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‘Excusing the problems with the GPhC registration exam is difficult’

The GPhC has had so long to organise the registration exam it is difficult to excuse the problems with it, says Thorrun Govind

Before I sat the General Pharmaceutical Committee (GPhC) registration exam in 2016, I had to prepare for a new style of exam. As always with a new exam there was heightened talk concerning the potential pass rate. Fast forward to 2020 and the pandemic has wrecked pre-registration pharmacists’ plans. The GPhC postponed the 2020 registration assessment, meaning trainees could apply to become provisionally registered pharmacists.

I don’t think any of us should underestimate the stress and anxiety that that this decision has caused to this cohort. The new online registration exam is now scheduled to be held in two sittings on March 17 and 18 at Pearson VUE test centres across Great Britain.

It is surprising that it took the GPhC so long to find a solution that still requires attendance at an assessment centre. We now await the regulator's solution to the latest debacle with regards to sitting times. Having been offered the opportunity to book afternoon sittings, candidates were later told these were available erroneously. The GPhC has had so long to organise this exam that it really is difficult to understand and excuse the problems that keep cropping up.

The GPhC predicted a lower exam pass rate this year than previous years. It said: “3,200 candidates are projected to sit the new online assessment in March and of these we have made a conservative estimate of 60% pass rate due to the new nature of the exam and current climate,” in council papers published ahead of its meeting on February 11.

Due to the concerns raised following the reporting on this figure, Mark Voce, GPhC director of education and standards said the 60% figure “is definitely not a prediction; it is a conservative estimate designed solely for budget purposes to ensure we do not over-predict how many pharmacists may be on the register”.

While it is understandable that the GPhC has to budget, it is concerning that it is citing the new nature of the exam as a reason for the low pass rate. Exam candidates should not be at a detriment due to the format of the exam changing.

It is still difficult to understand why the previous exam format is not suitable, considering that the exam will still be held at assessment centres. The current conditions are arguably worse than last year when the candidates were due to sit the exam. There is a lack of natural sunlight, lockdown, and the pressure of working in a pandemic, combined with the usual burden of studying and working. This is not the usual climate in which pre-registration pharmacists take their exams.

Though the regulator’s primary priority is protecting the public, I believe it should be liaising with other pharmacy bodies and charities to ensure that there is clear provision to support the health and wellbeing of candidates. I am extremely concerned for the wellbeing of this cohort and I am pleased to see organisations such as the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Pharmacists’ Defence Association recognising this with online support.

Over the last year, there has been a distinct lack of clear communication to pre and provisionally registered pharmacists. It is extremely disappointing that some overseas students say they are still waiting for confirmation of their booking to sit the exam remotely.

I strongly urge all pre and provisionally registered pharmacists, whether they know if they can sit the exam or not, to continue studying. I thank them for their contribution to pharmacy during this pandemic. They deserve better treatment.

Here are four tips for preparing for the exam:

  • Practice studying wearing a face mask – these are mandatory throughout both exams)
  • Practice studying the topics at the time they will be assessed in the exam
  • Test the software beforehand.

Read the apology from the GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin for the issues with the exam 

Thorrun Govind is a pharmacist based in North West England, this article represents her personal views alone

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