Introduction: The main aim of medical education is to foster the development of clinical competence in students at all levels. Differences in experiences, methods of instruction and ambiguous forms of assessment are obstacles to attaining this goal. Dissatisfaction with the conventional methods of clinical assessment on the part of teachers and students led assessors to search for appropriate alternatives and in 1975, Harden and his colleagues introduced the objective structured clinical examination (OSCE). It is nearly impossible to have a test that satisfies all the criteria of a good test. Sometimes, a compromise has to be made between the available resources (in terms of man, money and time), and the method and quality of assessment (in terms of reliability, validity, objectivity and practicability).
Methods: This critique on the OSCE is based on the published findings of researchers from its inception in 1975 to 2004.
Results: The reliability, validity, objectivity and practicability or feasibility of this examination are based on the number of stations, construction of stations, method of scoring (checklists and/ or global scoring) and number of students assessed. For a comprehensive assessment of clinical competence, other methods should be used in conjunction with the OSCE.
Conclusion: The OSCE can be a reasonably reliable, valid and objective method of assessment, but its main drawback is that it is resource-intensive.