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A Statistical Look at What Students Do and Don’t Know


usa-iconDiscussing statistics will generally glaze over more eyes than Krispy Kreme glazes donuts, and is unquestionably less sweet, but it has been a particular fascination of mine because it appeals to both my mathematics and engineering background.  A couple weeks back, I wrote on the subject of ‘Learning from Failure’ as a preview to Pegasus Lectures’ February** Office Hours.

As referenced previously, Pegasus has labored compiling anonymized data from individuals and institutions to better prepare exam candidates for ultrasound credentialing and board exams for many, many years.  This analysis is valuable in identifying what test-takers trip up on most frequently.  The benefit to you individually, if preparing for a credentialing exam, is to learn from other students’ adversity rather than personally experiencing the pain.

While many people took advantage of the presentation last month, as well as those in attendance at the 2018 SDMS Annual Conference in Orlando, I was asked to summarize my presentation here in four or five “take-aways”.  As always, I encourage College Instructors and Program Directors to call our offices to discuss and consult on how Pegasus Lectures can make your program more successful and impactful in the professional lives of your students or staff.

What Studying Focus Results in the Greatest Score Improvement?

the-thinkerBy facilitating the administration of practice exams to individuals, corporate clients, and college programs, Pegasus Lectures has the ability to analyze thousands of scores.  By cross-correlating scores on subject topics between the different practice exams, it is possible to determine what area of study would most improve student scores.  Because of the presence of physics concepts in all specialty exams, and because of the difficulty people often have with physics concepts, improving physics knowledge has the greatest impact on success. Studying to improve the physics score also improves the scores on the specialty exams, in essence, as the adage goes, “killing two birds with one stone.”

Within the SPI Practice Test Results*, which Topics Produced the Lowest and Highest Percentage Correct Answers?

For the purposes of this statistical study, we divided questions into the following categories: Artifacts, Attenuation, Doppler, Mathematics, Transducers and Waves.  Questions relating to Artifacts scored the highest percentage correct. That Artifacts scored high (≈ 60%) was not particularly surprising because Visual Learning is (by a plurality) considered the most common learning style.  Sadly, questions relating to Doppler, Mathematics and Transducer concepts resulted in the lowest percentages, clustering around 43-44% correct.

While it came as no surprise that Doppler and Mathematics were challenging subjects for test-takers, the weakness on Transducer concepts was unexpected.  The implication, and an important take-away for prospective ultrasound test-takers, is that this subject may be under-appreciated as a vulnerability.transducer-results

Within Doppler-related Questions, which Sub-Topics Produced the Lowest and Highest Percentage Correct Answers?

doppler-imageAgain, consistent with a higher percentage of Visual Learners, Color-flow Direction and Spectrum Interpretation produced the best results for test-takers (≈ 60% again, coincidentally). Questions based on a student’s understanding of color frame rate, PRF and temporal resolution were the poorest results at nearly 30%.  Note these particular sub-topics associate with mathematical calculations.

Within Mathematics-related Questions, which Sub-Topics Produced the Lowest Percentage Correct Answers?

As I have written and spoken about this consistently over the past twenty years, this should surprise no one …. lower levels of math comprehension are the single greatest factor in poor outcomes on ultrasound certification exams.  The overall scores on math-related topics within our practice test study was around 44%It is the figurative anchor dragging students under the “Pass line”.  Even worse, scoring on the sub-topics of Dimensional Measurements (distance, area, and volume) and Logarithms/Decibels was under 30%!math-results

fmieleI don’t want to close this discussion on such a sour note, though.  Pegasus Lectures’ 20+ year commitment to individual customers, to college instructors, and to program directors is in facilitating math comprehension (and Physics…but that’s a story for another time) which quite often is merely refreshing concepts previously learned in high school.  Most of the apprehension felt toward mathematics by people isn’t related to intellectual incapability, but more likely a lack of exposure and practice … or simply the passage of time.  It’s an easier fix than you imagine.



Success is not final. Failure is not final.

It is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill

* Average score on SPI practice tests was 48%

**Watch for the posting of the full Office Hours lecture on our Free CME page.

Frank Miele, MSEE , President of Pegasus Lectures, Inc.  Frank graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College with a triple major in physics, mathematics, and engineering. While at Dartmouth, he was a Proctor Scholar and received citations for academic excellence in comparative literature, atomic physics and quantum mechanics, and real analysis. Frank was a research and design engineer and project leader, designing ultrasound equipment and electronics for more than ten years at Hewlett Packard Company. As a designer of ultrasound, he has lectured across the country to sonographers, physicians, engineers and students on myriad topics.

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