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Home  »   Latest News   »   Trainee assessment exam June 2023, GPhC responds to PDA member concerns

Trainee assessment exam June 2023, GPhC responds to PDA member concerns

Following the GPhC/PSNI assessment exams held yesterday the PDA has been contacted by a number of members who have raised concerns about the content of this summer’s assessment.

Thu 29th June 2023 The PDA

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. Following contact from members this morning the PDA has spoken with the GPhC and raised members’ views with them.

The PDA received the following response from the GPhC, “The registration assessment is one of the ways we test that trainee pharmacists can demonstrate that they understand how to apply knowledge appropriately and in a timely way, to make professional judgements in pharmacy practice. It also tests trainees’ number sense and that they are able to perform the calculations necessary to practice as a pharmacist.

We assess these skills to provide assurance to patients and the public that the pharmacy professionals on our register can practice safely and effectively. Passing the registration assessment is one of the criteria that trainees need to meet to be eligible to apply to become a registered pharmacist. 

The published registration assessment framework sets out the areas that are covered by the assessment, including expectations of a pharmacy professional and the skills required in practice. Questions related to clinical care are mapped to therapeutic areas which are weighted and the assessment includes questions on high-risk drugs, paediatric patients, and calculations.

To make sure that each registration assessment is consistent, the question papers are set and moderated by an appointed body, the Board of Assessors. All decisions about questions, papers, candidates, and pass marks are made by the board.

The standard a trainee must achieve to pass the registration assessment remains the same across each sitting. The pass mark for each paper varies from sitting to sitting depending on the combined difficulty of the questions. This is to make sure that the assessment is fair and that the standard is maintained.

The pass mark for the assessment is arrived at using evidence-based standard-setting processes – recognised methods used by examination bodies to derive pass marks for papers in order to apply a set standard across sittings. When preparing assessment papers, a standard-setting panel of pharmacists assesses the standard of each question in each of the papers. Before agreeing pass marks for each paper, the Board of Assessors undertakes a full review of the performance of the questions, and the papers as a whole. This includes statistical analysis of the relative level of difficulty.”

The PDA has previously made recommendations for change to the GPhC to improve the logistical organisation and delivery of the examinations which have been implemented in full such as IT equipment testing, face-to-face training for invigilators, and GPhC staff presence at every centre. The PDA believes these changes have improved the experience for all candidates.

However, there are a number of recommendations the PDA has made which have not yet been implemented and may also make a difference to the candidates. The PDA provides a quality revision programme and live sessions to support trainee and potential pharmacist members with their preparations free of charge through PDA Education. The PDA has requested the GPhC to examine and extend the provision of their revision support for trainees, and to develop a quality assurance process for external commercial providers of their revision resources.

The Changes to IET (Initial Education and Training)

The PDA is one of the leading stakeholders involved in the discussions with the regulator around the changes and implementation of the new IET standards. Many PDA student members have told us that they need to better understand these important changes and the expectations of them in the transition to the new IETP (initial education and training of pharmacist standards) and the learning outcomes by which they will be assessed. In response, the PDA held a webinar supported by GPhC staff members to help to educate members about this. The PDA would welcome being part of a proactive campaign to help to explain the changes to ensure all students understand the impact on their learning, the learning outcomes, and how these inform their practice.

Collette Bradford, PDA Director of Organising and Engagement said, “We have worked positively with the GPhC for a number of years to improve the experience of the online assessment for trainees and potential pharmacists. We would now like this work to extend to pre-assessment revision resources and quality assurance of the support and providers in order that all trainees and potential pharmacists have an equal opportunity to pass the assessment examinations.

The PDA Team have also helped, advised and supported individual and collective groups of trainee, provisionally registered and potential pharmacists throughout the process with their applications for reasonable adjustments, nullifications, post result appeals and extension cases alongside amplifying their voices and improving communication with the GPhC/PSNI.

We are all aware of the inequalities of the assessment examination results and want all candidates to be able to access the support they need to enable them to prepare and to sit the examinations with confidence on the day. The PDA would welcome further discussions with the regulator regarding an appropriate assessment process fit for the future and on improving and extending both the period and quality of the mentoring supervision experience for those who will qualify as independent prescribers from 2026. As an organisation with over 37,000 members, we are well placed to work with the regulator to help to develop an assessment process which is fair to all and is fit for purpose to develop pharmacists who are able to give the best care to patients.”  

PDA members who would like to share their views should contact the PDA Member Support Centre.

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