Kleinberg presenting at the Experimental Biology symposium in San Diego. (Photo credit: American Association of Anatomists; anatomy.org)

It’s no secret that medical school curriculum is tough. Between classroom time, clinical work, and studying, students at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine (BCOM) devote an average of 80 to 100 hours per week to their learning. They then must utilize all that knowledge and, not only pass more than a dozen exams in just the first semester, but also recall it years later during board exams and even further down the line as practicing physicians. The question begs to be asked: How do they remember it all?

During her second year of medical school, BCOM student Katherine Kleinberg embarked on a research project to determine if certain study methods are more beneficial than others in retaining information. Her project, titled “Efficacy of Collaborative Testing for Long-Term Retention of Medical Knowledge,” captured the attention of international researchers and she was selected by the American Association of Anatomists (AAA) as one of six education platform speakers at the Experimental Biology symposium in San Diego.

“This is one of the highest student awards offered by the AAA. It is an amazing accomplishment for a medical student who is balancing research with getting through the medical curriculum,” said BCOM Associate Professor of Anatomy Jennifer Eastwood, Ph.D. Dr. Eastwood and Associate Professor of Physiology David Rodenbaugh, Ph.D. served as faculty mentors for Kleinberg on the project.

Katherine Kleinberg (center) with faculty mentors Dr. Jennifer Eastwood and Dr. David Rodenbaugh.

Kleinberg’s interest in becoming a physician sprung from her experiences as a sports medicine trainer in high school. At BCOM, she said she found herself intrigued by the college’s collaborative testing program. In the introduction to her research project, Kleinberg explained collaborative testing as “a trending tool in higher education where two to three students are grouped together to complete an exam. Research has shown that collaborative testing enhances student learning when compared to individual testing. However, the existing literature does not address how collaborative testing affects long-term knowledge retention.”

For the mixed-method research project, first year medical students were given two course exams covering basic science knowledge of the kidney. After completing the exam, the collaborative testing groups reviewed and discussed the exam questions, but were never given the correct answers. The other group reviewed the questions with the correct answers provided. Eight months later, both student groups were given a post test to assess their long-term knowledge retention. Other data collected during the project included student responses to a survey.

Analysis of the data showed that the collaborative testing group engaged in much more discussion than the control group. While the final results showed no significant performance difference between the two groups on the initial exams, the post exam did indicate a significantly higher score on the collaborative testing questions. “This project led to an important finding that there was in fact a difference in long term retention of knowledge with collaborative testing,” Dr. Eastwood explained.

In her conclusion, Kleinberg also noted that the surveys indicated a desire on the part of the collaborative testing students to ultimately have the answer provided as that certainty of the correct response was critical to their learning. “Future research would include merging the exam testing strategies by having group testing work through the questions and reveal the correct answer with a scratch off sheet,” Kleinberg wrote. “This new approach could provide insight on how discussion and decision-making plays a role in long-term retention.”

After presenting at the Experimental Biology Symposium Kleinberg said she received a lot of positive feedback on her project and a request for a manuscript submission from an education journal. She was also awarded first place in the Medical Education category at BCOM’s first annual Medical Student Research Day.

While she’s currently interested in Emergency Medicine, Kleinberg said this experience has also fueled her long-held interest in academic medicine and she’s also planning to teach on the clinical side. Her mentors have no doubt she’ll succeed in whatever path she pursues. “Over the past two years, she has balanced this project with service activities and a challenging medical curriculum,” Dr Eastwood noted. “Katie really is an exceptional student.”