Enhancing Examination Success: the Cumulative Benefits of Self-Assessment Questions and Virtual Patient Cases

Martha P. Seagrave, Lynn Foster-Johnson, John B. Waits, Katherine Margo, Shou Ling Leong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Research on the learning benefits of the feedback-rich formative assessment environment of virtual patient cases (VPCs) has largely been limited to single institutions and focused on discrete clinical skills or topical knowledge. To augment current understanding, we designed a multi-institutional study to explore the distinct and cumulative effects of VPC formative assessments and optional self-assessment questions (SAQs) on exam performance. Method: In this correlational study, we examined the records of 1,692 students on their family medicine (FM) clerkship at 20 medical schools during the 2014–2015 academic year. Schools utilized an established online curriculum, which included family medicine VPCs, embedded formative assessments, context-rich SAQs corresponding with each VPC, and an associated comprehensive family medicine exam. We used mixed-effects modeling to relate the student VPC composite formative assessment score, SAQ completion, and SAQ performance to students’ scores on the FM final examination. Results: Students scored higher on the final exam when they performed better on the VPC formative assessments, completed associated SAQs, and scored higher on those SAQs. Students’ SAQ completion enhanced examination performance above that explained by engagement with the VPC formative assessments alone. Conclusions: This large-scale, multi-institutional study furthers the body of research on the effect of formative assessments associated with VPCs on exam performance and demonstrates the added benefit of optional associated SAQs. Findings highlight opportunities for future work on the broader impact of formative assessments for learning, exploring the benefits of integrating VPCs and SAQs, and documenting effects on clinical performance and summative exam scores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)985-993
Number of pages9
JournalMedical Science Educator
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Enhancing Examination Success: the Cumulative Benefits of Self-Assessment Questions and Virtual Patient Cases'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this