Medical schools are being urged to make end-of-year exams fairer, as students argue some candidates are put at an unfair advantage.
In OSCEs (objective structured clinical examinations), students are assessed on their performances at different clinical ‘stations’, with real or simulated patients.
However, some students are unhappy that candidates taking the exam later in the day or week might be privy to information about the stations from those who have already taken the exam.
Some medical schools opt to ‘quarantine’ candidates so this does not happen, but others do not, maintaining that isolating students does not affect the overall grades.
BMA medical students committee joint deputy chair Samantha Dolan (pictured right) called for universities to ensure fairness in OSCEs and other assessments.
She said: ‘It is dismaying to hear that students feel like the OSCE exam process is being undermined by some current university protocols — we urge those schools to consider addressing their students' concerns.
‘I believe all medical students are in no doubt about their professional responsibilities during the examination period.’
One St George’s University of London student said coursemates felt the current OSCE system — which did not involve quarantining students — was unfair and wanted the process to change.
A St George’s spokesperson said students could be reassured there was ‘no advantage or disadvantage’ related to when they sat their OSCEs and there were no plans to change the system.
The spokesperson said: ‘We have more than three years' data showing that there has never once been a systematic improvement in the performance of any group of students in a later session in an OSCE or on a subsequent day.
‘Students are informed not to discuss these exams with others — they have to demonstrate the skills being tested, as just knowing a diagnosis, for example, is only a tiny proportion of the marks.’
A Newcastle University spokesperson also said its lack of quarantining did not have an impact on marks.
The spokesperson said: ‘We do acknowledge some students may perceive that those taking the assessment in the afternoon could potentially have an advantage over those taking it in the morning.
‘We have looked at the results over a number of years and have not seen any difference in performance, depending on whether the student is assessed in the morning or afternoon.’
She said students were given ‘a very clear’ briefing about the exam and standards of professionalism.
She added: ‘They are not just putting themselves at a disadvantage, if they share the content of the history stations with other students — what they hear from others taking the exam may not necessarily be correct.’
However, Norwich Medical School course director Richard Holland said student concerns over disclosure and fairness in exams had prompted the school to introduce quarantine for OSCEs in all study years, not just finals.
Professor Holland said the medical school considered this improved exam fairness.
Its not a question about OSCE marks its a question over probity of medical students against GMC guidelines. Its basically saying if you cheat its ok because it does not effect the results. It is silly to suggest that it doesn't effect results as you can never know who was privy to the information before or their OSCE.
Considering that just a few hrs of extra practice could allow an unprepared candidate to learn the skills to a sufficient extent and for a prepared candidate to perfect the skills for the set stations in OSCE.. even if it only benefited those who leaked and shared the tested scenarios (thus not resulting in a significant difference in performance over the cohort), it would still be grossly unfair. Granted, though schools try to moderate the entire situation.. Using different patients and examiners for different stations/groups (who may lack cultural understanding) in itself poses a degree of unfairness already. The measures taken to counter unfairness should instead serve to remind us that such unfairness exists in the first place, and that there probably is no means of examination that is a 100% fair. I would love to see how the medical schools assess and derived their said fairness in exams. Unfortunately, in light of the amount of effort needed to plan and coordinate OSCEs, I do not foresee any change coming.