Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 291–303 | Cite as

Exploring the impact of mental workload on rater-based assessments



When appraising the performance of others, assessors must acquire relevant information and process it in a meaningful way in order to translate it effectively into ratings, comments, or judgments about how well the performance meets appropriate standards. Rater-based assessment strategies in health professional education, including scale and faculty development strategies aimed at improving them have generally been implemented with limited consideration of human cognitive and perceptual limitations. However, the extent to which the task assigned to raters aligns with their cognitive and perceptual capacities will determine the extent to which reliance on human judgment threatens assessment quality. It is well recognized in medical decision making that, as the amount of information to be processed increases, judges may engage mental shortcuts through the application of schemas, heuristics, or the adoption of solutions that satisfy rather than optimize the judge’s needs. Further, these shortcuts may fundamentally limit/bias the information perceived or processed. Thinking of the challenges inherent in rater-based assessments in an analogous way may yield novel insights regarding the limits of rater-based assessment and may point to greater understanding of ways in which raters can be supported to facilitate sound judgment. This paper presents an initial exploration of various cognitive and perceptual limitations associated with rater-based assessment tasks. We hope to highlight how the inherent cognitive architecture of raters might beneficially be taken into account when designing rater-based assessment protocols.


Assessment Clinical performance Competence Rater cognition Mental workload Performance assessment 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Community and Health StudiesCentennial CollegeTorontoCanada
  2. 2. Wilson Centre for Health Professions Education ResearchUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Centre for Health Education Scholarship, Department of MedicineUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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