What are Experimental Questions in USMLE?
When I first heard about experimental questions, the first questions that came to mind are:
- What is the experiment?
- What are they experimenting on?
- Why are they included in the USMLE?
Like most people I started my research by going online visiting forums and blogs. After sifting through various viewpoints, this is what I learned.
So, What are experimental questions?
They are normal multiple choice questions that are included in the USMLE exams. However they are not included in the computation of your scores. They comprise about 10% of all questions in the typical USMLE exam set. Contrary to popular misconception, they can be easy or hard. If you want to know the reasons why the USMLE includes experimental questions and how that impacts your test preparation strategy, then read on.
Why the USMLE includes experimental questions?
In order to understand why experimental questions exist we need to understand the mandate of the USMLE from the NBME. The USMLE was tasked to create an examination which would allow 90% of all American medical students to pass.
In order to fulfill this mandate, the USMLE needed to make sure the questions are neither too hard nor too easy but just right. They also needed to be able to make sure that even though students get different sets of exam the results must be comparable not only between students who took the exam within the same year, but also between students who take the exams on different years.
So how does the USMLE insure that the questions are not too hard or too easy but just right?
If you think they organized a panel of experts to decide, you are only partially right. After a panel has selected the questions to be included in the exam, they are subjected to rigorous testing in order to ascertain the level of difficulty of that particular question. The test subjects are the actual people taking the exam. They are included as experimental questions in the exam sets and therefore not graded. They comprise around 10% of the question in the typical exam set.
Once they have determined the difficulty of the question it’s either rejected for being too easy or too hard or added to the question pool and now are scored.
How does Experimental Questions affect your Exam Taking Strategy?
Knowing not all the questions are scored tells you that you should not spend too much time on any one question. For all you know, it may be the experimental one and will not be scored. It’s more important to make sure that you don’t leave any question blank. You have a better chance of scoring that way.
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