What Is Longitudinal Assessment?

The ABMS Member Boards are exploring and piloting longitudinal assessment approaches to support continuing professional development as part of their continuing certification programs. Longitudinal assessment draws on the principles of adult learning combined with modern technology to promote learning, retention, and transfer of information. These approaches involve administering shorter assessments of specific content, such as medical knowledge, repeatedly over a period of time. Through a recurring examination process, concepts and information are reinforced so that knowledge is retained and accumulated gradually. Knowledge gained in this fashion can be more readily retrieved and applied to various situations.

VIDEO: David Swanson, PhD, retired ABMS Vice President of Academic Programs and Services, explains the concept of longitudinal assessment and the key benefits of applying it to physician testing, explaining that “longitudinal assessments draw on principles of adult learning and modern technology in order to promote learning, retention, and transfer of information to patient care situations.”

A fair amount of study also has been done to determine whether or not taking shorter exams is more or less effective than studying material for the same length of time. The results are consistent – repeated studying over the same length of time is nowhere near as effective as repeated examination over a period of time. It is particularly true when examination requires people to think through content and engage with the material and if it is spaced out over time.

VIDEO: Cees van der Vleuten, PhD, Professor of Education at the Maastricht University in the Netherlands, discusses the role of longitudinal assessment in monitoring core competencies (including professionalism, communication skills, teamwork) and improving them based on feedback. It has been shown that feedback improves performance, he says.

A variety of studies and literature support longitudinal assessment. Studies focused on medical professionals include a study published in Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare that found in more than 16 randomized trials, physicians improved long-term knowledge retention by answering questions over spaced intervals of time. Another study of medical students published in Medical Education found that testing in combination with explaining the information is the most effective way to drive long-term retention of information. The American Board of Anesthesiology, which offers a longitudinal assessment approach called the MOCA Minute®, found that Board Certified anesthesiologists who participated in the MOCA Minute outperformed non-participants on the Maintenance of Certification in Anesthesiology (MOCA) Cognitive Examination, according to a study published in Anesthesiology.