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Featured Educator Describes Role and Use of Self-Assessment Exams in Candidate Preparation

Ashley B. Thrasher, EdD, LAT, ATC, CSCS is an assistant professor and program director (PD) for the athletic training program in the School of Health Sciences at West Carolina University (WCU) in Cullowhee, North Carolina. During her time at WCU, she has worked to strongly support students on their path to becoming Certified Athletic Trainers. We asked Ashley some questions about her PD role, as well as some insight into how her department has been able to expand their support of students effectively using BOC resources, including the Self-Assessment Exams (SAEs).


How long have you been a PD at this institution? Describe your role?

I have been at Western Carolina University for six years. I became the PD in Spring 2020. My role is to teach courses, mentor and advise students and provide program leadership, including curriculum oversight, recruitment, program planning and evaluation, admissions, outreach and maintaining accreditation.


In your role as PD do you teach any classes? If so, which one(s)?

I teach Emergency Procedures in Athletic Training, Therapeutic Interventions, Orthopedic Assessment and Treatment (with a focus on biomechanics, hip and shoulder), Evidence-Based Practice II (Research Methods) and Transition to Professional Practice.


How many students are currently in your AT program?

We currently have 24 students.


How do you prepare your students for the BOC exam? What tools and resources do you use?

We use a myriad of methods and tools to help our students prepare for the BOC exam. During one of the classes in their final year, we introduce the BOC resources including the BOC Candidate Handbook, BOC Candidate To-Do List, the current BOC Practice Analysis, BOC Exam Reference list and BOC Exam Style Guide. We also share the YouTube resource video that outlines how to create a profile, as well as how to apply and register for the BOC exam. One of their required textbooks is an Exam Study Guide. With all of these resources, the students identify and develop a BOC study plan.

One of the first assignments in one of their final semester courses is to take the BOC Professional Development Needs Assessment. While this is geared towards Certified Athletic Trainers for professional development, it helps our students review all the different areas of the practice analysis and see where they should focus their energies while studying. This helps inform their study plan. During this course, we also have in-class review sessions, assignment reviews and games such as Kahoot of Jeopardy to supplement preparation.

Another assignment that we have our students do is write test questions on a certain topic, using the BOC Exam Development Style Guide, that way they learn how questions are structured. Once all the students complete their test questions, the faculty review the questions and they are put into an online test format through our learning management system. Students are required to pass two of these practice exams. They are given unlimited attempts. The more practice exams they take, the more confident they are!


How do you use the BOC SAEs?

Our program has used the SAEs to help our students understand how questions are formatted and how the BOC exam runs. One thing we have found is that our students know the material, but they get so stressed out with such a high-stakes exam. So, we try to give them as many practice exam opportunities with this tool as possible so they can get comfortable with the format. We have used the SAEs in class. The students will take an SAE in “study mode” which allows them to see the correct answers and references. Taking SAEs allows students to gain confidence and understanding of how the exam is administered. Students also have the opportunity to take additional SAEs in “test mode”, which provides them insight into needed areas of study.

At my previous institution, all students were required to complete a BOC SAE in “test mode” during class in a campus testing center, which simulated the testing environment. All students were required to pass the BOC SAE as a part of their final semester course.

In my experience with the SAEs in our program, it helps students become familiar with the test format, which is key. Additionally, students realize that the BOC is not trying to “trick” them. They see easier questions and think they are a trick or a trap. By understanding that some questions might be a little bit simpler, they realize they do not need to overthink everything and go with the answer that makes the most sense.


Please provide some tips for how program directors can prepare students for entering the real world (e.g., completing the BOC paperwork post-exam, state licensure/registration/certification, NPI numbers).

In my experience, using the BOC resources has been so helpful as students get ready to enter the “real world” of athletic training. The BOC Candidate To-Do List is an extremely helpful resource to provide to students to ensure they know what to do.

Our program also requires all students to obtain an NPI number during their first semester. We then review how to change the NPI profile information from a student to a certified professional. By making this an assignment, it ensures that our graduates all have their NPI.

Our program has a “transition to practice” class during the final semester, which is specifically designed to prepare students to make the transition from student to professional. We discuss topics such as licensure, decision-making, interprofessional communication, developing relationships, finding a mentor, conflict management and what to expect during the hiring and onboarding process. If the program does not have a specific course to address these topics, they should be incorporated into the program somewhere to support students as they transition from student to professional. Some ideas can be developing assignments on licensure or CEUs, developing standardized patient or simulation experiences for various transition challenges (e.g., communication, conflict management) and helping students navigate the various resources from the Strategic Alliance partners.

During their final transition to practice course, students complete a licensure assignment to determine requirements and necessary documents for the state they want to work in following graduation. They start compiling the resources so that when they are ready, they can submit the necessary documents to obtain their license.

Additionally, the last time I reported my Continuing Education Units (CEUs), I completed an online lecture to show my students how to report CEUs. I walked through the process and what information was needed. The students found this useful so they could see how they would need to complete them in the future (and what documents they need to keep!)


Do you have any tips or suggestions for other PDs?

If you have not already, find a group of other PDs to provide support and collaboration. I am part of a group that all became PDs around the same time. We meet and discuss challenges, brainstorm ideas and provide general support. Whenever I have a question or need to get input from others, I can reach out to my PD support group. This group is fantastic!

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