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GPhC: June pre-reg exam pass rate drops to record low of 72%

June's pre-registration examination candidates received their results from the GPhC today (July 26)
June's pre-registration examination candidates received their results from the GPhC today (July 26)

The pass rate for this June's registration exam has dropped to the lowest on record, according to General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) figures.

This pass rate of 72.3%, announced by the regulator this morning (July 26), was down 6.7 percentage points from last year's 79%.

It is the lowest pass rate since the GPhC took over responsibility for the assessment in 2011.

A total of 2,942 candidates sat the exam on June 27, with 2,128 trainees passing.

Of the candidates who sat the exam, 2,677 did so for the first time, 148 for the second time and 117 for the third time.

GPhC: Exam provides assurance to patients

GPhC chief executive Duncan Rudkin congratulated trainees who passed this summer’s registration assessment, and said he acknowledges the “hard work of tutors and education and training providers”.

“Each assessment is carefully set so that only the candidates who demonstrate the required knowledge and understanding can pass and be eligible to join the register,” Mr Rudkin continued.

This means the regulator can provide assurance to patients and the public that registered pharmacists can “practise safely and effectively”.

How have June pass rates varied since 2011?

How did you do in the exam? Listen to C+D’s podcasts to learn what you should do next.

If you passed, this podcast explains how to prepare for life as a pharmacist.

If you were unsuccessful, this podcast describes how you can come back from a setback.

Subscribe to all of C+D's podcasts on iTunes or by searching 'Chemist+Druggist podcast' on your preferred android podcast app.

56 Comments
Question: 
How did you find the registration exam?

Not-So-Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

I don't really see the need for an exam anyway. I'm from the old school where it was the tutor's decision whether you got on the register or not and believe me, tutors back then could weed out someone not fit for purpose far better than any exam could.

H IA, Primary care pharmacist

Interesting comments!

Two points here...

Firstly can blame X, Y and Z but the end point remains the same - not managing to get 70% (or thereabouts) in a clinical exam to me (as a Pharmacist) suggests there is more learning that needs to be done... as a patient I would not feel confident having a Pharmacist who scraped by clinically assessing my medications... or even the general publics!

Yes the tutors can be crappy, the exams pass rates can waver etc. but the end point is once you actually become a Pharmacist, you have to take charge of your own learning either way - so that culture and attitude of self directed learning, some aspect of leadership and being assertive needs to be engendered very early on... blaming tutors for not guiding enough, or pharmacies for taking advantage and using students as free labour, are reasons, but not valid because you know you are there to train as a Pharmacist and not as a dispenser, and you have to lead your learning.

 

Secondly... pharmacy is heading in more clinically diverse and involved directions. Pharmacists are increasingly becoming prescribers and specialising in areas, which opens up more career opportunities as well as professional development and better pay. For those who struggled to pass - what would be their place in the 'future world of pharmacy'?

 

 

geoffrey gardener, Community pharmacist

More than 1 in 4 students failing after completing a four year degree course, suggests to me that there are serious failings within the universities. These establishments are fleecing students (and taxpayers) for a fortune. On the evidence of these and indeed previous post grad exam results serious questions need to be asked about the fitness of purpose of the education provided.

We’re all doomed, Locum pharmacist

1979 offer of 3Ds. Obtained A C C and special level Chemistry. Awarded 2:1. 9/85 students got a 1st. How things have changed! And I’ve never felt inadequate as a pharmacist vs the new kids on the block despite having to ‘re educate’ over the past 25 years. The rigour should start at A level entrance and with attrition at year 1 and 2 and cease all these resits and dumbing down. Do students even have to retake a year as 6 did from my intake of 103?  Focus should be on quality and not quantity this is where it’s gone haywire. 

Jonathan smith, Superintendent Pharmacist

I do think that reading many of these comments, there seems to be an obsession on what the pass mark should be. I think that perhaps we should all relate the pass mark to what it means. A 70% pass rate means that that person was wrong 30% of the time. Relate that to a patient interaction, whether it be a calculation, an OTC sale, a drug interaction, a clinical check. Is it OK that someone can be wrong 3 out of every 10 occasions? What if one of those 3 occasions out of 10, that pharmacist was dealing with your mother, or father, your grandparents or your child? I do share the opinion of one person who has commented here, a pass mark of 70% is too low. We should be aiming for 100% because that is the only way we can prevent harming our patients.

Susan Lee, Superintendent Pharmacist

For me it's all about the placement and tutor. The GPhC need to focus on monitoring the skills, understanding and abilities of pre-reg. tutors. I wouldn't be afraid to sit an exam to check my competence to be a tutor. If I failed, I shouldn't be a tutor.

