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Five things the GPhC is doing to prevent registration exam chaos in November

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) has set out the steps it is taking to make sure the upcoming November registration exam will go off without a hitch, following June’s chaotic sitting.

The June registration assessment was far from uneventful, with reports of delays, IT glitches and allegations of cheating leading a group of candidates to protest outside of the regulator’s offices with a list of demands.

The regulator has since agreed to two of the protesters’ requests, granted provisional registration to candidates experiencing more than 30 minutes' delay in sitting the exam, and set out which candidates would be eligible to appeal their results.

Read more: Which registration exam protest demands has the GPhC granted?

In documents released ahead of its council meeting on Thursday (September 8), the GPhC revealed it had held a two-day meeting with its exam provider, BTL, in August so it could plan what measures it would put in place to troubleshoot the upcoming November assessment.

These are some of the solutions it proposed.


1. A GPhC representative at every centre


The GPhC pledged to station one representative at every test centre, to “ensure [its] own direct line of communication” to and from the places candidates will sit the exam.

The GPhC representatives will visit the test centres the day before the November sitting to verify they are properly equipped, and that hardware has been tested out.

They will also write up a report on any issues experienced by candidates following the assessment, the regulator pledged.


2. Streamlining test centre booking


The June exam was met with issues from the outset, with BTL having to temporarily take down its booking portal to address issues experienced by trainees trying to secure a spot at a test centre.

Read more: 'People’s lives have been affected': Trainees on the impact of GPhC exam chaos

To mitigate this, the GPhC will no longer require candidates to book test centres themselves, instead working with BTL to allocate candidates a centre based on their home address.

While “this will avoid candidates worrying about whether they will get a test centre place”, it also “mitigates the risk of the IT issues experienced before the June sitting”, the GPhC wrote.


3. Screening centres for “suitability”


Following the June sitting, some candidates told C+D the test centres were not appropriate to take an exam in, describing “claustrophobic” and noisy rooms.

In its council papers, the GPhC noted that “BTL will only use test centres in November that are permanently set up to deliver assessments”.

Some candidates faced delays of up to 30 in sitting the June assessment, but using spaces commonly used for exam sittings will avoid “issues of late delivery [of equipment] to temporary test centres” as the relevant hardware will already be in place, the GPhC reasoned.

Read more: IT issues, cheating and uninformed invigilators: pharmacist trainees detail GPhC exam chaos

The regulator has confirmed the number of eligible candidates and their location to BTL so the most suitable test centres can be selected, it wrote. BTL is also auditing all the test centres it plans to use to ensure they are suitable.

Some candidates may have to travel “a little further than previously” to reach a suitable venue, the GPhC noted, although it still “expects the majority of candidates to attend a test centre within reasonable travelling distance”.


4. Mitigating IT and invigilating issues


Among the major disruptions candidates encountered during the June assessment were lagging or freezing screens and computers that crashed.

The GPhC did not clarify how it intended to stop these issues reoccurring in November, but said it was “seeking additional assurance and evidence” about what testing and checks had been carried out to address the issues raised by candidates.

The regulator is also “working through the practicalities” of having paper copies of the exam at test centres in case of major IT failures.

It also pledged to train all chief invigilators itself and update its invigilation manual.

It follows reports by some candidates that some of June’s invigilators were not adequately prepared to oversee the exam.

The GPhC also said it would remind November candidates “about their responsibilities” before the assessment, following allegations that some June candidates cheated.


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