"NeXT Exam 2023: Neither Feasible nor Desirable" - 7 Questions to Consider in Medical Education

Career & Courses

 The proposed NeXT exam for MBBS admissions in 2023 has sparked confusion and anxiety among medical students all over the country. Many believe that changing the medical exam pattern to multiple-choice questions (MCQ) will have serious repercussions for the quality of education and the future of MBBS aspirants. In order to understand the potential consequences, we must consider several important questions.

Firstly, whose standards are being tested by this new exam? Is it the authorities who sanction the courses, the National Medical Commission (NMC) that sets the curriculum, the universities that conduct the exams, or the colleges that provide the courses? Testing students alone cannot ensure the standards of these institutions. It would be more appropriate to have mechanisms in place to evaluate and improve these systems, rather than burdening students who have already undergone a rigorous five-year course based on established standards.

Secondly, changing the exam pattern to MCQ format has significant implications. Previous years' results of MCQ-based PG entrance exams have shown that only around 25% of students scored 50% marks or higher. Considering that the NeXT exam will be a common test for both licensing and post-graduate entrance, similar standards can be expected. This raises the question of what the remaining 75% of students should do. After investing five years in a demanding course, they may end up being merely considered as having a high school qualification.

Another concern is how the PG seats will be filled if only 25% of students are expected to qualify the NeXT exam. Currently, the best students who meet a qualifying cutoff of around 30% secure PG seats. However, with such a low percentage expected to pass the NeXT exam, it raises doubts about how the remaining seats will be filled and the potential impact on the availability of interns and junior doctors. This could potentially lead to a collapse of both medical education and healthcare as a whole.

It is worth noting that the MBBS testing pattern has never been predominantly MCQ-based. Currently, only 10% of questions are multiple-choice, with the remaining 90% being subjective. This is justified by the nature of medical studies, where a subjective evaluation is essential. While it is understandable to have MCQ-based exams for post-graduate entrance, using the same format for medical licensing, especially with negative marking, is difficult to justify. MBBS students have been trained extensively in the subjective method, and neither students nor teachers are familiar with the MCQ format. This sudden change in exam pattern is likely to foster the growth of entrance coaching centers and divert students' focus from learning and acquiring clinical skills to memorizing entrance questions.

Additionally, while entrance exams are designed to be competitive and identify the best candidates, licensing exams should serve as qualifying exams to assess minimum essential skills. It is questionable whether both can be adequately tested using the same exam format. If MCQ tests are insisted upon for licensing, they should be distinct from the competitive PG entrance tests.

It is important to recognize that a student's ability to practice medicine is not solely determined by the exams they undergo. Their competence is derived from the course, curriculum, and training they receive. Being the topper in an exam does not necessarily equate to being the best doctor. The focus should be on maintaining the highest standards of medical education and ensuring a strong connection with society.

Lastly, it is paradoxical that the government is striving to liberalize medical education by opening more medical colleges to address the shortage of medical professionals, while simultaneously impeding trained graduates from practicing medicine. This approach risks wasting the significant investment made in medical education.

In conclusion, the introduction of the NeXT exam in 2023 raises several crucial questions regarding its feasibility and desirability. The potential impact on the quality of education, the distribution of PG seats, and the overall healthcare system needs to be carefully considered. It is essential to prioritize the evaluation and improvement of the medical education system itself rather than burdening students with an exam format that may not accurately assess their skills and competence.

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