Short answer questions (SAQs) are one of the main forms of assessment throughout the first and second years of the medical degree at Barts and the London. As well as testing students' understanding of medical science, SAQs can also require this knowledge to be applied to specific contexts and situations. Answers range from a few words to a short paragraph; and it is writing concise, comprehensive and relevant responses in the longer answers that staff in the medical school identified as a problem area.
Guided by Dr Mark Carroll, we analysed batches of students' SAQ scripts. We identified features of the questions and answers, such as broad types of questions, features of strong and weak answers, gaps or inconsistencies in the content - and put together a session for 350 second years. We chose two example questions with a range of students' answers, and, combined with other activities, asked students to mark the answers and discuss their strengths. Without the participation of Dr Carroll, it would have been impossible to teach this session effectively: the detailed discussions about content, what and why an answer got the mark it did, etc, were not questions a 'writing specialist' could answer on their own.
Although we experimented with running the workshop in smaller seminar groups, we found that the co-taught lecture to the much larger group worked equally well - especially as it has now been supplemented by an online self-access resource, Writing Better SAQs - Biochemical Metabolism, The School has now also extended the SAQ support to first year students with a resource called Writing Better SAQs - Fundamentals of Medicine.
Teaching staff in the medical school feel that the attention that they have been paying to SAQ writing with Thinking Writing's help has had a positive impact on their students' achievement saying:
"We had the highest SAQ average on the FunMed ICA that we have had for at least four years!"