A written test as an alternative to performance testing

Med Educ. 1989 Jan;23(1):97-107. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.1989.tb00819.x.


Performance tests are logistically complex and time consuming. To reach adequate reliability long tests are imperative. Additionally, they are very difficult to adapt to the individual learning paths of students, which is necessary in problem-based learning. This study investigates a written alternative to performance-based tests. A Knowledge Test of Skills (KTS) was developed and administered to 380 subjects of various educational levels, including both first-year students and recently graduated doctors. By comparing KTS scores with scores on performance tests strong convergent validity was demonstrated. The KTS failed discriminant validity when compared with a general medical knowledge test. Also the identification of sub-tests discriminating between behavioural and cognitive aspects was not successful. This was due to the interdependence of the constructs measured. The KTS was able to demonstrate differences in ability level and showed subtle changes in response patterns over items, indicating construct validity. It was concluded that the KTS is a valid instrument for predicting performance scores and could very well be applied as supplementary information to performance testing. The relative ease of construction and efficiency makes the KTS a suitable substitute instrument for research purposes. The study also showed that in higher ability levels the concepts which were meant to be measured were highly related, giving evidence to the general factor theory of competence. However, it appeared that this general factor was originally non-existent in first-year students and that these competencies integrate as the educational process develops.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humans
  • Methods
  • Netherlands
  • Surveys and Questionnaires