So here we are in week 4 (of 5) weeks of PBL teaching at PAHS. Soon we will assess what the students have learned during this block. The method of assessment at PAHS is conducted in two ways. One involves an end-of-block written exam using Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ). MCQ involve a short “stem” followed by a specific question and four options from which students select the single correct answer. The other written exam consists of Problem Based Questions (PBQ). PBQ reflect the kind of learning done in the PBL tutorials. In these exams students receive a patient scenario and they have to generate short written answers to some relatively open ended questions.
At UBC we use MCQ in our written exams so the format of questions is similar. There are two differences however; one is that the MCQ at PAHS are generated to be discipline specific (e.g. physiology questions, anatomy questions, pharmacology etc….). MCQ at UBC are purposely created to integrate the disciplines. Another difference is that our MCQ exams are held at the end of year, whereas here the exams are held immediately after the block concludes. The obvious advantage for the PAHS students is that at the time they are tested the information is fresh in their minds. At UBC the students may have participated in any where from one to three additional blocks before being tested on the material. The challenge here however is that PBQ test a different type of learning. For one thing the PBQ are not specific to any particular disciple but instead integrate subjects. In addition the questions are open ended and don’t rely on a student’s ability to “recognize” a correct answer.
Is one method better than another? I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between. The true test of course is when the students begin to apply the basic science learning when interacting with patients. Will what they learned now be accessible and relevant? Time will tell.