Acad Med. 2023 Jan 1;98(1):98-104. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004952. Epub 2022 Aug 30.
PURPOSE: Standardized end-of-clerkship examinations typically occur on the last day of the clerkship. However, recent trends toward time-varying competency-based medical education have offered students more test scheduling flexibility, creating an opportunity to study the impact of student-selected examination timing.
METHOD: Starting with the graduating class of 2018, students took the required standardized end-of-core clerkship examinations at any available time they chose during their clinical years. Before this change, these examinations were administered to all students on the last day of the clerkship. Students’ examination dates relative to clerkship completion were analyzed between 2017 and 2020 (inclusive of before and after flexible exam timing) to assess the impact that student-selected exam timing had on test performance on National Board of Medical Examiners shelf clinical science examinations for required core clerkships.
RESULTS: Data on 146 medical students in 2017 (fixed exam timing) and 466 medical students between 2018 and 2020 (flexible exam timing) were included. Among students offered flexible exam timing, between 2.7% (internal medicine) and 14.6% (psychiatry) took their exam before actually taking clerkship, while between 22.7% (psychiatry) and 40.0% (surgery) took their exam more than 90 days after the clerkship ended. Exam scores were statistically higher for those who took the exam at a time of their choosing compared with those who were required to take it at the end of individual rotations and when the exam scores were combined (fixed exam timing mean = 73.9, standard deviation [SD] = 7.8; flexible exam timing mean = 77.4, SD = 6.0, P < .001). The percent of students with passing scores was statistically higher in internal medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry.
CONCLUSIONS: Self-selection of shelf exam timing appears to increase shelf exam scores. As more medical schools transition to competency-based medical education, providing scheduling flexibility appears not to negatively affect student achievement.