Abstract Title
Medical students have a more deep learning approach in basic sciences


Isabel Neto
Raquel Fernandes


8BB Teaching and learning: Principles


Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Beira Interior - Covilhã - Portugal


Surface learning

  • Students memorize information and reproduce it for assessment.
  • Students don’t reflect on facts and concepts and focus on unrelated parts of the task.
  • Motivation to learn is extrinsic by the assessment and the fear of failure.

Deep learning

  • Is associated with an intrinsic motivation to learn and to understand the relevant information.
  • Students relate new to previous and other courses knowledge.
  • Students organise and structure contents in a coherent whole and are able to relate theory with everyday practice.



Students usually adopt a mix of these two forms of learning and also a strategic approach which is a well organized form of surface learning motivated to get good marks.

Our objective was to know what are the learning strategies of medical students at FHS along the medical course, in different learning contexts, clinical and non-clinical.

Summary of Work

Population: Medical students from clinical years (4th and 5th) and non clinical years (1st and 2nd). 

Instrument: The Revised Two Factor Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F)2, with 20 items and 4 sub-scales (deep motive, deep strategy, surface motive and surface strategy).

Data collection: After the knowledge assessment of endocrine and nervous systems in non-clinical and clinical years. 

Summary of Results


Our results shows that students maintain a superficial strategic learning along the medical course. This is a typical behaviour of medical students who always want to get the better grades.

The way students learn is influenced by the learning contexts and the pedagogic strategies used. Our results lead us to think that the pedagogical strategies adopted in the clinical years need to be rethought in order to stimulate a deeper learning.  Indeed, tutorial classes are more commonly used in non-clinical years but less often in clinical years. These results may reflect the importance students of clinical years give to knowledge assessment since in these years they have to develop other skills.

As referred by Newble et al3 physicians with a deep approach to learning are more likely to be life-long learners and have a greater tendency to pursue additional postgraduate academic training than those who adopt a surface approach. So if we want to train future physicians with these characteristics we should stimulate them to adopt a deeper approach to learning using the appropriate pedagogic strategies.

  1. Azer et al Enhancing learning approaches: Pratical tips for students and teachers. Med Teach 2013; 35: 433-43
  2. Biggs et al The revised two factor Study Process Questionnaire: R-SPQ-2F. Br J Educ Psychol 2001; 71:133-49
  3. Newble et al The approaches to learning of specialist physicians. Med Educ 1990; 24: 101-9
Summary of Work
Summary of Results
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