Do personal and behavioural characteristics of physiotherapy students predict performance during training and course completion?

Sophie Paynter, Ross Iles, Wayne C. Hodgson, Margaret Hay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: Specific personal and behavioural characteristics are required for competent health care practice. Research investigating relationships between these characteristics and course performance of health professions students is expanding, yet little research is conducted within the undergraduate physiotherapy student population. This study aimed to explore the relationships between personality, approaches to learning, and coping strategies of undergraduate physiotherapy students and their performance in academic, clinical and in-course assessment tasks and course progression. Methods: Participants from six cohorts of undergraduate physiotherapy students (commencing years 2012–2017, 66% response rate) completed questionnaires measuring personality (NEO-FFI-3), approaches to learning (RASI) and coping strategies (Brief COPE). Correlation and multiple regression analysis were conducted to investigate relationships between scores on written examinations, in-course assessment tasks and assessments of clinical performance. Mann–Whitney U test was used to compare subgroups on these measures in those who completed or did not complete the course. Results: Conscientiousness and a strategic approach to learning predicted higher scores in written examinations, and for most clinical and in-course assessments with conscientiousness being a stronger predictor. A lack of purpose (surface) learning approach was predictive of lower clinical placement scores. Non-course completers had higher scores for lack of purpose (surface) approach to learning and lower scores for the coping strategies of support seeking and humour. Conclusions: This study confirms the importance of conscientiousness and a strategic learning approach on the academic and clinical performance of undergraduate physiotherapy students. Identifying learners with a surface learning approach and low support seeking coping strategies could assist in providing support to students at risk of poor performance and minimising attrition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number97
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Academic performance
  • Approaches to learning
  • Clinical competence
  • Coping strategies
  • Health professional education
  • Personality
  • Physiotherapy education

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