Take a moment to think about your favorite coach. Many of us can recall an unflappable leader from our days on an athletic team. Coaching luminaries such like Vince Lambordi (football), Pat Summitt (basketball), and Dan Gable (wrestling) transcended not only their sport but all sports. Whether it is the first day of the “Pee Wee” league or an Olympic finals, coaching is synonymous with sport. Few of us have achieved, or could achieve, anything of athletic significance without a coach by our side.
Parents of young children are also acutely aware of the impact of coaching; currently coaches, tutors, and trainers represent a growth industry aiming to help young people get better at almost anything. Whether it is a stronger backhand, playing the piano, or prepping for a spelling bee, there are coaches available to help. A memorable example from my childhood occurred between sets at a U14 (under age 14) summer tennis tournament. After dropping the first set, my opponent took out a pack of laminated flashcards and started yelling at himself. Not to worry, his mother assured the horrified parents nearby, he was simply performing drills as assigned by his anger coach.
While coaching is common for athletes and affluent children, professional students seem to lose their receptiveness to coaching outside of well-defined, and socially acceptable, scenarios. Medical students and resident physicians are highly receptive to being coached on the physical skills of surgery (suturing, knot tying, etc.) while simultaneously being unreceptive to coaching for test taking purposes. For some reason the use of a testing coach is frequently considered remedial, unnecessary, or embarrassing. Such an attitude is self-sabotage and frequently negatively impacts the very students who could benefit the most.
Failing to utilize test-specific coaching for exams represents a tremendous opportunity squandered, especially in the hyper-competitive world of high-stakes multiple choice exams. Professional students are frequently left without clear guidance when preparing for the most consequential exams of their lives. Worse still, many students will simply repeat their ineffective past practices simply because they haven’t been exposed to more effective test prep strategies. Education leaders should recognize the test takers’ dichotomy—acceptance of coaching for technical skills but apprehension of coaching for test prep—and offer test specific coaching to all students. It is important to destigmatize coaching for students of all ability levels and stages of training. Surgeon and author Atul Gawande recently summarized the appropriateness of coaching stating, “everybody needs a coach. Everyone.”
While the market for anger coaches may be limited, the market for outstanding medical test prep coaches is enormous. Just as Olympic glory is determined by the cumulative impact of years of training decisions, so too is multiple choice test success determined by an examinee’s willingness to utilize all available resources. Do you want to go for gold? Get a coach.
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