Case Study Overview

What they are and why they're used

How to approach writing assessments that incorporate case studies. Often relevant within degrees that have a practical application.

Case studies are probably one of my favourite assessment tasks. They allow you to incorporate theoretical and practical knowledge and provide a really comprehensive overview of what you've learnt to date and what areas you might need to focus on into the future.

As a general rule these assessments provide an overview of a situation relevant to your discipline, include a lot of information that you need to review, understand and interpret and often ask how you might go about managing or responding to the situation in question.

For health students, case studies often include a patient history including allergies and medications, current physical and physiological symptoms and they might ask what would you do if you were the clinician? For education students, they often include previous student assessment data and ask how you can incorporate that previous data to influence learning and teaching approaches for the future and what aspects you might consider as focus areas.

These assessments are challenging for a few reasons:

  • a) Need to carefully review, understand and interpret the data that is presented
  • b) Your interpretation of that data guides your response to the situation. If wrong, often difficult to award marks, if right, can still be difficult to award marks dependent upon the priorities that you identify.
  • c) Require you to embed both the theoretical and practical knowledge and articulate these aspects well
  • d) Often favour those students who have more practical experience than other students

However, there's a few ways that might help get you started:

  • a) Brainstorm the case study or scenario with your peers. Understand what ideas jump out to them, why and discuss these to enhance your understanding if they might be new to you
  • b) If you happen to be on or nearing placement when these assessments are set, ask your mentor nurse/paramedic/teacher etc and this might give you a glimpse into how they think about it and provide some different insights
  • c) Try to review unit content and textbooks about the presenting information and see whether you are able to figure out what might be happening to that patient. What are some potential underlying causes that might explain their physical or physiological symptoms? Rank these different causes in order of likelihood to assist with a differential diagnosis.
  • d) With all these ideas, what are the areas I've identified that I need to focus on for this patient or student. What does the literature say when talking about these types of patients or students, what interventions or suggested teaching strategies help to address the priorities I've identified.
  • e) For healthcare students, the final and most important rule of all, you can only do what's within your scope of practice. It's of no value to suggest an intervention/treatment/procedure/medication that is not within your scope of practice.