Veterinary Biomolecular Sciences

The Veterinary Biomolecular Sciences course is taught over the first and second years of the Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery programme. Teaching is conducted primarily by lectures supplemented with small group tutorials, laboratory and computer-based classes, and a student-directed learning assignment. The peer review implementation described here involved second year Biomolecular Sciences students in the academic year 2010-2011. 

In 2010, the Biomolecular Sciences exam format changed to include short answer questions rather than essays. Hence many students were unclear about the new assessment criteria and about how short answer questions would be marked. The lecturers saw peer review as proving multiple benefits for the students. Its primary aims were to to instil an appreciation of how marks were accrued. Combined with the feedback students would receive from peers, it was also hoped that this approach would facilitate an improved approach to Biomolecular Sciences examination questions. Students were awarded 5% of their final grade for the year as an incentive to participate in the peer review exercise.


School: School of Veterinary Medicine

Course: Veterinary Biomolecular Sciences

Students: 121 Level 2

Task: The task used for the peer review was a typical exam question concerning factual material. It had two parts: (a) Describe the structure and composition of virus particles. Your answer must focus on aspects of the biology of viruses which infect animals (not bacteria) and (b) What is the purpose of the virus genome? The instructions indicated that students might also use diagrams in their submissions. Students answered these two questions and submitted their answers electronically using the Aropa software.

Peer Review: Students were then randomly allocated three peer submissions to review. For each question (a and b) the students were required to provide a mark out of five and to provide some open-ended feedback comments. The instructions for each question were: comment on how well the submission answers the question and how clearly the points are made. In order to help students allocate a mark out of five for each question the teacher provided students with some key facts that were expected in the answer. Two or three marks were to be given for mentioning these key facts, with the remaining marks given for the provision of further relevant information.

Findings: 118 out of 121 students participated in the peer review activity. For practical reasons, it was not possible to evaluate the effects of this intervention on exam performance. Thirty-one students did however provide responses to a short survey about the peer review activity. For this cohort, the survey revealed that one of the aims of the study had been realised: 94% if respondents agreed/strongly agreed that 'Using Aropa to mark other students work helped me better understand the question process'. However, fewer students perceived this as translating into tangible benefits in their class exam performance: only 45% agreed or strongly agreed that 'Using Aropa helped me gain a better grade in the class exam short answer questions that I think I would have done otherwise'.

Free text responses in the survey showed that some students believed that the review activity helped them better understand the marking process and/or recognise what was appropriate content for inclusion in an answer and/or enhance their understanding of the topic. When asked how they used the feedback received, some students mentioned that it helped them discern the level of detail required for a good answer and to develop a concise answer.  The shortcomings mentioned in free text responses included that the peer review task only focused on Biomolecular Sciences and that there was variation in the quality of feedback from peers.

Improvements: The lecturers suggested that the peer exercise could be improved by its extension to cover more Biomolecular Sciences topics by running multiple iterations throughout the academic year, coupled with enhanced feedback sessions with academic staff. These sessions could also make explicit the benefits of peer review for exam performance. 

Software: Aropa developed by John Hamer

Course Leader: Dr Lesley Nicolson, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Glasgow,

Student Support: Amanda Sykes, Student Learning Service, University of Glasgow,

More detail: available soon




David Nicol identifies key features and suggests possible enhancements to this peer review design.