Establishing the pass-fail cutoff score for an examination is accomplished through a process referred to as standard setting. A standard setting study involves convening a variety of experts and stakeholders in order to account for all aspects of the examination including the format and content of the exam, the candidate population, the necessary level of knowledge in the field, and the implications of various decision points and scores. Because these are high stakes examinations, the National Board uses only state of the art psychometric practices to set its standards and to maintain the integrity of the scores.
Licensure exams, such as the ones that the National Board administers, use criterion-referenced standard setting methods to determine the appropriate standard. These are best understood in contrast to norm-referenced exams. In norm-referencing, candidates are compared against one another and the pass rate is predetermined. Norm-referenced standards are appropriate in certain contexts, such as hiring for a job, awarding scholarships, or school admissions. Criterion-referencing is more appropriate for licensure because there is no limit to the number of candidates who can pass or fail. Each individual candidate's performance is compared to an absolute standard and not to the performance of other candidates.
In essence, the goal of criterion-referenced standard setting is to determine how much knowledge is "enough" in order to pass an exam. Then National Board uses different standard setting methods appropriate to the distinct formats of Parts I, II, and III to determine each cut score. Links to more detailed explanations of the pass-fail standard setting are provided below for each Part.
Although the National Board establishes overall pass-fail standards, it does not make licensure decisions. Licensure is the legal responsibility of the individual state boards, some of which require that candidates attain individual section standards. Therefore, it is possible for candidates to meet National Board, but not a state board's, standards. To avoid confusion, all candidates are advised to contact the administrative offices of the state boards to which they seek licensure to fully understand the manner in which National Board scores are utilized.
For a more detailed explanation of pass-fail standard setting for Part I, click here.
For a more detailed explanation of pass-fail standard setting for Part II, click here.
For a more detailed explanation of pass-fail standard setting for Part III, click here.
For a more detailed explanation of pass-fail standard setting for TMOD, click here.