It's academic: High marks beat interviews at predicting medical student success

Prior academic achievement is the most effective selection tool, a study suggests

You can do all the mock interviews and spatial reasoning tests you like, but a medical student’s academic record still wins top marks for predicting whether they will actually graduate, an Australian study shows.

Researchers tracked some 3380 students enrolled at five undergraduate medical schools in Australia and New Zealand from 2007-2010.

They found performance measured via an ATAR or GPA was the best predictor of whether a student would finish their course.

Yet the study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia, concluded there was "no gold standard” for assessing potential students.

“For both timely graduation and final clinical skills assessment, prior academic achievement (GPA or ATAR) was the most effective selection tool, with medium to very large effect sizes for all schools,” the researchers said.

Using scores from the UMAT test and selection interviews to choose medical school students had a smaller effect size.

If the objective was graduation, simple cut-scores would be a sufficient criterion for entry selection across the board, said Dr Paul Garrud, a principal research fellow at the University of Nottingham.

However, while selecting medical students on a single academic mark was a “beguiling” proposal for universities, applicants needed to be judged on both their cognitive ability and their personal qualities, he wrote in an editorial accompanying the study.

“An applicant might also be unsuitable because they lack essential behavioural attributes, perhaps to such a degree that the deficit is regarded as irremediable — for instance, serious or repeated criminal or antisocial behaviour, difficulty in perspective taking, black-and-white thinking, or lack of personal insight and reflection.”

Moreover, he said, different institutions have different requirements. One school might be geared towards training future researchers, another might want to prepare practitioners for rural and remote medicine.

These would both have different requirements, such as upbringing or schooling in rural areas, while a strong motivation to serve underprivileged communities for rural medicine could be better assessed in an interview or situated judgement test, he said.