South African Medical Journal

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Does examiner bias in undergraduate oral and clinical surgery examinations occur?

D Stupart, P Goldberg, J Krige, D Kahn


Objective. Oral and long case clinical examinations are open to subjective influences to some extent, and students may be marked unfairly as a result of gender or racial bias or language problems. These concerns are of topical relevance in South Africa. The purpose of this study was to assess whether these factors influenced the marks given in these examinations. Methods. Final-year surgery examination results from the
University of Cape Town from 2003 to 2006 were reviewed. These each consisted of a multiple choice paper, an objective structured clinical examination, a long case clinical
examination and an oral examination. Results. The marks of 604 students were analysed. Students who spoke English as a home language performed better in all examination modalities. Female students scored slightly higher than males overall, but they scored similarly in the clinical and oral examinations. There were significant differences in the marks scored between the various population groups in all examination modalities, with white
students achieving the highest scores, and black students the lowest. These differences were most marked in multiple choice examinations, and least marked in oral and clinical
examinations. Conclusion. We could find no evidence of systemic bias in
the oral and clinical examinations in our department, which reinforces the need for ongoing academic support for students from disadvantaged educational backgrounds, and for those
who do not speak English as a home language.

South African Medical Journal Vol. 98 (10) 2008: pp. 805-807

AJOL African Journals Online