PDA welcomes measures to improve online exams

The PDA has been supporting candidates for online exams since replacing the old paper-based exam process. Many candidates at the last assessment (June 2022) experienced significant delays, technical issues, inadequate monitoring and disruption at test centers across the UK as newly named company BTL staged for the first times the high-stakes pharmacist exams. The next online exam is scheduled for November 2022 and the PDA welcomes proposed improvements to be introduced before this session.

Many candidates for the June exams were distressed by their experiences and were devastated that they had to retake the exams in November. The PDA accompanies its members from the holding of the exams, while waiting for the results, after the results and for some via the appeal procedure of the regulators.

For some, provisional registration was the accepted response from the GPhC, but for others, such as potential pharmacists who did not want the provisional role, those who could not find a suitable provisional position, or those who did not did not meet the provisional registration criteria, they found themselves in financial difficulty through no fault of their own, reasonably expecting to have joined the register this summer.

In addition to supporting members, the PDA has met with the GPhC on an ongoing basis to help ensure this situation does not happen again. Throughout the process, the PDA has acknowledged and praised the regulator’s improved communication approach and improved speed of response to identify solutions.

It is welcome that some of the points raised by the PDA on behalf of the members have been addressed with a view to implementing contingency plans to mitigate the risk of problems recurring in future assessments.

Issues Raised

PDA members who experienced the June session wanted to see the following elements in place before the November session:

  • A transparent and inclusive process – while GPhCs put patient care first, they also have a duty of care in their interactions with applicants and pharmacists.
  • Efficient reservation systems – many members were unable to log in, or got reservations and then changed places.
  • Timely and accurate communications – regular and clear communication reduces anxiety during stressful experiences.
  • Test centers suitable for the organization of high-stakes exams – hotels and some other locations used in June were not effective locations.
  • Quality assurance – of project delivery and experiences during the process and on the day.
  • Training proctors and test center staff – these individuals should be aware of the importance and process of high-stakes exams and familiar with the policies and processes to which candidates must adhere.
  • A consistent approach across all centers – particularly in terms of identity and calculator checks and the implementation of regulatory policies relating to valuation.
  • All equipment and fast internet access must be available and tested prior to exams – this must be done comprehensively by BTL’s IT specialists to ensure the best user experience.
  • Software upgrades and testing – to ensure a user-friendly experience for exams, e.g. effective question marking and highlighter.
  • GPhC staff/board members informed and empowered available on each site – to build trust and solve problems, make decisions and ensure the quality of the day’s events.
  • Restroom breaks and refreshments – available in all centres.
  • Emergency plans – including paper exams available on the day, if potentially needed.
  • Reasonable adjustments – respected and taken care of properly on D-Day, for example by ensuring that the agreed extra time is granted and uninterrupted and that quiet spaces are available for those who have allocated them.
  • Best and Free Revision Resources – that reflect the professional status of the exams, including more assessment questions for papers 1 and 2. In June, some candidates felt they had to spend extraordinary sums, even requested financial credit, to obtain materials reviews and attend review events.

PDA Pharmacist Network BAME has also noted with concern the differences in performance outcomes and calls on the GPhC to take action to continue to identify and address learning and training inequalities as part of its work on equality, diversity and inclusion. The network committee would be happy to support this area of ​​work.

What improvements have been agreed

The exam must be challenging enough to ensure that successful candidates can safely contribute to patient care, a journey in which they have already invested a great deal of time, energy and money. Exam candidates attempt to take this final step and rejoin their profession and reasonably expect the final exam to be well-managed and not introduce additional difficulties.

Papers published for discussion at the GPhC Council meeting on 8e September 2022 introduced some clear improvements to the operational elements of the assessment process, including:

  • Changes to delivery and insurance from November assessment agreed with BTL.
  • Improvements to the BTL reservation and allocation system.
  • GPhC staff present in each test center.
  • Test centers that can accommodate high-stakes exams.
  • Solid supervisor training.
  • Computer checks and resolution of technical and connection problems.
  • Quality Assurance Committee

The PDA welcomes these changes and will continue to seek clarification and further improvements from regulators regarding the remaining applications.

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Andrew B. Reiter