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Student ability and learning experience in assessing peers alongside supervisors in the long case

Annette Burgess, Chris Roberts, Kirsten Black, Craig Mellis


Background: Peer assessment can provide a valuable method of enriching students’ learning experience, particularly when students act as the assessors, which provides a highly effective enquiry-based learning experience and is increasingly being utilised in medical schools internationally. In preparation for their summative examinations, senior medical students at the Sydney Medical School are required to assess their peers, alongside an academic co-examiner, in the formative long case examinations. This study sought to assess the level of agreement in marking and decision making between student peer and academic assessors, to evaluate the impact of peer assessment on examination performance and to investigate students’ perception of their experience as assessors.

Methods: Medical students examined their peers, alongside an academic co-examiner. We randomly allocated half of the student participants to examine a peer, alongside an academic assessor, prior to being examined themselves. The level of agreement in marking was determined by comparing the independent marking sheets of student and academic co-examiners. Data on whether the student was examined before or after assessing a peer (order of examination) were collected and compared to measure whether prior participation as a peer assessor improved student examination performance. Questionnaires and focus group discussions were used to evaluate student peer assessor perceptions.

Results: Over a 3-year period (2010 to 2012), 197 students participated as co- examiners and were also examined by their peers, with students marking significantly more leniently than their academic co-examiners. Order of examination had no significant bearing on student examination performance. Students identified several benefits of acting as an examiner, including better insight into examination technique, opportunities for self-reflection and knowledge acquisition, and development of some of the attributes of professionalism. However, students identified difficulty in providing critical feedback to peers.

Conclusion: Engagement as an assessor alongside an academic supervisor provides a rich learning experience for students. Additional training in both peer assessment and feedback may increase students’ professional and educational outcomes for future iterations of the activity. 


peer assessment; peer assisted learning; medical students; long case examinations

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