Time's Ticking: The Influence of Time on Practical Exams

Coleman, Margaret, and Judy Kwapis-Jaeger

Various testing methods are used to assess dental and dental hygiene students understanding of

concepts and attainment of knowledge as they progress through the curriculum.  One such evaluation method is a timed practical exam. Students move through a series of stations at designated time intervals and answer questions following interaction with a prop.  Does this type of exam tend to favor certain learning styles? Does the fact that there is a time factor influence a student’s success on the exam?  Previously reported research indicates that certain learning types perform better on written timed exams.  Does this hold true for practical exams?  If the time factor for completing each station was increased how would this influence student success? The purpose of this study was to assess if increasing the time element on a timed practical exam enhances student performance. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was administered over a ten year period (1998-2008) to dental hygiene students (n=304) during the first semester of class.  This data was analyzed and compared with the scores received on two practical exams administered in a dental anatomy course during the second semester of the curriculum.  Each practical exam consisted of 52 stations with two (2) items per station.  The first practical was administered during the eighth week of the semester and the second practical during the fourteenth week of the semester.  The time interval used from 1998 until 2004 (n=203) was 60 seconds and was increased to 90 seconds from 2005 until 2008(n=103).  Analysis using frequency distribution and chi square analysis was completed.  Personality types were identified and strength of individual preferences reported.  Data indicated the mean score on the first practical exam increased by 4.9 points when time was increased however the mean score on the second practical was exactly the same irregardless of the time factor.  Introverts consistently scored higher than extroverts on everything except the second practical at sixty seconds.  However when time was increased introverts did substantially better (three points higher) than extroverts owing to their increased time to process information.  Intuitives mean scores were higher than sensing types in all categories.  The T-F scale showed no significant difference.  On the J-P preference scale, J’s scored higher on everything except the second practical at sixty seconds consistent with timed exams on single subject matter.  Adequate time must be given to address needs of different learning styles, various methods of assessing students besides timed exams should be utilized, implementing a mock practical prior to actual practical exam may need to be implemented to increase students’ success.