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Language background and OSCE performance: a study of potential bias


Mrs Meta Schoonheim-Klein
Louwesweg 1
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 20 5188493
Fax: +31 20 5188512


Aim:  To investigate whether Non-Native dental students perceive drawbacks in their education and examination experience because of their lack of language proficiency and to test whether prolonging Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) test-station duration improves their performance.

Materials and methods:  Dental students (n = 345) completed a questionnaire about their native country, their language background and the possible drawback they perceived in dental education and examination because of their language proficiency. Students were marked as ‘native’, when they were born in the Netherlands with Dutch as native language or ‘Non-Native’ when they were born outside the Netherlands, raised with a non-Dutch native language, or raised bilingually. A sample of 108 students was assessed by an OSCE testing a periodontal course with nine test-stations. Test-station topics were: (1) history taking, (2) measuring attachment level, (3) educating patients, (4) tracing a radiograph, (5) root-planing, (6) writing a prescription, (7) diagnostics and prognostics, (8) differential diagnostics and (9) writing a referral letter. The first five test-stations mentioned were of 5-min duration. The other four test-stations were provided in two modes: either with a short (5 min) or longer (10 min) version. Every student took at random two long and two short test-stations.

Results:  In the group of 345 questionnaire responders, Non-Native students (n = 116) perceived significantly more drawback in education and examination than Native students (n = 229) (P < 0.001). When Non-Native students speak Dutch at home, around 38% of them reported perceived drawbacks in education, whereas when they speak their native language at home, around 60% reported perceived drawbacks in education (P = 0.005). In the periodontal OSCE (n = 108), the Native group (n = 70) had significantly higher total scores than the Non-Native (n = 38), (P = 0.009, d = 0.53). The Non-Native group had significantly lower mean scores in the communication station ‘educating patients’ (P = 0.034, d = 0.42). Prolonged test-station duration from 5 to 10 min had no positive effect in all experimental test-stations in the Native and Non-Native group. Female students in the Native group out-performed male in a communication test-stations. Female students in Native and Non-Native groups were found to be more successful in ‘tracing bone loss on radiographs’.

Conclusion:  Non-Native students perceived a drawback in dental education and examination because of their language proficiency in Dutch, which is confirmed by their actual OSCE performance. Prolonging the time for a test-station did not improve OSCE performance of Non-Native students. It is recommended that students with problems in language ability need additional tuition and practice.