The evaluation of higher-level cognitive skills can augment traditional discipline-based knowledge testing by providing timely assessment of individual student problem-solving abilities that are critical for success in any professional development program. However, the wide-spread acceptance and implementation of higher level cognitive skills analysis has been delayed by the lack of rapid, valid, and reliable quantified-scoring techniques. At the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, we have developed an examination format that can be routinely and sequentially implemented for both formative and summative assessments of individual students in large classes. Rather than providing results in terms of an individual student’s knowledge base in a single academic discipline or group of disciplines, this type of examination provides information on performance in the application of specific problem-solving skills, which we term “domains,” to a contextual clinical or scientific problem. These domains, derived from the scientific method, are tested across various academic disciplines, and are reported in terms of the following: Initial and sequential hypothesis generation, investigation of these hypotheses, evaluation of newly acquired data, integration of basic science mechanisms with new information to explain the basis of the problem, and reflection on one’s own professional development in the context of the examination. The process for criterion referenced quantified grading of the examination is outlined in this paper. This process involves relatively rapid scoring, and permits the timely use of the resulting information for individual student feedback as well as curricular improvement. Data regarding grading consistency and comparison with other measures of student performance is also presented in this paper. An analysis of the performance characteristics of this examination, which has been utilized for over 10 years in a variety of course settings, indicates that it is valid, reliable, and utilizable. As such, the methodology is now routinely used in several undergraduate and graduate level biochemistry classes to monitor the development of individual student problem-solving abilities.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.