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PLOS ONE  2013 

Did My M.D. Really Go to University to Learn? Detrimental Effects of Numerus Clausus on Self-Efficacy, Mastery Goals and Learning

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084178

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Exams with numerus clausus are very common in Medicine, Business Administration and Law. They are intended to select a predefined number of academic candidates on the basis of their rank rather than their absolute performance. Various scholars and politicians believe that numerus clausus policies are a vector of academic excellence. We argue, however, that they could have ironic epistemic effects. In comparison with selective policies based on criterion-based evaluations, selection via numerus clausus creates negative interdependence of competence (i.e., the success of some students comes at the expense of the others). Thus, we expect it to impair students’ sense of self-efficacy and—by extension—the level of mastery goals they adopt, as well as their actual learning. Two field studies respectively reported that presence (versus absence) and awareness (versus ignorance) of numerus clausus policies at University was associated with a decreased endorsement of mastery goals; this effect was mediated by a reduction in self-efficacy beliefs. Moreover, an experimental study revealed that numerus clausus negatively predicted learning; this effect was, again, mediated by a reduction in self-efficacy beliefs. Practical implications for the selection procedures in higher education are discussed.


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