The pursuit of fairness in assessment: Looking beyond the objective

Nyoli Valentine, Steven J. Durning, Ernst Michael Shanahan, Cees van der Vleuten, Lambert Schuwirth

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

13 Citations (Scopus)


Health professions education has undergone significant changes over the last few decades, including the rise of competency-based medical education, a shift to authentic workplace-based assessments, and increased emphasis on programmes of assessment. Despite these changes, there is still a commonly held assumption that objectivity always leads to and is the only way to achieve fairness in assessment. However, there are well-documented limitations to using objectivity as the ‘gold standard’ to which assessments are judged. Fairness, on the other hand, is a fundamental quality of assessment and a principle that almost no one contests. Taking a step back and changing perspectives to focus on fairness in assessment may help re-set a traditional objective approach and identify an equal role for subjective human judgement in assessment alongside objective methods. This paper explores fairness as a fundamental quality of assessments. This approach legitimises human judgement and shared subjectivity in assessment decisions alongside objective methods. Widening the answer to the question: ‘What is fair assessment’ to include not only objectivity but also expert human judgement and shared subjectivity can add significant value in ensuring learners are better equipped to be the health professionals required of the 21st century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-359
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number4
Early online date1 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • assessment
  • Clinical
  • general
  • postgraduate
  • undergraduate


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