achievement goal orientation assessment tool used in this study included mastery, performance-approach, performance-avoidance and work avoidance components to understand medical students' approach to their studies.

  Methods Top

The undergraduate medical programme of Melaka Manipal Medical College (MMMC) of Manipal University is a twinning programme. During phase I of the programme at Manipal campus, India, pre- and para-clinical domains of the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) programme are taught in the first two years followed by a six month course in introduction to clinical subjects. Phase II of the programme is taught in a different campus in Melaka, Malaysia for two and a half years and includes clinical subjects. The students of this medical school are dominated by Malaysian nationals, with a small percentage from neighbouring countries. The medium of instruction is English. The curriculum is integrated horizontally, and in the first year of phase I students learn anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. In the second year of phase I, students are trained in pathology, microbiology, pharmacology and forensic medicine. At the end of each year student must pass the university examinations to move on to the next year.

The present study was carried out in Manipal campus. The study population was second year students from two consecutive annual cohorts who had successfully completed their first academic year (130 students in March 2008 group and 114 in the September 2008 group, 244 students in total). The study was performed for each group in the first month of their second academic year of phase I during a regular class time. The goal orientation of each individual student was assessed by using a tool in the form of a questionnaire developed by Christopher Was et al. [21] Was studied the goal orientation of university undergraduate students of political science and psychology in the United States of America. Before administering this questionnaire in our school, content validation was performed by faculty in the field of medical education. In the current study, 25 items were included from the original 34 item questionnaire, as the other 9 questions were not relevant in the Indian context. Students were asked to indicate their responses on a five point Likert scale, from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree". During analysis responses to questions were combined into four scales, as published by Was. [21] There were nine items assessing mastery goal orientation, six items for performance approach orientation, five each for performance avoidance and work avoidance goal orientations. The items for all the four types of goal orientations were presented randomly to the students to avoid order bias. Sufficient time was given for the students to complete the questionnaire. Statistical analysis was done with SPSS version 11.5.

Students were categorised into two groups, high performers and low performers, based on their performance in the first year university theory examinations (end-of-year summative assessment). Students who scored 75% or more in at least one subject in first year university examination were placed in the high performers group (N = 57). The low performer group consisted of students who had scored less than 75% in all subjects in first year university examination (N = 187). The 75% cut off is one the faculty decided on, assuming that a student who scores 75% in at least one subject has the capability or quality to be a high performer.

Confirmatory factor analysis was performed to validate the four components of the questionnaire items. The component scores derived from factor analysis of high and low performers were compared using independent sample t-tests and P < 0.05 is considered as statistically significant.

  Results Top

Mastery orientation was found to be the preferred choice among this study group with a total mean score of 38, whereas the performance avoidance and work avoidance were rated low with mean scores of 13 each. The individual mean scores are shown in [Table 1].
Table 1: Achievement goal orientation items and their factor loadings

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Extracted component from factor analysis accounted for 40.8% of the total variance in goal orientations. Performance approach goal orientation explained 16.7% and mastery goal orientation explained 10.8% of the total variance Performance avoidance goal orientation and work avoidance goal orientation accounted for 7.7% and 5.7% of the total variance, respectively. The Cronbach's alpha for 19 items in the tool was observed to be 0.635; items A 1 , A 3 , A 6 , A 10 , A 11 and A 18 were deleted because they did not contribute to the internal consistency of the tool [Table 1]. Cronbach's alpha for each of the four components - mastery, performance approach, performance avoidance and work avoidance were 0.63, 0.66, 0.52 and 0.24, respectively.

