From the founding of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) as an organization in 1989, there has been a general agreement that many of our students find the study of Human Anatomy and Physiology to be difficult. For some there is the difficulty in the sheer volume of new words to process and for most there is also a difficulty in conceptualizing the body as a set of integrated organ systems with interdependent processes necessary to sustain the life of the whole person. Partially to counteract grade inflation pressures on individual campuses, partially to justify requests for baseline prerequisite courses, and partially just for our own reference, there has been an ongoing desire for more “objective’ ways to know how well our students are doing. Out of this impulse the “HAPS Comprehensive Exam” was born in first draft around 1992 and piloted in June of 1993. I have great familiarity with the exam as I took over scoring the exam from Chris Farrell (Trivecca Nazerene University) and did all the central scoring of paper and pencil exams from the summer of 2007 through the spring of 2015, when the paper and pencil version was discontinued.
The exam has undergone several major revisions through time and has migrated from the original mail order, self-scored, paper and pencil form to a secure on-line testing environment. The HAPS Exam Program continues to write new questions and refine the scoring algorithm. Some questions (up to 20 per administration) are being tested for validity and reliability before being permanently added into the master question database. The exam has costs associated with the maintenance of the database, validation of new questions, test administration, and data analysis of the results. Consequently the exam is offered on a per-test fee basis to faculty and administrators at accredited institutions of higher education.
The HAPS exam is now a secure 100+ item test correlated to the HAPS Learning Outcomes for Undergraduate Anatomy and Physiology. It is currently the only validated means for obtaining comparison data across textbooks and publishers to help benchmark the performance of your students against the performance of other A&P students across the North American continent.
There are now several versions of the exam including the combined exam and subsets for A&P I only and A&P II only. Neither the complete exams nor the individual items contained in the exams are, or have ever claimed to be, perfect or without flaws. The HAPS exam is not an exhaustive examination of everything that your students actually know or even theoretically should know. The HAPS exam is not a substitute for a final exam targeted to your student population and your particular course. The HAPS exam score by itself in isolation is not a total representation of your students’ learning or the quality of your course(s). But in this era of assessment and accountability the HAPS Exam remains the only nationally normed and somewhat standardized examination over the content and concepts of Human Anatomy and Physiology.
What makes the HAPS Exam valuable?
The HAPS exam data is very useful in accreditation reports to validate efficacy of curriculum changes that have been made or to provide leverage to support requests for proposed changes. Sequentially administered test results over several years is a potentially powerful data source for answering the question, “How do you know it works?” Although administrators often find this the most compelling reason to justify the annual expense of the exam, I have found, personally, that the ability to gain perspective on my students’ performance to be of even more value.
I have found that the HAPS exam gives us at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy the opportunity to step back away from our local concerns and get a bit of perspective on how our students are actually doing. They may not be mastering the nervous system in the way we would like, but guess what? Turns out that many students across North America are struggling with that system. This doesn’t mean that we give up or quit trying. It just means that we have a more realistic sense of the challenge we are facing – not just at our school but across all of HAPS. If we are all having difficult in getting our students to deeply engage with a particular topic or system, I know I can go to the HAPS listserv (I still call it that) and ask around for what others are doing to address the issues we are facing. It is very empowering to know that neither I, nor my colleagues, nor my students as a group, are necessarily failing, even when I can see room for improvement in my students’ development of meaningful understanding of A&P. Perspective taking can be very powerful.
And if my/our students do particularly well in one area compared to the normed average? Well then I/we have the perfect topic/technique/workshop to share at the next HAPS annual meeting, or an article for HAPS Ed, or other publication! I can feel especially confident in offering my thoughts, suggestions and materials to others because I have evidence that what I and my colleagues are doing is helping our students meet not only our expectations, but allowing achievement at or above the national norm.
The more schools and students who participate, the more meaningful the results become. If you have not done so before, think about the HAPS exam this year.