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‘This student exam cohort will suffer from being a testing batch’

From booking confusion to reports of a few noisy invigilators, student Imani Asi says the issues with the March GPhC exam have made her cohort feel disenfranchised

The weight has been lifted, the March 2021 General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) registration exam is finally over. However, there is an overwhelming feeling of disappointment and worry as we await our results. While we understand that it must have been highly difficult to moderate the staff and set-up at the test venues, there were many inconsistencies and issues that should be taken into consideration by the GPhC.

I had a stressful lead up to the exam, whereby mere days before sitting I received a phone call from Pearson VUE, which provided test centres for the exam, to change my exam venue due to my original one being at overcapacity. I had initially booked a venue an hour's drive away in Liverpool because it was the only one available at the time. The booking options were either another centre in Liverpool or one in my hometown of Manchester. I opted for the booking in Liverpool, as at this late stage I was mentally prepared for the journey and had booked a £100 hotel there.

Receiving the call from Pearson VUE mid-revision at 7pm one day was unnerving, but I carried on. It was not until I checked my emails a little later that I noticed Pearson VUE had changed my day of sitting to March 17 from my original date of March 18. This situation caused more unnecessary stress, I was unable to focus on what was before me.

In the end, Pearson VUE changed my sitting date back to March 17, but my question is this: How was this mistake allowed to happen two days prior to the exam, when the GPhC had a year to organise it? In addition, the responsibility for deeming whether we were safe enough from COVID-19 to sit the exam seemed to lie with us students. All we want to know is whether someone is being held accountable for how we are being treated. 

My cohort sat the exam over two days. We were told that it would take the form of two sets of different papers and, although the GPhC has since released a statement saying as much, students are feeling uneasy that the conversation about the exams is continuing after the sittings.

There seemed to be a great deal of overlap in the questions and content of the exams. While I appreciate the wording and answers may have been different in the two sittings, some students said a great number of questions were very similar. This undoubtedly raises concerns in how the two papers will be marked and moderated. Students deserve to know that they will be treated fairly throughout the process.

Inconsistencies in how students experienced the exam need to be reviewed. In previous years, the GPhC organised invigilation of the exams from pharmacy professionals. Why could there not have been an allocation of similarly qualified people at Pearson VUE centres to ensure maximum support for students?

Some centres had technical difficulties whereby a few students had to sit in front of a blank screen for up to four hours waiting to start the exam, according to reports heard by C+D. There were staggered starts, so if students finished early they could leave for a break before returning to start the second paper, but this meant that other candidates were disturbed in the process.

Not all invigilators were considerate. Some made a lot of noise, with one student even having to ask an invigilator to be quiet, C+D heard. There were inconsistencies in the allowance of wipeable notepads, with some complaining that if they requested another pad then the first was taken off them so they could not go back and check their answers, some candidates said.

We understand that this is the first time the exam has been online. Hopefully all of the issues will be rectified for future sittings. However, while the experience differed from student to student this time, there should have been a more robust operation in place to ensure fair testing conditions throughout the cohort.

We cannot ignore how we have been the testing batch and will undoubtedly suffer because of it. The question remains for those of us who are on their third attempt: If we fail this time, will we be allowed another chance at sitting the exam due to being put into an entirely new situation?

There seems to be no compassion from the GPhC. This cohort feels so disenfranchised by the regulator that each time a problem has arisen we have wondered whether there is even any point in raising our voices. Instead of being listened to, we are dismissed with a blanket statement. We deserve a higher level of accountability, reassurance and support from those who are meant to be in charge.

Read the post-exam response from the GPhC to concerns about the sittings

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

Of the GPhC exams, a Pearson VUE spokesperson said: "Social distancing requirements at all of our UK test centres (as mandated by the UK government and local authorities) have reduced appointment availability across our network, as we continue to deliver exam programs for clients which qualify as essential services.

"Although we are not in a position to comment on the experiences of anonymous candidates, we apologise to any individuals who experienced issues with Pearson VUE’s booking process or who faced any disruption when taking their exams remotely for the GPhC registration assessment. We recognise the pressures of taking a high-stakes exam at this current time and take on board all feedback from candidates in order to make any necessary improvements moving forward.''

Imani Asi is a pre-registration student based in North West England



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