Comparing Exam Master Practice Exam Results to Board Success

Jul 3, 2018 | Customer Solutions

Our clients often ask us how to use the results of their students’ or residents’ Exam Master board practice exams to predict their performance on the actual board exam. For example, if a student achieves a score of 70% on our high-yield NCLEX-RN practice exam, what does that mean in terms of their likelihood of passing the actual NCLEX-RN? Good question!

Let us first briefly describe how we develop our practice exams. Exam Master’s many practice exams, which we have carefully developed for RN and PN Nursing, Physician Assistant, Pharmacy, and Medicine, are designed to give the student a realistic board exam experience prior to taking the actual board exam. A critical component of this experience is providing the student with a detailed diagnostic of their strengths and weaknesses in the content areas covered by the exam.

All of our practice exams are designed with these requirements in mind:

  1. Use the most current test plan to ensure that we are testing the concepts and constructs that are supposed to be tested.
  2. Employ processes for developing quality test items, including alternate test items when applicable (like NCLEX).
  3. Weight the exam by topic or subject based on the actual exam weighting (e.g., 18% of the questions should cover cardiology) when such weighting information is publicly available.
  4. Include the same number of questions as the actual board exam, when possible.
  5. Match the item types (often multiple choice) found on the actual exam, including a mixture of item types where applicable.

With these objectives in mind, we are confident that our practice exams cover the broad topics and subtopics found on the exams they are modeled after, providing the student with as close to the real board exam experience as possible. Of course, we do not have access to the specific contents of the board exam, so we make an educated judgment about what content should be covered.  This means that as a diagnostic tool, they are very helpful and they may even serve as a secondary predictive tool.

When extrapolating board exam results from practice exam results, we exercise a healthy caution due to two caveats: scaled scores and cut-off scores. Most standardized exams report scaled scores rather than the raw scores Exam Master reports. Scaled scores are obtained by statistically adjusting and converting raw scores onto a common scale to account for differences in difficulty across different forms. A cut-off (or cut) score is a score that a student must earn to pass the exam: to be considered proficient. Cut scores are determined through a variety of means. The Angoff method, for example, involves a panel of experts estimating the probability of a minimally qualified candidate answering a given item correctly.

Comparing the results of one of our practice exams to those of the actual exam would require rigorous controls to be put in place. A primary reason we do not claim to predict board scores based on practice exam results is because these exams are accessed under a wide variety of circumstances that are generally outside of our control. Some students may be accessing these exams in study mode; some students may review one of our practice exams more than once; some students may have already reviewed some of the practice exam questions from our discipline-specific question banks.

Our practice exams offer key benefits to our end users, both helping them to identify their strengths and weaknesses and providing realistic board exam practice before they sit for the actual exam. In fact, students have often reported to us that our practice exams are more rigorous than what they end up experiencing on the real thing! That’s why we say, “If you can do Exam Master, you can do the boards!”

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