How about all the tutors of those who failed the exam were to sit the same exam. That would give the GPhC some food for thought!

James Smith, Student

I totally agree - indepdent learning is obviously required from the student as well, but tutors are needed to guide the learning and provide important exposure to situations, such as counselling patients, spotting drug interactions when checking etc. The role of the tutor is important and massively increase the chances of students meeting the registration criteria, providing students also put in the required hard work themselves! 

Pharmacy Interest, GP

The General Pharmaceutical Council is clearly not a fit and proper organisation to be setting standards which vary erracticially from year to year.

This exam is now seen by the GPhC as a Golden Goose to promote resits and generate extra income to its swell its own coffers.

It has become a group that now promotes its own self interest rather than the needs of phamracists and conceals it own real ambitions by the usual smokescreen of need to protect the public.

The income and expenses and every payment /trip,  members of the GPhC make/receive need to be properly scrutinised before they continue this carefully planned smash and grab of further fees.

I sat the pre-reg exam in 2018 and I got 92% in paper 2. Let me make something very clear, not only is the pre-reg exam not hard, but in my opinion, the process to becoming a pharmacist needs to become much more rigirous. I mean lets be honest, if you can't even get the 70% needed in these current exams, then you're simply not ready to become a pharmacist. We have a situation today where universities are letting in some students with very mediocre A-levels etc, when they are on the degree they are given ample chances to pass and when they eventually sit the prereg exam, these same students moan regarding how hard and "unfair" it is.

let's not forget, around 70% passed so it's obviously not that hard!

 

James Smith, Student

1) 'I didn't find it hard, so it must be easy for everyone' is a very flawed and slightly juvenile argument. For example, I could say "I passed my 3-year PhD in amidourea chiral supramolecular gels with no corrections, so it wasn't even hard and anyone should be able to do it" - when really that isn't the case? I'd just bear in mind that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and saying trying something must be easy because YOU didn't find it hard shows really poor understanding and perspective. 

2) A pre-reg exam is only 'easy' if you have had a good pre-reg placement where you have learnt a lot and had a fabulous tutor to guide you, maybe with regional organised study days to help etc etc. Some students with a 2:1 MPharm from a top university failed the exam because their pre-reg placement was poor quality and used them as dispensers rather than trainee pharmacists. They aren't stupid and are capable of being pharmacists, but have been let down by the people who should be guiding them through to registration day! (Obviously worth noting we can't solely blame pre-reg tutors/placements as some may have failed by not working hard enough themselves; they only have themselves to blame).

3) Blaming it on students with mediocre A-levels is slightly lazy in my opinion... Where is your proof that there is a correlation between the students A-level results and their GPhC pre-reg assessment score? Where's your proof that this isn't a spurious correlation? The pass rate in 2015 was 74% not much higher than this year were 'mediocre' A-levels to blame then? If so, why was the pass rate 95% the following year? Remember, all pre-reg students have passed a GPhC-regulated MPharm course - so don't judge them on their A Levels that they sat 5 years ago - they have still had to pass an academically challenging course to get to the pre-reg part and shown they are capable of learning important pharmacy concepts. Plus, A-Level results may be poor for a range of reasons not linked with natural intelligence, including going to a disadvantaged school with poor teachers but having a high natural ability. I'd take a student with BCC from a school where the grade average is CDD, over a student with ABB at a school where the average A level grade is A*AA. The former have shown determination, natural intelligence and initiative and many of these students actually flourish when given decent tuition (I say as someone who now teaches undergraduate chemists at Durham University). 

Finally, we won't KNOW for certain the reason for the lower pass rate until someone independent investigates/studies it. I do not think for one second that it's worth investigating yet - but if pass rates keep getting lower and lower it may be something that needs to happen to prevent people training for 5 years on GPhC mediated courses to not become a pharmacist at the end of it. No one should be in a position where they have worked their hardest for 5 years only to fail due to not being taught things/poor tutors etc. If they fail due to not putting the work in, then that's on them. 

 

1) "I'd just bear in mind that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses and saying trying something must be easy because YOU didn't find it hard shows really poor understanding and perspective. "

 The exam is designed by the GPhC to determine if the candidates are ready to practise or not. It's not a matter of people having different strengths and weaknesses. It should obviously be clear to everyone, that in order to practise you will be required to pass such an exam, if you know you will struggle then that is something you have to deal with.

