Can the Strength of Candidates Be Discriminated Based on Ability to Circumvent the Biasing Effect of Prose? Implications for Evaluation and Education

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Abstract

Purpose.

Residents have greater confidence in diagnoses when indicative features are presented in medical terminology. The current study examines the implications of this result by assessing its relationship to clinical ability.

Method.

Candidates writing the Medical Council of Canada’s Qualifying Examination completed six questions in which the terminology used was manipulated. The influence of aptitude was examined by contrasting groups based on performance on the medicine section of Part I.

Results.

The difference between the candidates was greatest in the mixed conditions in which the features consistent with one diagnosis were presented in medicalese and those consistent with a second diagnosis were presented using lay terminology; weaker candidates were more biased by language than stronger candidates.

Conclusions.

The results suggest that the language used in presenting case histories will influence the reliability of medical examinations. Furthermore, they suggest that weaker candidates might benefit from practice in making the translation between lay terminology and medicalese.

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