Objectives: This study was designed to describe the variation in marking tendencies among different examiners in an oral examination.
Design: Marks awarded in a family practice board examination between 1984 and 1996 were analysed, relating to 5328 examination sessions graded by 94 examiners. Examiners were ranked by the rates at which they awarded 'fail', 'pass' or 'distinction' grades. The effects of examiners' gender, experience, academic rank, regional affiliation and country of qualification on examiner behaviour were studied.
Setting: National Family Medicine Examination Board, Scientific Council, Israel Medical Association.
Subjects: Oral examiners.
Results: Eighteen per cent of examiners were classified as 'tough', being in the lowest tertile for 'distinction' rates and the highest tertile for 'failure' rates; 19% were classified as 'mild'; 52% were 'regular', falling in the middle tertile for both distinction and failure rates. Four per cent of examiners were in the top tertile for both distinctions and failures, labelled 'extremists', and 6% were in the bottom tertile for both, and were labelled 'noncommittal'. Higher failure rates were associated with examiners' academic rank, experience and graduation from an English-speaking medical school.
Conclusions: Examiners differ significantly in their degree of severity. Those who demonstrate clearly deviant patterns of grading should be withdrawn. Candidates should be presented with a balanced panel of examiners, and a degree of standardization of content should be introduced into oral examinations.