2) " A pre-reg exam is only 'easy' if you have had a good pre-reg placement where you have learnt a lot and had a fabulous tutor to guide you, maybe with regional organised study days to help etc etc. "

Oh give me a break with these silly excuses. The pre-reg situation in the community is clear to everyone. Yes, you will be used to dispense and many other such roles, what did you expect? to sit in a clinic and prescribe? Trying to pin the blame on the tutor is ridiculous. Learn to be independent and not rely on the tutor to hold your hands. Most of what comes in the exam itself is something you'll have to learn indepedently anyway, the fact you think blaming the tutor is something valid is, I have to say, laughable. Now, are some tutors useless? yes of course, I had one such tutor, but guess what? it did not affect the the outcome of my exam. Why? because I took charge of my own learning. If learning independently is something you find difficult, then being a pharmacist is not for you.

3) There is a clear problem with universities letting in subpar students, simply go to sites such as Student Room and see the grades people are being accepted with. And like I said, even on the degree itself, such people are given ample chances to pass exams (some of which have low pass requirements). These are probably the same people that then go on and struggle with the pre-reg exams.

The GPhC exam is regulated, so it's contents and "difficulty" are rather consistent.T he lower pass rates are almost purely the fault of the students themselves.

*This comment has been edited to comply with C+D's community principles*

James Smith, Student

Yes it is clear to everyone that they have to sit the exam - I don't think anyone goes into pre-reg thinking 'I 100% can't do this and won't pass'. My issue was with you saying "it's easy". For some, it may not be easy and your lack of ability to view the possibility others may struggle with it is slightly concerning. (FYI: I passed first time after my pre-reg in industry/hospital split). I'd also say the exam is slightly flawed in that it means people who are good at passing exams are sorted - i.e. people who can cram information in and recall by memory. But day to day, they may not be able to recall the information they crammed. 

I am sorry but of course it's PARTLY the tutor's responsibilities to guide students through the year and help them to learn day to day. I've admitted students who don't work hard deserve to fail but there is SO much content in the pharmacy world - tutors should be guiding students with what a day 1 pharmacist should know, showing them interesting patients, giving them opportunities to do counsel patients daily etc. I 100% agree - independent learning is needed - it's what I teach my undergraduates all the time, and I'm not saying tutors should be hand-holding. But it's their role to help you reach the mark, point you to what topics you should know and there are many anecdotes of poor quality tutors (from students and their colleagues) who don't take an active role or even care about the fate of their pre-regs. Instead it's an extra thing for the CV and an easy way to pick up a pay bonus (£1000 at Boots whether pre-reg passes or fails I believe?).  

Another childish fallacy to dismiss someone as not giving a valid opinion because of their status? Well, I am actually a pharmacist (qualified 2016 and passed first time after only 6-months in  a clinica  setting). I am just taking an alternative career to most pharmacists by actually using the science we learned at undergraduate and doing a PhD in chemistry - but I still locum and do my part. And, with the greatest of respects, having obtained higher education teaching qualifications, I likely have a better appreciation for mentoring, tutoring and teaching than yourself and what people in tutor roles could and should be doing for their students.  I actually do agree with you that if students are consistently failing university modules they should be stopped from progressing towards a career as a pharmacist- maybe they should be moved onto a pharmaceutical science degree or simply told they can't continue. But judge them on their performance in university exams, not their A-levels - especially if they have to do a foundation year before starting the undergraduate course. 

I am sorry but if you think that the quality in students year to year leads to a difference of over 20% in pass rate (72% vs 95%) then I personally believe that you are out of touch. 

"I'd also say the exam is slightly flawed in that it means people who are good at passing exams are sorted - i.e. people who can cram information in and recall by memory. But day to day, they may not be able to recall the information they crammed."

This is simply not true, the exam is not about recalling crammed information, but about applying it.

"But it's their role to help you reach the mark, point you to what topics you should know and there are many anecdotes of poor quality tutors (from students and their colleagues) who don't take an active role or even care about the fate of their pre-regs"

In an ideal world that should be true but in reality, especially in the community sector, there can be a great deal of hit and miss regarding the tutors. Frankly, much of what one does in a community pharmacy setting during the pre-reg has very little relevence to the actual exam itself, thus, I can see why so many students do not feel prepared. 

 

"I likely have a better appreciation for mentoring, tutoring and teaching than yourself and what people in tutor roles could and should be doing for their students."

 

You don't know me or anything about me, so don't make assumption regarding what you know better or not.

"I am sorry but if you think that the quality in students year to year leads to a difference of over 20% in pass rate (72% vs 95%) then I personally believe that you are out of touch. "

 

Obviously you're the one that is out of touch because you seem to think we should instead blame what? the GPhC? The pre-reg tutors? Oh please, give a break. The main reason, without a doubt will be the students themselves.

