Exploring the role of first impressions in rater-based assessments
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- Wood, T.J. Adv in Health Sci Educ (2014) 19: 409. doi:10.1007/s10459-013-9453-9
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Medical education relies heavily on assessment formats that require raters to assess the competence and skills of learners. Unfortunately, there are often inconsistencies and variability in the scores raters assign. To ensure the scores from these assessment tools have validity, it is important to understand the underlying cognitive processes that raters use when judging the abilities of their learners. The goal of this paper, therefore, is to contribute to a better understanding of the cognitive processes used by raters. Representative findings from the social judgment and decision making, cognitive psychology, and educational measurement literature will be used to enlighten the underpinnings of these rater-based assessments. Of particular interest is the impact judgments referred to as first impressions (or thin slices) have on rater-based assessments. These are judgments about people made very quickly and based on very little information. A narrative review will provide a synthesis of research in these three literatures (social judgment and decision making, educational psychology, and cognitive psychology) and will focus on the underlying cognitive processes, the accuracy and the impact of first impressions on rater-based assessments. The application of these findings to the types of rater-based assessments used in medical education will then be reviewed. Gaps in understanding will be identified and suggested directions for future research studies will be discussed.