BACKGROUND: Student peer assessment (SPA) has been used intermittently in medical education for more than four decades, particularly in connection with skills training. SPA generally has not been rigorously tested, so medical educators have limited evidence about SPA effectiveness. METHODS: EXPERIMENTAL DESIGN: Seventy-one first-year medical students were stratified by previous test scores into problem-based learning tutorial groups, and then these assigned groups were randomized further into intervention and control groups. All students received evidence-based medicine (EBM) training. Only the intervention group members received SPA training, practice with assessment rubrics, and then application of anonymous SPA to assignments submitted by other members of the intervention group. RESULTS: Students in the intervention group had higher mean scores on the formative test with a potential maximum score of 49 points than did students in the control group, 45.7 and 43.5, respectively (P = 0.06). CONCLUSIONS: SPA training and the application of these skills by the intervention group resulted in higher scores on formative tests compared to those in the control group, a difference approaching statistical significance. The extra effort expended by librarians, other personnel, and medical students must be factored into the decision to use SPA in any specific educational context. IMPLICATIONS: SPA has not been rigorously tested, particularly in medical education. Future, similarly rigorous studies could further validate use of SPA so that librarians can optimally make use of limited contact time for information skills training in medical school curricula.
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