PRIVATE coaching is unlikely to boost prospective medical students’ chances of being accepted into medical programs, say researchers who warn that students may be wasting their time and money on coaching.
In a short research report published this week in the MJA
, researchers evaluated the results of applicants to Western Sydney University in 2014. (1)
They found no statistical difference between coached (n = 122) and non-coached (n = 222) interviewees on any of the three Undergraduate Medical and Health Sciences Admissions Test (UMAT) scores or Multiple Mini Interview scores.
Although the coached group had higher academic university entrance ranking (ATAR) scores, they were no more likely to be accepted into the medical program than students who had not been coached.
“Applicants who are likely to be shortlisted for interviews and yet feel the need for UMAT coaching may be less confident in their own ability or more susceptible to industry advertising — but the time and money spent on commercial coaching appears to be misdirected”, the researchers wrote.
Professor Richard Murray, dean of medicine and dentistry at James Cook University, said the findings provided some reassurance that those who wanted to “play by the rules” would not be disadvantaged.
“Debunking the myth that expensive private coaching will help [prospective students] on an admission test is important for the integrity of the selection process and for the wallets of prospective students and parents”, said Professor Murray, who is also vice-president of Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand.
“The industry being created around trying to gain entry [to medical programs] is not only inherently unfair — because it attempts to tip the scales towards those with resources — but it also doesn’t work.”
Lead author of the MJA article Associate Professor Barbara Griffin, director of organisational psychology at Macquarie University, said the coaching industry had made strong claims about its outcomes, but these findings added to evidence that coaching was largely ineffective.
“Universities would now be fairly comfortable that students are not being advantaged by doing coaching”, Professor Griffin told MJA InSight.
She said evidence of poorer academic performance among medical students who had been coached for UMAT compared with those who had not been coached indicated that any increase in scores due to coaching did not represent true ability, but “test wiseness”. This had, in part, prompted Western Sydney University to devise a metric to reduce the proportion of coached students being put forward for interviews.
Professor Griffin said this had seen the proportion of coached students being invited to interview at the university drop from 51.4% in 2008 to 35.5% in 2014.
She said students who performed well across all areas of UMAT had an equal chance of being selected for interview, whether or not they had been coached. “Research suggests, over a number of studies, that if someone does very well across all aspects of the UMAT then their performance is most unlikely to be due to coaching.”
James Lawler, president of the Australian Medical Students’ Association, said the research sent a clear message to prospective students that there was “little to no” benefit in seeking out commercial coaching.
“The lack of evidence for the effectiveness of these coaching courses means that the only winners are the business owners who are selling them”, he said.
Mr Lawler said coaching towards a test discounted other important attributes required in medical practice, such as emotional intelligence.
“With the vast number of students trying to gain entry to medicine, UMAT has a place in screening applicants”, Mr Lawler said. “But universities should focus more on their own interview processes and other procedures to find the best candidates for their degree than on UMAT.”
Professor Murray said the findings had a broader significance as medical schools developed innovative ways to select students who more closely reflected the community.
“If we have an admission process that overwhelmingly favours the sons and daughters of an affluent elite who are predominantly based in large cities — as we have done in the past — then we should not be surprised that the choices graduates make are not necessarily aligned to priority community needs”, he said.
“This is publicly funded medical education and it has to be administered in ways that are fair and transparent. It isn’t only about narrow forms of scholastic achievement or performance on tests; it has to be a broader metric.”
(Photo: Syda Productions / shutterstock)