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Program prestige correlates to higher EPPP scores, study finds

Students from the most selective doctoral programs and those with higher GRE scores perform best on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), the multiple-choice exam psychologists are required to pass for licensure in all 50 states, according to a study in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice published in August. In addition, consistent with previous studies on EPPP performance, those from clinical programs scored higher than those from counseling and school psychology programs, and PhD students scored higher than PsyD students.

To determine the strongest predictors of performance on the EPPP, Brian Sharpless, PhD, of Washington State University, and Jacques P. Barber, PhD, of Adelphi University, aggregated data from several sources: the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board's (ASPPB) 2010 exam scores, Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers match rates for 2002 through 2012, and the 2008 and 2012 U.S. News and World Report doctoral program listings. The authors found that EPPP performance was most strongly related to higher GRE scores, better U.S. News and World Report rankings and competitive programs with low admissions rates. "Interestingly, and somewhat paradoxically, the programs that are most focused on producing academic researchers usually outperform the programs that are intended to prepare their students for practice-focused careers," says Sharpless.

The findings, say the authors, raise questions about the test's validity since the field of professional psychology practice values interpersonal skills and a capacity for self-reflection more than test-taking ability and factual knowledge.

"Given that the EPPP is the most universal means of determining readiness to practice between state boards, and also given the fact that it has never undergone empirical testing to determine whether or not it possesses incremental, criterion or predictive validity, it is uncertain whether or not the EPPP is indeed an effective and valid instrument for our field," write the authors.

Similar concerns have been raised by licensure candidates too, says Stephen T. DeMers, EdD, chief executive officer of ASPPB, which administers the exam. But some of the criticism of the EPPP stems from misunderstanding, he adds. The EPPP was never intended as a test of someone's readiness to practice — which happens during supervised training in internship and graduate school — but rather as a test of the essential knowledge of the discipline that a practicing psychologist should have, he says. The EPPP has been the subject of numerous practice analyses that confirm its use as a valid measure of the essential knowledge necessary to practice psychology safely and effectively, says DeMers.

Still, ASPPB has been looking at ways to enhance the exam because the field has been shifting its focus to assessing competence. For example, an ASPPB task force is looking at ways to expand the exam to include questions with video and audio dramatizations that measure diagnosis and treatment expertise and adding a portfolio component, in which licensure candidates assemble video clips of their best clinical work for licensing board review. Another possibility ASPPB is exploring is the use of standardized patients — actors instructed to exhibit specific problems or computer-generated avatars programmed for specific behaviors — to evaluate how candidates handle patient interactions, as is done in medicine. "We are examining all the possibilities," says DeMers.