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Teach Learn Med. 2006 Winter;18(1):50-7.

Procedures for establishing defensible absolute passing scores on performance examinations in health professions education.

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  • 1Department of Medical Education, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60612-7309, USA.



Establishing credible, defensible, and acceptable passing scores for performance-type examinations in real-world settings is a challenge for health professions educators. Our purpose in this article is to provide step-by-step instructions with worked examples for 5 absolute standard-setting methods that can be used to establish acceptable passing scores for performance examinations such as Objective Structured Clinical Examinations or standardized patient encounters.


All standards reflect the subjective opinions of experts. In this "how-to" article, we demonstrate procedures for systematically capturing these expert opinions using 5 research-based methods (Angoff, Ebel, Hofstee, Borderline Group, and Contrasting Groups). We discuss issues relating to selection of judges, use of performance data, and decision-making processes.


Different standard-setting methods produce different passing scores; there is no "gold standard." The key to defensible standards lies in the choice of credible judges and in the use of a systematic approach to collecting their judgments. Ultimately, all standards are policy decisions.

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