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1.  Comparison of the sensitivity of the UKCAT and A Levels to sociodemographic characteristics: a national study 
The UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) was introduced to facilitate widening participation in medical and dental education in the UK by providing universities with a continuous variable to aid selection; one that might be less sensitive to the sociodemographic background of candidates compared to traditional measures of educational attainment. Initial research suggested that males, candidates from more advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds and those who attended independent or grammar schools performed better on the test. The introduction of the A* grade at A level permits more detailed analysis of the relationship between UKCAT scores, secondary educational attainment and sociodemographic variables. Thus, our aim was to further assess whether the UKCAT is likely to add incremental value over A level (predicted or actual) attainment in the selection process.
Data relating to UKCAT and A level performance from 8,180 candidates applying to medicine in 2009 who had complete information relating to six key sociodemographic variables were analysed. A series of regression analyses were conducted in order to evaluate the ability of sociodemographic status to predict performance on two outcome measures: A level ‘best of three’ tariff score; and the UKCAT scores.
In this sample A level attainment was independently and positively predicted by four sociodemographic variables (independent/grammar schooling, White ethnicity, age and professional social class background). These variables also independently and positively predicted UKCAT scores. There was a suggestion that UKCAT scores were less sensitive to educational background compared to A level attainment. In contrast to A level attainment, UKCAT score was independently and positively predicted by having English as a first language and male sex.
Our findings are consistent with a previous report; most of the sociodemographic factors that predict A level attainment also predict UKCAT performance. However, compared to A levels, males and those speaking English as a first language perform better on UKCAT. Our findings suggest that UKCAT scores may be more influenced by sex and less sensitive to school type compared to A levels. These factors must be considered by institutions utilising the UKCAT as a component of the medical and dental school selection process.
PMCID: PMC3893425  PMID: 24400861
Medical student selection; Educational attainment; Aptitude tests; UKCAT; Socio-economic factors
2.  Do students learn to be more conscientious at medical school? 
BMC Medical Education  2012;12:54.
Professionalism in medical students is not only difficult to define but difficult to teach and measure. As negative behaviour in medical students is associated with post-graduate disciplinary action it would be useful to have a model whereby unprofessional behaviour at the undergraduate level can easily be identified to permit appropriate intervention. We have previously developed a scalar measure of conscientiousness, the Conscientiousness Index (CI), which positively correlates to estimates of professional behaviour in undergraduate medical students. By comparing CI points awarded in year 1 and year 2 of study we were able to use the CI model to determine whether teaching and clinical exposure had any effect on students’ conscientiousness.
CI points were collected by administrative staff from 3 successive cohorts of students in years 1 and 2 of study. Points were awarded to students for activities such as submission of immunisation status and criminal record checks, submission of summative assignments by a specified date and attendance at compulsory teaching sessions. CI points were then converted to a percentage of maximal possible scores (CI %) to permit direct comparison between years 1 and 2 of study.
CI % scores were generally high with each year of study for each cohort showing negatively skewed normal distributions with peaks > 89%. There was a high degree of correlation of CI % scores between year 1 and year 2 of study for each cohort alone and when cohort data was combined. When the change in CI % from year 1 to year 2 for all students was compared there was no significant difference in conscientiousness observed.
We have provided evidence that use of a CI model in undergraduate medical students provides a reliable measure of conscientiousness that is easy to implement. Importantly this study shows that measurement of conscientiousness by the CI model in medical students does not change between years 1 and 2 study suggesting that it is a stable characteristic and not modified by teaching and clinical exposure.
PMCID: PMC3434045  PMID: 22784434
3.  Evaluating professionalism in medical undergraduates using selected response questions: findings from an item response modelling study 
BMC Medical Education  2011;11:43.
Professionalism is a difficult construct to define in medical students but aspects of this concept may be important in predicting the risk of postgraduate misconduct. For this reason attempts are being made to evaluate medical students' professionalism. This study investigated the psychometric properties of Selected Response Questions (SRQs) relating to the theme of professional conduct and ethics comparing them with two sets of control items: those testing pure knowledge of anatomy, and; items evaluating the ability to integrate and apply knowledge ("skills"). The performance of students on the SRQs was also compared with two external measures estimating aspects of professionalism in students; peer ratings of professionalism and their Conscientiousness Index, an objective measure of behaviours at medical school.
Item Response Theory (IRT) was used to analyse both question and student performance for SRQs relating to knowledge of professionalism, pure anatomy and skills. The relative difficulties, discrimination and 'guessabilities' of each theme of question were compared with each other using Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). Student performance on each topic was compared with the measures of conscientiousness and professionalism using parametric and non-parametric tests as appropriate. A post-hoc analysis of power for the IRT modelling was conducted using a Monte Carlo simulation.
