Over the first 50 years of the physician assistant (PA) profession, admission to PA programs was based primarily on cognitive domains such as academic performance and standardized test scores. Many programs also considered other measurable factors, including patient care experience, community service, and extracurricular activities. While interviews were frequently conducted by the programs, it was not until the applicants had been "pre-screened" for the previously identified qualifications. As the PA profession continued to expand, PA programs began to realize that potentially strong applicants were being excluded from the admissions process because of this emphasis on mostly cognitive factors. In an attempt to reduce this disparity, PA programs have begun to expand their assessment of applicants to include assessment of noncognitive characteristics. This article outlines the history surrounding this change in the approach to admissions in medical education, reviews the development of situational judgement tests and other tools used to assess these noncognitive characteristics, and explores the relationship of these noncognitive characteristics to the development of program-defined competencies.
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