Send to

Choose Destination
Cerebrovasc Dis. 2009;27(5):426-32. doi: 10.1159/000209237. Epub 2009 Mar 19.

Is the NIHSS certification process too lenient?

Author information

Stroke Sciences Group, Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, CA 94143-0114, USA.



The National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS) is a widely used measure of neurological function in clinical trials and patient assessment; inter-rater scoring variability could impact communications and trial power. The manner in which the rater certification test is scored yields multiple correct answers that have changed over time. We examined the range of possible total NIHSS scores from answers given in certification tests by over 7,000 individual raters who were certified.


We analyzed the results of all raters who completed one of two standard multiple-patient videotaped certification examinations between 1998 and 2004. The range for the correct score, calculated using NIHSS 'correct answers', was determined for each patient. The distribution of scores derived from those who passed the certification test then was examined.


A total of 6,268 raters scored 5 patients on Test 1; 1,240 scored 6 patients on Test 2. Using a National Stroke Association (NSA) answer key, we found that correct total scores ranged from 2 correct scores to as many as 12 different correct total scores. Among raters who achieved a passing score and were therefore qualified to administer the NIHSS, score distributions were even wider, with 1 certification patient receiving 18 different correct total scores.


Allowing multiple acceptable answers for questions on the NIHSS certification test introduces scoring variability. It seems reasonable to assume that the wider the range of acceptable answers in the certification test, the greater the variability in the performance of the test in trials and clinical practice by certified examiners. Greater consistency may be achieved by deriving a set of 'best' answers through expert consensus on all questions where this is possible, then teaching raters how to derive these answers using a required interactive training module.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for S. Karger AG, Basel, Switzerland Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center