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BMC Med Educ. 2006 Aug 18;6:42.

Assessment of examiner leniency and stringency ('hawk-dove effect') in the MRCP(UK) clinical examination (PACES) using multi-facet Rasch modelling.

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Department of Psychology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.



A potential problem of clinical examinations is known as the hawk-dove problem, some examiners being more stringent and requiring a higher performance than other examiners who are more lenient. Although the problem has been known qualitatively for at least a century, we know of no previous statistical estimation of the size of the effect in a large-scale, high-stakes examination. Here we use FACETS to carry out a multi-facet Rasch modelling of the paired judgements made by examiners in the clinical examination (PACES) of MRCP(UK), where identical candidates were assessed in identical situations, allowing calculation of examiner stringency.


Data were analysed from the first nine diets of PACES, which were taken between June 2001 and March 2004 by 10,145 candidates. Each candidate was assessed by two examiners on each of seven separate tasks. with the candidates assessed by a total of 1,259 examiners, resulting in a total of 142,030 marks. Examiner demographics were described in terms of age, sex, ethnicity, and total number of candidates examined.


FACETS suggested that about 87% of main effect variance was due to candidate differences, 1% due to station differences, and 12% due to differences between examiners in leniency-stringency. Multiple regression suggested that greater examiner stringency was associated with greater examiner experience and being from an ethnic minority. Male and female examiners showed no overall difference in stringency. Examination scores were adjusted for examiner stringency and it was shown that for the present pass mark, the outcome for 95.9% of candidates would be unchanged using adjusted marks, whereas 2.6% of candidates would have passed, even though they had failed on the basis of raw marks, and 1.5% of candidates would have failed, despite passing on the basis of raw marks.


Examiners do differ in their leniency or stringency, and the effect can be estimated using Rasch modelling. The reasons for differences are not clear, but there are some demographic correlates, and the effects appear to be reliable across time. Account can be taken of differences, either by adjusting marks or, perhaps more effectively and more justifiably, by pairing high and low stringency examiners, so that raw marks can be used in the determination of pass and fail.

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