The independent sample t-test of the component's scores for high performer and low performer groups of students on goal orientation are shown in [Table 2]. Mean score in work avoidance orientation for low performers was 5.0 ± 1.4 and high performers was 4.3 ± 1.4 (P = 0.0003). A significant difference in performance avoidance goal orientation was also shown when the raw data was analysed before factor loadings. Students with mastery orientations and performance approach orientations did not show any significant difference in their performance before and after factor loadings.
Table 2: Comparison of high (n=57) and low (n=187) performers on their component scores

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  Discussion Top

According to educationalists, students matriculating in professional schools are highly motivated. Unfortunately, some develop an attitude for learning 'just what is necessary to pass the test' as they go through their programme. [7] Mastery goal orientation is important for medical students, given that they need to learn skills to support or save a human life. Perrot et al., conducted a study on motivation in medical and other health professional students using a modified version of Archer's instrument and found that most students preferred metacognitive learning strategies. [9] Another study on university medical students revealed a positive association between the measures of autonomous motivation and the learners' perceptions of the quality (meaningfulness and value) of their educational experience. [24]

Medical students are generally internally motivated to mastery type of goal orientation. [9] In this study, this is reflected by the high mean scores of mastery component for both the low performer group (17.0) and high performer groups (16.8). Some of the important items pertaining to their strong positive attitude to do hard work in the mastery component, like "My goal in this course is to do my best even if others are doing better" and "I feel that one can increase their mental abilities through effort" was responded as "strongly agree" by 60% of participants. The study group agreed with most of the questions related to the performance approach orientation, with the exception of a few items like "My only goal for this course is to get the best grade in the class" and "I am more interested in doing better than the other students in this class, than doing my best" in performance approach orientation category.

Medical students experience substantial distress in their schooling, which contributes to poor academic performance, academic dishonesty, cynicism and substance abuse. [25] Studies of performance-avoidance goals have indicated that "students who report this type of orientation use self-handicapping strategies to protect their ego and ultimately become a defensive pessimist". [21] In the present study, the low performer group of students showed preference for work avoidance type of orientations, evidenced by the significant difference in work avoidance goal orientation between the groups. More than 40% of all participants, including high and low performers, agreed that they were doing whatever was necessary to get through the course and they tried to avoid bad performance. Further, nearly 80% of these students agreed that they were worried about doing poorly in the class. They also agreed that they hesitate to ask questions in the class. In a study pertinent to our school's students from Malaysia studying in India, Chirkov et al., found that international students studying in a foreign country frequently take a goal oriented approach. [26] A study in Singapore found that an attitude of 'not losing my face' is deeply ingrained within a Chinese population. [27],[28] They also reported that students hesitate to express uncertainty in the classroom because they think that this is 'too risky'. Our study subjects similarly are from Asia and are studying in a foreign country.

Students tend to learn what is required for passing examinations rather than understanding how to apply knowledge. [7] Some educators now emphasise the acquisition of lifelong learning skills for professional students. For them, implementing active learning strategies helps the curriculum and learning environment prevent students from moving away from their initial mastery goal orientation. Giving importance to student-centred learning like problem-based learning, case-based learning, self-directed learning and conducting continuous assessments help the students orient towards the application of the content. In addition, possible interventions like mentoring and counselling programmes to provide assistance with study habits, stress and time management might help students during the initial years of a professional course.

One of the major limitations of this study is its use of a convenience sampling method. Also, there were relatively few subjects in the high performer group, which weakened the study's power and ability to detect real differences in group comparisons. Further, categorising high versus low performing students based on attaining a 75% mark in at least one course is somewhat arbitrary: selecting a different group cut point may have allowed us to identify more or fewer differences between the groups.

We conclude that the work avoidance type of goal orientation among lower performing students of our school could be the reason for their low academic performance compared with students who performed better in their first year university examination.

  Acknowledgements Top

The authors convey their sincere gratitude to Dr. K. Ramnarayan, Vice Chancellor, Manipal University (Ex-Dean of MMMC, Manipal Campus, India) and Dr. Vinod Pallath, Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, MMMC, Manipal, India for helping them to perform this study. The authors also thank second year students of Phase I from batch 21 and 22 for participating in this study and a special appreciation to Dr. Christopher Was, Dept. of Educational Foundations and Special Services, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio, USA for permitting them to use his questionnaire.

  References Top

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