Successful PA Admissions Part 3: Group Interviewing

Apr 6, 2023 | PA Admissions Corner

By Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey

Welcome back to PA Admissions Corner as we continue our in-depth examination of Successful PA Admissions, which can be accomplished by finding your ideal applicants. Last time, we talked about the value of behavioral interviewing questions. Today we’ll take that knowledge further by discussing how group interviews can save you and your program from missing terrific applicants and how they can help you recognize red-flag behaviors.


The Group Interview Format

Three applicants/students participate in this group interview exercise. Each interviewer will observe each of the students and grade them according to their overall performance. The interviewers will time the question responses and limit the group conversation to 10-15 minutes.


Group Interview Exercise Samples

Here are some group interview question samples that can promote ideas, debate, and conversation among the participants.

Problem: Over lunch, you observe two PA students talking about how stressed they are with exams and the challenging material being covered. You also feel the stress of the program. To add to the students’ stress, they feel like the professors are not grading the projects fairly. Take the actions that you as a group feel most appropriate.

Problem: You are a PA student rotating in a family practice office. Your collaborating physician is very busy with a double-booked schedule. You are seeing a patient who recently received a diagnosis of lung cancer. The family practice physician discusses referral to an oncologist. The patient becomes visibly upset, but the preceptor doesn’t seem to notice. The preceptor walks toward the door, quickly summarizing the diagnosis and probable treatment, including chemotherapy. The preceptor asks you to speak to the patient about the diagnosis and provide any assistance possible. Provide a plan of action about how you would interact with the patient. Include a summary about how you might speak to the preceptor regarding your thoughts involving the preceptor’s interaction with the patient.

Problem: You are a first-year PA student in a mentorship under a practicing PA, who provides the oversight for your experience. Over the first few weeks, you notice some erratic behavior. The PA has been late several times. They look like they have not changed their clothes since the day before. On one such day, you note that the PA is groggy and slurring their words. You notice a smell of alcohol on their breath. As a group, discuss how you would respond to the situation.

Problem: You are first-year PA student taking Clinical Medicine I (5 credit hours). This course has vast volumes of content that you must assimilate and master in a short time. Based on your past academic experience, strategize as a group how you would collaborate to maximize the synergistic learning experience by drawing on each other’s strengths. Be specific about strategies.

Problem: You are studying with your team members when one of your classmates walks up and begins a conversation. They are currently at a psychiatric facility for a behavioral medicine rotation. They share details about a very unusual patient case admitted to this facility. The patient is having active hallucinations seeing animals crawling on the walls. This classmate admits to you that they have placed information about this case on their blog that chronicles their experience as a PA student. As a group, come up with an action plan about how you would proceed regarding this situation.


The Grading Legend

When scoring the interviews, strong contribution is the most positive. Applicants who score in this area received between 16-20 points. Moderate contributors receive 10-15 points.

Be sure not to penalize quiet or introverted applicants only because they speak less than their fellow group members. More socially inclined speakers always draw the most attention, but don’t assume that a lack of assertiveness means a lack of interest or intelligence. Some people are deep thinkers who don’t waste words, speaking little unless they feel they have something important to say. They speak more softly and less forcefully, but their answers will likely be carefully considered, taking more viewpoints into account. They are often agile negotiators who make subtle but useful contributions to a group dynamic. The value of their contributions is not based on the volume of their voice.

Another motive for subjecting applicants to a group interview is the opportunity to take particular note when applicants display red-flag behaviors: negative domination of the conversation/ideas, withdrawing or sulking, interrupting others, criticizing, or grandstanding. Observing these behaviors is enormously important because they indicate types of undesirable behavior that this applicant can bring with them as your student.

Interviewers document each question for each participant. They will choose from the following lists for the most appropriate attribute when observing the applicants in the group setting.

Strong Contribution Factors (+2 points for each) – the applicant displayed characteristics that make them an excellent choice for the program.

  • Manages conflict effectively
  • Demonstrates leadership skills within the group
  • Encourages and harmonizes the involvement of others in the group
  • Summarizes the problem effectively and provides a solution
  • Articulates with others and involves them in the conversation
  • Offers ideas about solutions
  • Probes effectively

Moderate Contribution Factors (+1 point for each) – the applicant displayed characteristics that make them an average choice for the program.

  • Supports team goals but does not identify them directly
  • Listens well but does not initiate conversations
  • Responds to ideas positively but does not lead conversation
  • Listens actively
  • Provides input about solutions but does not volunteer solutions directly

Distractors/Poor Contribution Factors (-1 point each) – the applicant displayed characteristics that make them unfit for the program. If you observe any of these red-flag behaviors, we strongly recommend removing the applicant from consideration.

  • Blocks others
  • Goes off-topic
  • Exhibits aggression
  • Dominates negatively
  • Interrupts others
  • Withdraws/remains silent
  • Criticizes
  • Insults others
  • Grandstands

We include the “Distractors” category in the hopes that it will not need to be used. In a group interview setting, we expect applicants to generally behave well, and at most we might see some signs of nervousness or anxiety. That’s natural; interviews are a stressful situation, after all. Interrupting another applicant can happen accidentally, and nerves or excitement can cause certain things to sound unintentionally aggressive. If the applicant apologizes or adjusts their behavior effectively, then there isn’t a problem. Consistent displays of counterproductive behavior, however, must be identified.

Anecdotally, applicants who display these troubling behaviors during group interviews cause the most problems during their studies. Aggression, immaturity, competitiveness, and inability to take instruction make things difficult for their instructors and classmates. High academic records and other commendations can obscure these warning signs to your detriment.

The group interview is your opportunity to accomplish two goals:

  1. Learn who your applicants are, how they interact with each other, and their intuitiveness, thoughtfulness, and maturity. These are things you won’t learn from a GPA or a resume.
  2. Detect if an applicant lacks the maturity and diplomacy to be an effective PA student, and eventually, a PA professional who represents your institution in the real world.


In our next Issue of PA Admissions Corner, we’ll continue our series on Successful PA Admissions by looking at expanding diversity and inclusion. We’ll focus on ARC-PA Standard A1.11, which guides the demonstration of an institution’s commitment to student, faculty, and staff diversity and inclusion. We’ll discuss how you can use this standard to gain the support of your institution to meet the mission and vision of your program.


To your admissions and program success,

Jim Pearson, CEO
Exam Master

Dr. Scott Massey Ph.D., PA-C
Scott Massey LLC

If you are in need of admissions support and services for your PA program, we can help.

Jim Pearson and Dr. Scott Massey have helped hundreds of educational institutions and programs improve their admissions outcomes.

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