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A measure of success and a successful measure

Progress Testing for Medical Students at the University of Auckland: Results from the First Year of Assessments. Lillis s et al: J Med Educ Curr Dev 2014; 1:41-45.

Reviewed by Gary Beck

What was the study question?

Can progress testing -- administering comprehensive examinations at periodic points during the course of training—reliably and acceptably enhance medical student education?

How was the study done?

Progress testing at the University of Auckland took place three times per year for two cohorts of medical students from years 2 and 4. Validity was calculated by comparing performance on other measures (OSCEs, Mini-CEX, etc). In addition, the authors sought feedback from Year 4 students about their experience with progress testing.

What were the results?

Mean test scores increased for each cohort over the three test periods. Correlations between progress test scores with communication skills variables showed moderate to strong correlation. Reliability was excellent for all six measurements. Survey responses from 4th year students indicated that progress tests enhanced knowledge retention, deepened understanding of clinical medicine, and assisted with integrating knowledge. Themes emerging from open-ended responses related to learning material in a clinical context, reduced stress levels, and changes in study habits facilitated deeper learning. Some students disagreed with the latter theme, noting that studying for the progress tests resulted in superficial learning.

What are the implications of these findings?

Although progress tests are used predominantly as an assessment of the entire training program, regularly scheduled practice examinations in a clerkship could prove valuable. Improvement in scores over the course of test administration demonstrates how students benefit from regular testing as a benchmark in their knowledge acquisition.

Editor’s note: Progress testing could become the assessment model for the longitudinal integrated clerkships that are being developed at many medical schools (like mine). In 6-8 week clerkships such an endeavor might better be labeled “Progress quizzing” (RR).

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