Medical Council of Canada Tests Internet version of its Qualifying Exam

In an effort to move away from the standard paper based format of its qualifying exam, the Medical Council of Canada has begun a series of trials of a new Internet-based version. The director of the Council's Evaluation Bureau, Dr. David E. Blackmore, conducted early trials of the computerized version in Edmonton and Toronto. Eventually a full-time coordinator was hired to oversee security and inspection of the website, as well as to develop the transmission of the qualifying exam's format. The Council chose David Miller to serve as Coordinator of Computer -Based Testing Administration.

Under Miller's supervision, two new, more extensive trials were conducted. The first trial was administered at the University of Montreal in December of 1997 with a group composed of fourth-year medical students sitting for Part 1 of the exam (Part 2 of the exam is reserved for those candidates that have passed Part 1 and undergone a period of supervised training prior to their entry into independent medical practice; Currently the Internet-based version of the qualifying exam is intended for Part 1 only.) The second test of the computerized version was given to students at the University of Ottawa in April of 1998.

The Montreal trial of the computerized examination was received favorably by the students sitting for the exam. They cited ease of use in the navigation and the correction of their answers in each section of the exam. Despite minor glitches caused by some of the computer hardware used at the trial, all of the students completed the examination before the allotted time.

With the introduction of an Access database the developers were able to introduce more questions to draw from on the actual test. Additionally, Dr. Tom Maguire, doing research at MCC during this time, began developing a testing model that would adapt to the individual student's responses to determine the difficulty level of questions in later sections.

Seventy-four students sat for the examination in Ottawa in April of 1998. Although all students were able to complete the exam on time, some minor problems arose. Most of these were due to students not following directions for the computerized version of the test. The general complaint from the students was the slow response time of the test, which may have been the result of older hardware and a slow Internet connection.

Future trials of the computerized exam are planned for use at other area universities throughout 1998 while the developers continue to update the testing process. Among additions to the Internet-based exam prior to a finalized version (expected to be in use by fall of 1999) are those of encryption and authentication products to ensure security of the site and access to authorized users only.

(source: MCC's Echo, June 1998, pp. 3-5)

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