For 35 years, McMaster University’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine used the traditional method of interviewing medical school applicants: Candidates sat in
a room for half an hour with three or four interviewers, fielding
a range of impromptu questions meant to determine their
personal fitness as future physicians.
That changed in 2004 when the Canadian medical school
instituted a new interviewing process developed by its faculty.
Called the Multiple Mini Interview, or MMI, it uses a kind of
“speed-dating” technique that allows applicants to visit some
10 different stations, each with a different interviewer who
poses predetermined questions in such areas as ethical and
moral reasoning, responsibility, teamwork and communication
The method is fairer to applicants, says McMaster professor
emeritus Jack M. Rosenfeld, PhD, who helped to develop
the protocol. Because each station provides a fresh start,
applicants are able to show their strengths and weaknesses
more accurately than the single “hot-seat” approach allows, he
says. It also gives applicants a chance to compensate for a lack
of knowledge or experience in one area by shining in another,
More than 85 studies from around the world support
the team’s hypothesis that the method captures more of a
candidate’s actual strengths and weaknesses than traditional
interviews, particularly in nonacademic but relevant “soft skills”
areas such as the ability to communicate clearly, accurately and
empathetically, Rosenfeld says. That includes a 2012 article in
the Journal of the American Medical Association by Kevin W. Eva,
PhD, Harold I. Reiter, MD, Jack Rosenfeld, PhD, Kien Trinh, MD,
Timothy J. Wood, PhD, and Geoffrey R. Norman, PhD, which
found that applicants who passed the McMaster MMI did better
on portions of the licensing exam that assessed these kinds of
skills four years later than those who didn’t pass the MMI but
were admitted to other medical schools.
Others agree: The MMI is now being used in medical
schools, schools of pharmacy, and medical residency and
physician-assistant programs throughout the world.
The MMI is one of myriad so-called noncognitive tests
or assessment methods that are starting to be employed in
academic settings, some more rigorously tested than others.
Generally imported from the business world, these types of
assessments — many of which are taken like regular tests, via
paper and pencil or online — are now being considered for use
by educators and college and university admissions officers.
Despite the common label “noncognitive,” such tests
actually assess a wide range of success-related noncognitive
and cognitive factors, field experts say. These include skills
such as critical thinking and creativity; behaviors such as
conscientiousness, reliability and good study habits; and values
and attitudes such as integrity and honesty. Because the term
“noncognitive” does not adequately capture the breadth of
what these tests cover, researchers are starting to use such
terms as “nonacademic” to better describe their range. The key
difference is that noncognitive (or nonacademic) tests measure
personal qualities, skills or behaviors related to academic
success rather than discrete academic knowledge or reasoning
in areas like math or biology.
A new take on
Psychologists, medical educators and other behavioral scientists are
By Tori DeAngelis
helping to develop so-called noncognitive tests for college admissions
and other educational purposes. Their aim is to gauge behaviors, values and
other nonacademic skills that may indicate school success.