Sociolinguistic factors affecting performance in the Clinical Skills Assessment of the MRCGP: a mixed-methods approach

Kamila Hawthorne, Celia Roberts, Sarah Atkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Differential performance in clinical skills assessments is a widespread phenomenon, for which there remain few explanations. Aim To better understand the conversational contexts of simulated consultations and how candidates actually behave in these consultations and to determine sociolinguistic factors for high- and low-performing candidates. Design & setting Taking the Membership of the Royal College of General Practitioners' (MRCGP) clinical skills assessment (CSA) examination as a model, this research applied sociolinguistic analyses to case videos of 198 consecutive candidates presenting for the CSA examination. Method Using a mixed-methods approach, both quantitative and qualitative sociolinguistics methodologies were combined to analyse video consultations, and findings were compared with those from group discussions with MRCGP examiners. Results There is more ‘talk’ in simulated consultations than in real life. On macroanalysis, there was little difference between poor- and well-performing candidates. However, microanalysis found subtle differences in structuring consultations, metacommunication, picking up cues, and misunderstandings with and giving explanations to patients. Formulaic talk, contrary to examiners’ perceptions was more common in successful candidates, but it was personalised and sited appropriately in the consultation. Conclusion This is an interactionally demanding form of clinical assessment, that requires giving support to candidates and a more analytic approach to the development of interpersonal skills. Sociolinguistic features of consulting to help trainers and candidates prepare for the CSA are identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice (Open)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Apr 2017

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