February 25, 2017

You can’t quantify personality

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Grading a test is a lot easier than grading someone’s personality.  

According to researchers at Western University, Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores and grade point averages (GPA) are given too much weight over personality when considering which students should be offered admission to medical school. 

“You can be smart and write a hell of an exam, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can do the job,” said Mitch Rothstein, one of the researchers, in Western News. “But you add a personality equation, and it adds a little bit of predictability.” 

A single number isn’t indicative of who you are or how well you can interact with someone, but the emphasis on grades — objective and quantifiable numbers — for medical school prospects is warranted. 

First of all, getting into medical school is already inaccessible to the average person. Studying for the MCAT, fine-tuning applications, and practising for interviews already makes for a tenuous process without having applicants showcase a winning personality on top of it all. 

As well, MCAT scores and GPAs are a lot less arbitrary than simply numbers on a piece of paper. A book may not teach you everything you need to know about being a good doctor, but a doctor who can accurately diagnose a patient and knows everything about their specialization may be more important than one who completed medical school with a smile. 

The premise behind this research study also makes the assumption that some people are just inherently better doctors due to their personality, regardless of academic standing. 

However, it should be a school’s objective to teach people how to be good doctors, not screen based on the assumption that what you need to be a good doctor can’t be taught and is inherent. The job of medical school admissions offices is to choose the people most fit to learn how to be good doctors, including their bedside manner, not judge their favourite.  

The key is in the balance between the two. Personality matters, but so do the test scores and grades that medical school hopefuls break their backs to achieve. 

In fact, most medical school applications already include one or two rounds of in-person interviews, in which students are judged on their answers to both general and situational questions. 

But, standardizing assessments of applicants’ personalities any further, while still being fair to everyone, would be difficult for medical school admissions officers. 

If the people facilitating interviews are also meant to judge who has the best personality, there are cultural biases that can come into play. 

Standards of personality such as those quoted in the study, calmness, social confidence and tolerance for example, aren’t universal. International students may be qualified and willing to learn, but could face setbacks for how they behave in an interview. 

Balancing the two criteria makes sense, but it can only be done if schools realize that measuring someone’s personality is a lot different than grading a multiple-choice test.

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