Content specificity: is it the full story? Statistical modelling of a clinical skills examination

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This study sought to determine the relative contributions made by transferable skills and content-specific skills to Year 2 medical student performance in a clinical skills examination.


Correlated trait-correlated method models were constructed to describe the performance of 2 year groups of students in examinations held in the summers of 2004 and 2005 at Peninsula Medical School in the UK. The transferable skills components of the models were then removed to indicate the contribution made to the fit of the models to the data.


Although content-specific skills made the greater contribution to the 2 models of student performance (accounting for averages of 54% and 43% of the variance, respectively), transferable skills did make an important but smaller contribution (averages of 13% and 16%, respectively). When the transferable skills components of the models were removed, the fit was not as good.


Both content-specific skills and transferable skills contributed to performance in the clinical skills examination. This challenges current thinking and has important implications, not just for those involved in clinical skills examinations, but for all medical educators.

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