Professionalism items were less difficult compared to the anatomy and skills SRQs, poorer at discriminating between candidates and more erratically answered when compared to anatomy questions. Moreover professionalism item performance was uncorrelated with the standardised Conscientiousness Index scores (rho = 0.009, p = 0.90). In contrast there were modest but significant correlations between standardised Conscientiousness Index scores and performance at anatomy items (rho = 0.20, p = 0.006) though not skills (rho = .11, p = .1). Likewise, students with high peer ratings for professionalism had superior performance on anatomy SRQs but not professionalism themed questions. A trend of borderline significance (p = .07) was observed for performance on skills SRQs and professionalism nomination status.
SRQs related to professionalism are likely to have relatively poor psychometric properties and lack associations with other constructs associated with undergraduate professional behaviour. The findings suggest that such questions should not be included in undergraduate examinations and may raise issues with the introduction of Situational Judgement Tests into Foundation Years selection.
PMCID: PMC3146946  PMID: 21714870
4.  Exploring reflective 'critical incident' documentation of professionalism lapses in a medical undergraduate setting 
Measuring professionalism in undergraduate medical students is a difficult process, and no one method has currently emerged as the definitive means of assessment in this field. Student skills in reflection have been shown to be highly important in the development of professional behaviours. By studying student reflections on lapses in professional judgement, recorded as 'critical incidents', it is possible to explore themes which are significant for the development of professional behaviour in an undergraduate setting.
We examined critical incident reporting combined with optional written student reflection as a method for exploring professionalism in undergraduate medical students. 228 students split between Year 1 and 2 of one academic year of undergraduate medicine were studied retrospectively and a grounded theory approach to analysis was employed.
This year generated 16 critical incident reports and corresponding student reflections, all of which were considered. In addition to identifying the nature of the critical incidents, 3 principal themes emerged. These were the impact and consequences of the report having been made, student reactions to the events (both positive and negative), and student responses regarding future actions.
This study indicates that unprofessional behaviour can be identified and challenged by both the faculty and the students involved, and suggests that positive behavioural changes might be made with the aim of preventing future occurrences. We provide a low cost approach of measuring and recording professional behaviour.
PMCID: PMC2714848  PMID: 19604378
5.  Widening access to UK medical education for under-represented socioeconomic groups: modelling the impact of the UKCAT in the 2009 cohort 
Objective To determine whether the use of the UK clinical aptitude test (UKCAT) in the medical schools admissions process reduces the relative disadvantage encountered by certain sociodemographic groups.
Design Prospective cohort study.
Setting Applicants to 22 UK medical schools in 2009 that were members of the consortium of institutions utilising the UKCAT as a component of their admissions process.
Participants 8459 applicants (24 844 applications) to UKCAT consortium member medical schools where data were available on advanced qualifications and socioeconomic background.
Main outcome measures The probability of an application resulting in an offer of a place on a medicine course according to seven educational and sociodemographic variables depending on how the UKCAT was used by the medical school (in borderline cases, as a factor in admissions, or as a threshold).
Results On univariate analysis all educational and sociodemographic variables were significantly associated with the relative odds of an application being successful. The multilevel multiple logistic regression models, however, varied between medical schools according to the way that the UKCAT was used. For example, a candidate from a non-professional background was much less likely to receive a conditional offer of a place compared with an applicant from a higher social class when applying to an institution using the test only in borderline cases (odds ratio 0.51, 95% confidence interval 0.45 to 0.60). No such effect was observed for such candidates applying to medical schools using the threshold approach (1.27, 0.84 to 1.91). These differences were generally reflected in the interactions observed when the analysis was repeated, pooling the data. Notably, candidates from several under-represented groups applying to medical schools that used a threshold approach to the UKCAT were less disadvantaged than those applying to the other institutions in the consortium. These effects were partially reflected in significant differences in the absolute proportion of such candidates finally taking up places in the different types of medical schools; stronger use of the test score (as a factor or threshold) was associated with a significantly increased odds of entrants being male (1.74, 1.25 to 2.41) and from a low socioeconomic background (3.57, 1.03 to 12.39). There was a non-significant trend towards entrants being from a state (non-grammar) school (1.60, 0.97 to 2.62) where a stronger use of the test was employed. Use of the test only in borderline cases was associated with increased odds of entrants having relatively low academic attainment (5.19, 2.02 to 13.33) and English as a second language (2.15, 1.03 to 4.48).
Conclusions The use of the UKCAT may lead to more equitable provision of offers to those applying to medical school from under-represented sociodemographic groups. This may translate into higher numbers of some, but not all, relatively disadvantaged students entering the UK medical profession.
PMCID: PMC3328544  PMID: 22511300

Results 1-5 (5)