Evaluation of cognitive levels and item writing flaws in medical pharmacology internal assessment examinations

Saba Tariq, Sundus Tariq, Sadia Maqsood, Shireen Jawed, Mukhtiar Baig


Objectives: This study aimed to evaluate the cognitive levels of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) & Short Answer Questions (SAQs) and types of Item Writing Flaws (IWFs) in MCQs in Medical Pharmacology internal assessment exams.

Methods: This descriptive, study was conducted over a period of six months, from December 2015 to May 2016 and evaluated six internal assessment examinations comprising SAQs and MCQs. A total of 150 MCQs and 43 SAQs were analyzed. These questions were administered to third-year medical students in the year of 2015. All SAQs were reviewed for their cognitive levels and MCQs were reviewed for cognitive levels as well as for IWFs. Items were classified as flawed if they contained one or more than one flaw. The cognitive level of the questions was determined by the modified Bloom’s taxonomy.

Results: The proportion of flawed items out of 150 items in six exams ranged from 16% to 52%. While the percentage of total flawed items was 28%. Most common types of flaws were implausible distractors 19.69% (26), extra detail in correct option 18.18% (24), vague terms 9.85% (13), unfocused stem 9.09% (12) and absolute terms 9.09% (12). The two-third of MCQs 97(64.67%) were assessing the recall of information, while 29 (19.33%) and 24 (16%) were assessing the interpretation of data and problem-solving skills respectively. The majority of the SAQs (90.7%) were assessing recall of the information and only 9.3% were assessing interpretation of data while none of the questions was assessing the problem-solving skills.

Conclusions: The cognitive level of assessment tools (SAQs & MCQs) is low, and IWFS are common in the MCQs. Therefore, faculty should be urged and groomed to design problem-solving questions which are devoid of any flaws. 

doi: https://doi.org/10.12669/pjms.334.12887

How to cite this:Tariq S, Tariq S, Maqsood S, Jawed S, Baig M. Evaluation of cognitive levels and item writing flaws in medical pharmacology internal assessment examinations. Pak J Med Sci. 2017;33(4):866-870.   doi: https://doi.org/10.12669/pjms.334.12887

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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