A survey of medical students’ views about the purposes and fairness of assessment


  • Received 14 June 2001; editorial comments to authors 12 September 2001, 4 March 2002; accepted for publication 10 May 2002

J A Spencer, Department of Primary Health Care, School of Health Sciences, The Medical School, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK. E-mail: j.a.spencer@ncl.ac.uk


Objective  To survey medical students’ views about the purposes and fairness of assessment procedures.

Method  The survey used a 19-item questionnaire designed for self-completion. Respondents were invited to ‘strongly agree’, ‘agree’, ‘disagree’ or ‘strongly disagree’ with a series of statements about the purposes and fairness of assessment. There was space for free text comments relating to each statement.

Results  A total of 312 students out of a sample of 381 completed questionnaires (82% response rate). Whilst the majority of students (> 95%) agreed that ensuring competence, providing feedback and guiding student learning were important purposes of assessment, only half (51%) felt that assessment should be used to predict performance as a doctor. A clear majority of students (81%) agreed that, on the whole, assessment at Newcastle Medical School was fair. Data interpretation papers (comprising a combination of multiple true/false, ‘one best answer’ and short answers) were perceived to be the fairest assessment tool; the assessment of clinical rotations by supervisors was perceived as the least fair. Differences in perception about the fairness of several assessment methods emerged between junior and senior students. A large number of respondents expressed desire for the provision of more feedback on performance in order to guide future learning.

Conclusions  Whilst students’ views about the fairness of specific assessment tools may sometimes be at variance with published research on assessment, their perceptions will influence the acceptability of assessment. Students would welcome the introduction of methods that provide meaningful assessment feedback.