The American Physiological Society Press Release

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Standardized-Exam Development Approach Improves Classroom Exams

Madison, Wis. (June 21, 2016)—Blueprinting, an exam-writing strategy most often used to create high-stakes standardized exams, may improve consistency of exams in the classroom year to year. Thomas Pressley, PhD, of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, will discuss how he successfully predicted students’ performance on a first-year medical course exam he developed using blueprinting at the American Physiological Society’s Institute on Teaching and Learning Workshop in Madison, Wis.

“Blueprinting provides the framework for building a representative exam,” Pressley said. “Just as important, it helps ensure reproducibility in content and challenge across different versions of the exam. This allows comparisons across multiple years and student populations.”

Blueprinting involves listing the topics that will be covered on the exam and the percentage of the exam that will be devoted to each. “Although statistics allow the analysis of exams after students take them, faculty often do an inconsistent job when building the exam,” Pressley wrote. When writing exams, most instructors “rely on rules of thumb such as three questions per lecture hour,” he said. However, increasing use of teaching methods that are not based on lectures makes these rules less practical. In addition, year-to-year inconsistencies often lead to revision of scores based on students’ performance, and students frequently cite ambiguities in exam questions and inappropriate emphasis as sources of anxiety and stress.

When Pressley used the blueprinting approach to develop the cardiovascular physiology exam for his institution’s first-year medical school course, he accurately predicted student performance on the exam. Analyzing the previous year’s exam using this approach also estimated outcomes that were similar to the actual results. “These results suggest that blueprinting provides a robust means of predicting the exam’s outcome, and they argue that the routine use of blueprinting for in-house exams offers the potential to generate more consistent assessments across multiple years and classes,” Pressley wrote.

Pressley will present “Exam Blueprinting in a First-Year Medical School Physiology Course” as part of the “Best Practices in Professional School Physiology” poster session on Tuesday, June 21, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Ballroom of the Madison Concourse Hotel.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The second Institute on Teaching and Learning Workshop will be held June 20–24 in Madison, Wis. To schedule an interview with the conference organizers or presenters, contact the APS Communications Office or 301-634-7209. Find more research highlights in the APS Press Room.


Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,500 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.



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