The Medical Educator’s Resource Guide

John R. Cotter, Ph.D.

The one thing students crave in a course in Histology is the opportunity to self-test. In so doing, the students anticipate being able to evaluate their preparation for an examination and getting a glimpse of what a histology examination might be like. The craving is understandable because many students, even those in professional school, may not have had a comparable course as undergraduates and do not know what to expect especially with respect to the laboratory-based questions that are typically used in a histology examination. There may even be the hope that the questions will be similar or identical to the ones that will be used by their instructors to assess achievement in the course especially if their instructors provide old examinations or practice questions.

In this issue of the Medical Educator’s Resource Guide, we review four websites that offer some degree of self-testing. One of the sites – – is a depository for examinations from many disciplines. The other websites give the user the opportunity to self-test in histology and are particularly strong as self-testing websites because the scope of the testing should give the user an indication of how well she or he understands basic concepts in histology.

If you are aware of a website that has the potential for being used by educators and students of the medical sciences, please consider contributing to the Guide. Instructions for submitting a review may be found at ( Send all submissions to (

Histology Home Page. The University of Oklahoma.

The authors of the Histology Home Page, Paul Bell and Barbara Safiejko-Mroczka, have created a self-instructional electronic laboratory manual and self-tests for the topics covered in their course in histology. There are three sections devoted to self-testing: “Unknown Sets”, “Practice Quizzes” and “Practice Exams”. With the exception of a sample final examination, the “Practice Exams” are closed to anyone from outside the course. The other two self-testing options offset the deficiency. In “Unknown Sets”, users are expected to answer image-based questions and encouraged to wait for feedback that comes in the form of a list of answers. The questions used under the heading of “Practice Quizzes” require users to respond to fill-in-the blank style questions. The approach is challenging but friendly: the user can check to see if an answer is correct, ask for help that takes the form of a hint as to how the term for a structure is spelled or the user can elect to immediately see the answer to a question. The large number of questions used in “Unknown Sets” and “Practice Quizzes” and the resemblance of the questions used in both of the quizzes to questions that are likely to be used by instructors at other schools make the time spent on these quizzes well spent. (Reviewed by John R. Cotter, Ph.D., University at Buffalo.) MedStudySites, LLC.

The MedStudySites manages a website directed toward health profession students. The site claims it is “aimed to perfect [student] understanding and retention of the most commonly tested material.” On the site, students can share study strategies, study guides, practice exams, and old exams in a multitude of disciplines, including Histology. The site has an easy-to-use navigation bar. The “How to Study Histology” section provides helpful study skills, especially for the beginning student and explains how to systematically approach the study of Histology. The site reminds students to correlate structure with function and that cells are actually dynamic structures, not flat pictures, as slides portray them. Furthermore, the site suggests that students remember to consider the stain and scale of what is seen. The “Study Guide” section of the site provides PDF study guides uploaded by other students. Depending on each student’s study style, this section could be helpful but is quite limited, providing only two study guides, one for the respiratory system and one for the esophagus and stomach. The “Histology Practice Test Questions” lists links to websites from various universities, including practice tests with images and tests without images. The linked sites vary in their level of detail and picture quality. Most of the sites allow for creation of quizzes: the quizzes can be made to include or exclude particular organ systems or tissue types. The sites without images provide a good test of how well a student has integrated the material taught in Histology with that taught in the other basic science courses. The “Old Exams” section of the histology site is comprised of old exams that students have submitted from Histology and Microscopic Anatomy courses. This section is very limited as well; to date, it contains only one exam that is of minimal benefit since the first 24 (out of 50) questions are to be answered in conjunction with slides that are not available on the site. If this section were expanded, it would be much more useful for students that would like to test themselves using material compiled from multiple professors. If medical educators submitted practice exams and old exams themselves, the site would be more valuable to students embarking on their study of the discipline of Histology. (Reviewed by Ashley Becker, B.A., University at Buffalo.)

The Student Source. University of Virginia School of Medicine.

The Student Source is an arm of the University of Virginia Health System homepage. Through the “Academics” dropdown submenu, students in the School of Medicine can link to course handouts, PowerPoint presentations and study aids. Although many of the links are integral to coursework at the Medical School and only available to those affiliated with the School, many of the other pages are accessible through the Internet. Outside users, for example, will find self-study questions and practice quizzes for several basic science subjects. The sections dealing with cell biology, histology and physiology are particularly useful and contain atlases, study questions and quizzes. The quizzes, which can be lengthy, are largely lecture-based but do contain a few laboratory-based images. (Reviewed by John R. Cotter, Ph.D., University at Buffalo.)

Welcome to Histology at SIU SOM. Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

Dr. David King’s treatment of practical histology is expansive and best suited to users who are familiar with histology.* By the same token, the website is ideal for students of histology who are looking for a way to test and evaluate their understanding of the terminology and concepts that form the foundation of the discipline. Look for the self assessment questions (SAQ) sections for each of the major topics covered by the website. The questions are multiple choice questions – there are no image-based questions. Dr. King points out that the questions are designed to reinforce the terminology that is applied to the structure of the cell and the architecture of the tissues and organs. He indicates that the level of difficulty may not reflect the level difficulty of the questions used in real histology examinations. Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine how using the self assessment tests would not help students prepare for an examination in histology. While the content of a single practice test or even multiple tests are unlikely to be broad enough to test complete mastery of the material, the website does make an attempt to do so by using a surprisingly large number of questions. (Reviewed by John R. Cotter, Ph.D., University at Buffalo.)

* Glomski, C.A. Welcome to Histology at SIU SOM. Medical Educator’s Resource Guide. Journal of the International Association of Medical Science Educators. 2004; 14 (2): 40.

Published Page Numbers: 140-141