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Open Access Research article

Practice effects in medical school entrance testing with the undergraduate medicine and health sciences admission test (UMAT)

Ian B Puddey1*, Annette Mercer1, David Andrich2 and Irene Styles2

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

2 Graduate School of Education, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:48  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-48

Published: 12 March 2014

Abstract

Background

The UMAT is widely used for selection into undergraduate medical and dental courses in Australia and New Zealand (NZ). It tests aptitudes thought to be especially relevant to medical studies and consists of 3 sections – logical reasoning and problem solving (UMAT-1), understanding people (UMAT-2) and non-verbal reasoning (UMAT-3). A substantial proportion of all candidates re-sit the UMAT. Re-sitting raises the issue as to what might be the precise magnitude and determinants of any practice effects on the UMAT and their implications for equity in subsequent selection processes.

Methods

Between 2000 and 2012, 158,909 UMAT assessments were completed. From these, 135,833 cases were identified where a candidate had sat once or more during that period with 117,505 cases (86.5%) having sat once, 14,739 having sat twice (10.9%), 2,752 thrice (2%) and 837, 4 or more times (0.6%). Subsequent analyses determined predictors of multiple re-sits as well as the magnitude and socio-demographic determinants of any practice effects.

Results

Increased likelihood of re-sitting the UMAT twice or more was predicted by being male, of younger age, being from a non-English language speaking background and being from NZ and for Australian candidates, being urban rather than rurally based. For those who sat at least twice, the total UMAT score between a first and second attempt improved by 10.7 ± 0.2 percentiles, UMAT-1 by 8.3 ± 0.2 percentiles, UMAT-2 by 8.3 ± 0.2 percentiles and UMAT-3 by 7.7 ± 0.2 percentiles. An increase in total UMAT percentile score on re-testing was predicted by a lower initial score and being a candidate from NZ rather than from Australia while a decrease was related to increased length of time since initially sitting the test, older age and non-English language background.

Conclusions

Re-sitting the UMAT augments performance in each of its components together with the total UMAT percentile score. Whether this increase represents just an improvement in performance or an improvement in understanding of the variables and therefore competence needs to be further defined. If only the former, then practice effects may be introducing inequity in student selection for medical or dental schools in Australia or NZ.