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GPhC needs ‘more feedback’ on online exam to make ‘final decisions’

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The GPhC could involve its auditors to further learn from the March sittings

The GPhC needs more feedback from those who sat the online exam before making “final decisions” on the format of future exams, its director of education and standards has told C+D.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) held its first-ever online registration exam on March 17-18.

Asked whether the online assessment would be an option in the future, Mr Voce said the regulator needs to “take account” of the learning from its first online exam before it finalises any plan.

The GPhC “certainly [needs to] pick up more feedback from the people that actually sat the assessment before making those final decisions for the future”, Mr Voce added.

In an exclusive interview with C+D on June 2, Mr Voce reiterated that the GPhC was already considering “moving the assessment online” pre-pandemic and that the outbreak of COVID-19 had accelerated the introduction of an online exam.

“We take forward our learning in terms of next year and beyond, in the very near future,” Mr Voce added.

The regulator has not yet decided to permanently transition to an online version of the exam, a GPhC spokesperson told C+D last week (June 4).

“Best approach” for 2021 sittings

The online assessment remains “the best approach both in terms of overall security, but particularly for fairness for candidates”, according to Mr Voce, who said that the format for the summer and autumn sittings “will continue in the same vein”.

The GPhC expects most candidates to sit the future 2021 exams in the “controlled environment” of the Pearson VUE test centres, where some of the technical difficulties experienced by some remote sitters can be minimised.

“I think at the moment… that sort of test centre, in-person invigilation experience is the best one for all candidates,” Mr Voce added.

“We have quite a positive sense of the experience of many people, both in terms of the limited travel that they will have to do and the fact that the experience in the test centres with the online version was actually pretty successful,” he continued.

Learning from online exam preparations

Improving the exam-booking experience and sending out more regular updates are some of the lessons the GPhC says it has learned from its first-ever online exam, it said in council papers published ahead of its meeting last week (June 2).

Mr Voce told C+D that it was “very important” for the GPhC to make its report on the March sitting available to the public as part of its council papers for last week’s meeting. This allowed the regulator to reflect on its practice “immediately, rather than waiting for any external report that might take a matter of months or longer”.

However, the regulator will consider involving its auditors and work with them “in terms of any role they might play in providing some further assurance around that”, Mr Voce added.

GPhC CEO Duncan Rudkin, who was also in the interview, said that the report on the March sitting offers a “full-rounded picture, unflinching and self-critical where it needs to be, which I think reflects the apology that I gave at the time, certainly in relation to the booking issues that we experienced”.

“For many of the candidates actually, [it was] in many ways a better experience than perhaps would have been the case, historically, in terms of travel and numbers of centres,” Mr Rudkin added.

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