The level playing field: the impact of assessment practice on professional development

Med Educ. 2012 Aug;46(8):766-76. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2012.04300.x.


Context: The effects of assessment practice on students' learning are unclear, particularly regarding professional development. Corralling in objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs) is designed to reduce illicit passing of examination information. Candidates completing an examination are kept secluded until the next cohort of examinees has begun. We used the introduction of corralling as a context in which to explore social influences on examination misconduct, with the aims of improving understanding of the hidden effects of assessment, and evaluating the acceptability of corralling from the student perspective.

Methods: A questionnaire was administered to students corralled post-OSCE for the first time. Eleven semi-structured interviews were subsequently conducted. Questionnaire data were analysed for descriptive statistics and thematic analysis of interview transcripts was carried out.

Results: The questionnaire response rate was 95.4% (251/263). Before corralling, 80.9% (203/251) of students were aware of the sharing of information among peers and 78.5% (197/251) agreed that such misconduct was unprofessional. The majority were in favour of corralling (90.8%, 228/251). Four themes emerged from the semi-structured interviews: the student network versus the individual; assessment-driven culture; the deferring of professionalism, and the 'level playing field'. Students saw interaction within the student network, on a background of assessment-driven culture, as the key driver in examination misconduct. Conforming to the rules of the social network was prioritized over individual agency, although the mismatch between the rules of the network and the dominant professional discourse caused some conflict for individuals. Deferred professionalism (described as the practice of taking on the norms of professional behaviour only when qualified) was a rationalisation used to minimise this conflict. Corralling provided a 'level playing field' in which the influences of the network were minimised.

Conclusions: Examination misconduct is thus a complex social construction with implications for individual learners in terms of professional development. Corralling is one mechanism for addressing misconduct that is acceptable to students, but assessment processes have important hidden effects which educators should acknowledge.

MeSH terms

  • Deception*
  • Educational Measurement / methods*
  • Educational Measurement / standards
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Physical Examination
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires