Monday, December 27, 2010

Does it matter where I take the Exam?

Over all the years teaching Reviews for State and National Board Exams, it was (and is) common to hear rumors circulating about “The Test”. These misconceptions or assertions range from the inane to bizarre: 
...when in doubt answer “C”, or
 “the exam has a higher passing rate in the Spring as compared to the Fall”, or 
should I wear an American flag on my lapel if I want to pass”? (I am not kidding! This is an actual question I have been asked).
The Part 4 exam is no exception. I have been asked whether wearing a wedding band gives you an advantage (a hold-over from the days of the Florida State Board), or if Group A is a tougher exam as compared to Group B.
One of the most persistent rumors that I hear is that it is better to take the exam at Palmer College in Davenport. I have even had a number of people say that they heard that Davenport has a 100% passing rate!
The Genesis of the Rumor
As with all rumors, it may be impossible to track down the exact source of the rumor, but sometimes one can identify the circumstance or conditions leading to or influencing its origin. 
In June 2002, Life Chiropractic College lost its accreditation with the CCE. With Life’s survival in the balance, there was a massive diaspora of students transferring to the other Chiropractic Colleges across the country. There was a general sense that the CCE and/or National Boards were “after the Life students”.
Within a couple months students began asking whether or not they should take the Part 4 Exam at a location other than at Life College in Atlanta. The rationale being that the Board would be “out for anyone taking the test there”. The word was that the exam would be “harder” at Life College, or they would grade tougher. Many people told me they were not going to take a chance, so they would be taking the exam at a different location. People would say they heard “If you take the test at Life you are screwed”, or “you are guaranteed to pass if you take the test in Davenport”.
Is it True?
My response is probably not. 
First, since Part 4 is a standardized exam, it is not likely. The grading and the exam content is the same nationwide.  The Exam is designed to eliminate subjectivity as much as possible. Second, people taking the exam at a particular location are not necessarily students from that College (that is, there may be people from Palmer or Parker or Sherman who are taking the exam at Life College) making it difficult to target one group of people. Third, the results don’t support this theory.  Based on my experience speaking to many people (who have taken our Review or other Reviews; who have passed or failed the exam; who have taken the exam 2 or 3 times at different locations), empirically I can say I have never seen a different passing rate, (much less a significantly lower passing rate), anywhere else. 
In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary. Colleges are routinely given stats identifying their students’ scores and passing rates. There have been occasions, where Life College has been able to boast of the highest passing rate (I assume this number is based on Life students, and not all those taking the exam at Life College’s location) on a particular exam. And, I have even heard that during the May 2010 Part 4 exam at Life College, examinees were told by a Board member administering the exam that Life had the best results on the previous November 2009 test. Take the last comment for what it is are worth, but they are from multiple first-hand sources.
Granted, I don’t have “hard numbers” from the exam locations (these numbers are only released to the Colleges, with no identifying details except on their respective students). However, all evidence indicates this rumor is NOT true. More significantly, the only argument for this rumor is “I heard that…”. I have not heard a single piece of information, evidence or argument supporting the rumor. 
Ultimately, I tell the student to call the National Board directly and ask, “Is there an statistical advantage (or disadvantage) to taking the exam at a particular location”? Not once has anyone called to tell me that the Board has said anything to support this myth.
I will occasionally meet someone who, in spite all this evidence, still wants to believe that avoiding one location, and taking the exam at another is key to their success. They want to believe that there is some secret to passing, other than knowledge, competence or ability. I tell them to take the test where they want. I suppose there might be a small edge psychologically in the belief of that rumor. However, this supposed edge will be no better than believing it is better to take the test during a full moon, or taking your lucky rabbit’s foot, or if your horoscope says it will be a good day.

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