Pass or Fail


It is a necessity of life – passing exams. Exams are gatekeepers of a future to be mastered, more often than they are gateways to potential directions in life. So better pass exams than getting blocked by them. Taking exams is a hurdle that needs to be overcome, often at high emotional costs. The idea is of course that previous activity in courses taken in programs offered by schools aids to the successful tackling of the barrier but students know very well that this preparation is certainly not a guarantee. Therefore, as a strategy, it would be better not to take high risks by trying to excel in mastery of knowledge and skills but stay on the safe side of your overall ability record when confronted by the probing eyes of examiners or the nasty queries by supervisors. There exists considerable student knowledge on how to do exams (1). Trusting exams to be a fair and considerate, representative and authentic instrument would help. After all, you would like to know whether it will give an honest and trustworthy exemplification of your current state of abilities. But when you have taken exams before you know better. They often give just an arbitrary, temporary, and partially snapshot of what you would be able to perform or understand normally. It all heavily depends on the selection exam assignments and the ones who are rating it .
A study on evaluating interns abilities after completing their intern program was done to look at different types of exam assignments issued by examiners (from the intern organization) and supervisors (from the teaching organization). It revealed a low correlation between exam methods and between overall ratings done by examiners and supervisors. Different evaluation methods yielded different results, and no significant relation was found between rating by examiners and supervisors.
Knowing this makes one cautious not to step into an exam too lightly by simply performing well or doing one’s utmost in completing assignments. Strategic deliberations take over control: aiming for a minimal overall pass level; concentrating on specific exam tasks while going to underperform on others; selecting a subset of assignments by skipping ambiguous ones. There are numerous exam training courses that will help you out here (2) . Of course at the expense of giving a true, overall and representative depiction of your ability; their ultimate and sole aim is passing, not failing. But is that not in fact stimulating misjudgment?

Exams are too important to fail. But also too important to let misjudgments take over. The study’s finding that different evaluation methods yield different results is not a bad sign in itself; they could be measuring different aspects of performance. Misjudgment of one-sided judgment occurs when only one type of raters uses one type of method, while others are assigned to another method. Better, more balanced measurement occurs when multiple raters are involved in a multiple measurement. The key to acceptance of exams as a dependable measurement approach is that the combined set of evaluation methods goes together with a trustworthy rating of competence. Its steadiness lies in the combination.

Oral Case Examinations for Assessing Intern Competence by Robert W. Goldberg and Kevin R. Young Training and Education in Professional Psychology 2015, Vol. 9, No. 3, 242–247




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