*This comment has been edited to comply with C+D's community principles*

SP Ph, Community pharmacist

Do the GPs have similar exams before they are registered by the GMC??

It would seem a comfortable pre-reg year with a supportive tutor is vital and the most important factor. This is the first year of Oriel and a lot of people went in blind. I have had a horrific experience with a multiple and so my colleagues. One sat the exam and failed, by the sounds of it is relieved now that she doesn't have to work for this company as a relief pharmacist. 

Isabelle matthews, Student

Very Strange. looking at previous years the pass rate has been higher and pass mark around 66-68%. I would like to know how GPHC have decided on the pass mark this year considering the pass mark is higher and pass rate much lower? There seems to be a lack of consistency

Stacie Marks,

This is the first year of Oriel. I suspect more people than previous years have ended up somewhere they didn't really want to be and definitely had no intention of staying after the year. Lots of factors therefore (potentially) contributing to lower pass rates. I know students that didn't get as much support as they weren't saying in the business after the year

Leon The Apothecary, Student

I heard two of the questions were incorrect in the paper. Could this be verified?

Martin Campbell, Student

I made this account just to ask.
We were told by RPS over and over that the pass Mark is around 65% but aim for 70% this year (first attempt) I got 68.9% and the pass was 71.4%.

Does the exam ordinarily increase the pass Mark above 70%?

Isabelle matthews, Student

I have been thinking the exact same. I have always been told and looking at previous years the pass mark has not exceeded 70%. I have been told i have failed even though I attained 70% (70.5%). With the pass rate being lowest in the past couple of years it does suggest to some extent that the paper was not easy, hence the high pass mark does not make sense.

Stephen Eggleston, Community pharmacist

I am amazed that to be fit to be a 'day one pharmacist' you only need know 70%

Caroline Jones, Community pharmacist

What value is an exam if everyone passes?

James Smith, Student

I mean... the exam assesses students to make sure they know what a 'day 1 pharmacist' should know to ensure they can practice safely. You'd expect nearly all pre-regs to pass given they've completed an MPharm degree and worked in a pharmacy setting for a year. It *should* be the case that you'd expect everyone who passes an MPharm degree to be able to become a pharmacist with the correct training - so we should expect a near 100% pass rate in my opinion. This not being the case to me suggests that something is wrong, with some pre-reg placements clearly not fit for purpose. It's well documented via anecdotal evidence that many community pharmacies abuse pre-regs as dispensers and fail to provide sufficient training. Alternatively, it suggests that maybe the exam board are inconsistent with what they are assessing, giving the fluctuation year to year. 95% passed in the year I did my pre-reg - surely, this is not down to my cohort being better than this current cohort, given the university courses and pre-reg placements are more aless the same. Instead, it suggests maybe inconsistency from the exam board in my opinion. Open to alternative suggestions and viewpoints. 

Ranjeev Patel, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

GPhC are great! Their exams may have some issues but who cares about the idiots who fails because they have to pay again, problem solved. Keep paying the fees because they are doing such an amazing job!

Arun Bains, Community pharmacist

I would suggest that a pharmacist may have a better understanding of the GPhC and it’s workings 

Ranjeev Patel, Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

The irony was clearly lost on you then.

Not-So-Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Irony, sarcasm and wit generally are wasted on pharmacists.

Adam Hall, Community pharmacist

I agree there is evidence of grade inflation and a degree is no indication of ability as a pharmacist. I think it is unhelpful to describe 27.7% as 'almost a third' - unless inflation has also impacted on basic maths (are we not a profession that prides itself on accuracy?) but more importantly I like the idea that the GPhC should give guidence on minimum entry qualifications for a Pharmacy degree. It does also beg the question of what went wrong for those students who failed - especially those on their second or third attempt (admittedly there is no info on whether those who failed were on their first, or subsequent, attempts) and I would suggest an in-house review of pre-reg training, because it does appear that many students were not prepared for an exam they knew was coming

Jenny P, Hospital pharmacist

"(admittedly there is no info on whether those who failed were on their first, or subsequent, attempts)" - that part is available on the GPhC website. The pass rate for second and third sitting students is always lower than for first-sitting students. Given the third-sitting pass rates, there must be quite a few people who aren't permitted to register.

Mark Boland, Pharmaceutical Adviser

'a degree is no indication of ability as a pharmacist'

Maybe not, but a first in an academically challenging subject awarded by an academically rigorous institution, is an indication of an academically gifted student.

It is no longer safe to assume people who obtain a degree are particularly academic or even on the right of the distribution curve. If academic ability is of any importance, many universities and courses ought to be cancelled. I would include many of the universities currently offering a pharmacy degree and with the current direction of travel, possibly the degree itself.

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