Evolution of a Qualifying Examination from a Timed Closed-Book Format to an Open-Book Collaborative Take-Home Format: A Case Study and Commentary

Gregory Samsa

Abstract


Objective: Our master's program in biostatistics requires a qualifying examination (QE). A curriculum review led us to question whether to replace a closed-book format with an open-book one. Our goal was to improve the QE. Methods: This is a case study and commentary, where we describe the evolution of the QE, both in its goals and its content. The result was a week-long, open-book, collaborative, take-home examination structured around the analysis of two types of studies commonly encountered in biostatistical practice. Our evaluation of the revised format includes its fairness, student performance, and student feedback. Results: The new format has a number of advantages: (1) it has a specific educational goal; (2) it provides sufficient time for students to produce their best work; (3) it encourages students to review elements of the first-year curriculum as needed; and (4) it can be administered remotely, even during a pandemic. Potential concerns pertaining to cheating and rigor can be adequately addressed. The results of our evaluation of the examination have been encouraging. The QE is intended to be a "fair" examination that covers important material which is beneficial to students, and does so in a way that is transparent and puts everyone in a position to perform their best work. Conclusions: An examination using this format has much to recommend it. When designing an examination, it is important to (a) match its format with clearly specified educational goals; and (b) distinguish between the distinct constructs of difficulty and rigor.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5430/jct.v10n1p47

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Journal of Curriculum and Teaching

ISSN 1927-2677 (Print) ISSN 1927-2685 (Online)

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