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Petition racks up 800 signatures as trainees rail against ‘unjust’ GPhC exam

Trainee pharmacists have asked for a review of the recent June registration assessment, described by some as ‘highly problematic’.

More than 800 people have added their support to an online petition calling for a review of the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC’s) recently held June registration assessment, claiming that the level of difficulty was “highly problematic and unjust”.

As of this morning (July 3), the petition started last week (June 28) by someone choosing to remain anonymous had racked up 811 signatures.

Read more: GPhC says June registration assessment 'remains on track'

The petitioner claimed that the questions presented were “exceptionally challenging” and “beyond the scope of the curriculum”.

They said that there was an “excessive number of tricky and ambiguous questions” that caused “unnecessary confusion”.

And they called for the GPhC to “review the examination process and take appropriate actions to address the issues raised”.

Read more: Plain sailing for November registration exam after ‘considerable changes’

A comment attached to the petition said that the registrant had done mock exams “from 10 different providers” but that the exam was “a lot harder” than the mocks.

Another person wrote that the exam questions were “very ambiguous” and “not similar in difficulty to any of the sample questions we were provided”.


Pass mark set “in the normal way”


A spokesperson for the GPhC said that the regulator was aware of the petition and that the pass mark had been set “in the same way as normal” by the board of assessors.

The spokesperson added that candidates have the right to appeal their result, but said that appeals are subject to “strict criteria”.

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

It was “too early to say” how many people were appealing their results or requesting a nullification, they said.

"We appreciate that this can be a stressful time for candidates. The profession’s charity, Pharmacist Support, has lots of free information, guidance and dedicated support services available to support wellbeing,” the GPhC spokesperson told C+D.


PDA “concerns”


On Thursday (June 29), the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) published a memo regarding the assessment exam, after “a number of members” raised “concerns” about the exam, which it shared with the regulator.

“PDA members expressed concerns about the questions in the clinical exam including the high level of difficulty, a lack of clarity of wording, and a feeling that some questions were outside the scope of the curriculum,” it said.

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

The PDA said that it has previously advised the GPhC about improvements to assessments, many of which have been implemented by the regulator, but added that “a number of recommendations” had not been put in place.

The union said that it has asked the GPhC to “examine and extend the provision of its revision support for trainees” and to develop a “quality assurance process” for companies that provide revision resources.

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

The PDA shared a response from the GPhC to its queries that said the question papers are “set and moderated” by the board of assessors, which is an appointed body, to ensure that “each registration assessment is consistent”.

The GPhC explained that while the standard required from a trainee “remains the same across each sitting”, the pass mark may differ from sitting to sitting “depending on the combined difficulty of the questions”.

Read more: ‘This will go down in history’: Five takeaways from the GPhC exam protest

The regulator added an explanation of the exam setting and evaluation process, saying that “a standard-setting panel of pharmacists” looks at each question in the papers.

The board of assessors then reviews “the performance of the questions and the papers as a whole”, which includes a statistical analysis of the “relative level of difficulty”, before the pass mark for the exams is decided, it said.


High standards


On July 29 last year, the GPhC published the results of its June 2022 assessments - 80% of those sitting passed the exam.

This was the same as the average pass rate across the previous six sittings of the summer assessment, according to C+D’s calculations.

GPhC summer pass 2015 to 2022

Hiccups during the sitting


Meanwhile, reports from trainees on social media suggested that the June assessment went far more smoothly than those held at the same time last year, when many candidates complained of “loud, distracting noises” in the exam halls, exam halls that reportedly allowed easy cheating and incompetent invigilators, among other complaints.

Last month (June 8), the regulator’s director of education and standards Mark Voce said that “all preparations [for the June assessments] remain on track” and signaled that the problems that had beset the summer 2022 assessment were in hand.

Read more: The GPhC exam protest as it happened

Mr Voce’s confidence appears to have been largely well-founded. C+D noted just one complaint about the administration of the exam, which was that some trainees were “unable to open any resources”.

In response, the GPhC told C+D that while some candidates experienced “temporary technical issues” during the assessment, these were resolved and “all candidates were able to complete the assessment”.

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