Oriel numeracy test: what pharmacy students need to know

The Oriel numeracy test is designed to examine your ability to solve practice-based calculations. Here is what you need to consider before and during this assessment.

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Pharmacists are frequently confronted with calculations in their daily practice; the Oriel numeracy test contains ten questions designed to assess a candidate’s current ability. It also acts as a marker when ranking applicants applying for preregistration placements.

You will be required to complete the numeracy test at a Pearson Vue test centre on the same day as the situational judgement test (SJT). There are numerous test centres available nationally (and internationally), which means you can book their assessment at a location most suitable for you.

Although individual testing stations in the centres will have been allocated to national recruitment candidates, there may be people sitting other tests (such as driving theory tests) at adjacent stations in the venue.

It is also important to note that you will not be allowed to sit the assessment unless you have the appropriate identification (see below).

Numeracy test structure

The numeracy test is designed to provide assurance of an applicant’s ability to carry out basic pharmaceutical calculations, however, these calculations are not provided in a clinical context and are designed to test mathematical ability rather than practice knowledge.

There are 10 questions and the time allowed for the exercise is 15 minutes. Answers will be entered into a ‘free text’ box as opposed to a multiple choice format. Certain models of calculators are allowed — details of permitted models and other resources are detailed below and in the Oriel applicant handbook.

Although the score for the numeracy test does not count towards the final Oriel candidate score, it may be used in the event of a tie-breaker where the final ranking of two candidates is the same. In this instance, the candidate with the higher numeracy test score will be ranked higher. Please see section 5.11 of the Oriel applicant handbook for more information regarding tie-breaker rules.


There is an expectation that, by the end of a pharmacy candidate’s third year of undergraduate study, they should have a broad enough understanding of certain calculations. The following may be included in the numeracy test:

  • Doses and dose regimens;
  • Dosage and unit conversions;
  • Concentrations (e.g. expressed as w/v, % or 1 in x);
  • Dilutions;
  • Using provided formulae;
  • Quantities to supply.

Some topics may be more complex and, as such, may not be covered until the final year of the MPharm degree or in the preregistration year. For example, the following calculation types are not included in the numeracy test:

  • Estimations of kidney function;
  • Displacement volumes and values;
  • Molecular weight;
  • Infusion rates;
  • Pharmacokinetics;
  • Health economics.

Box: Example calculations

The following questions and answers are provided as examples only and are included to give you an idea of the types of question that will be asked during the numeracy test. Please note that these exact questions will not be asked during the assessment.

Example 1: quantities to supply

You are given the following prescription:

Sodium valproate 200mg enteric coated tablets

Take the following: 
200mg in the morning and 400mg at night for 3 days, 400mg in the morning and 400mg at night for 3 days, 400mg in the morning and 600mg at night for 3 days, 600mg in the morning and 600mg at night for 20 days.

How many sodium valproate 200mg enteric coated tablets are required to give the full supply?


Work out the total number of tablets to be supplied for the morning and evening doses.

Formula to use: number of tablets per day = number of morning tablets + number of evening tablets

Day 1–3 = (1 x 3) + (2 x 3)

= 3 + 6

= 9 tablets

Day 4–6 = (2 x 3) + (2 x 3)

= 6 + 6

= 12 tablets

Day 7–9 = (2 x 3) + (3 x 3)

= 6 + 9

= 15 tablets

Days 10–29 = (3 x 20) + (3 x 20)

= 60 + 60

= 120 tablets

Answer = 156 tablets

Example 2: dilutions

Drug X is in a 1:1,000 solution. What weight of drug X in grams is present in 650mL of this solution? Give your answer to two decimal places.

Formula to use: C1 / V1 = C2 / V2


C1 = 1g

V1 = 1,000mL

C2 = ?

V2 = 650mL


1g / 1,000mL = C2 / 650mL

C2 = 1g x 650mL / 1,000mL

C2 = 0.65g

Answer: 0.65g

Example 3: calculating volume

A 32-year old female who is allergic to peanuts accidently ingests peanut butter. She is given an intramuscular injection of 0.5mg of adrenaline 1 in 1,000.

What volume of solution was administered to the patient? Give your answer to one decimal place.


1 in 1,000 = 1g in 1,000mL

= 1,000mg / 1,000mL

= 1mg / mL

= 0.5mg / 0.5mL

Answer: 0.5mL

Tips to remember during the numeracy tests

It is important to prepare appropriately before sitting the numeracy test, but there is some advice that can help ensure the best chance at success, for example:

  • Read the questions — this may help avoid unnecessary errors, such as using the wrong units or not considering the number of decimal places in an answer;
  • Sense checking the answer — it is important to ask “is this sensible?” — does the patient need 10,000 aspirin tablets? Or if the candidate has worked out split doses (e.g. half of a tablet/capsule) it is likely that the answer is incorrect;
  • Stay focused — the questions could be straightforward, which can lead to complacency, making you more vulnerable to making the errors mentioned previously;
  • Time management — spending too long on any one question can lead to rushing subsequent questions. It is OK for you to skip certain questions to come back to later if you are unsure how to answer them, but make sure you come back to those questions;
  • Use the calculator — even if the calculation seems simple, this should help minimise errors.

Final pieces of advice

You will be required to bring both the original and a copy of the following documentation to the selection centre:

  • A valid passport
  • Right to work documents (where required, e.g. biometric residence permit, certificate of sponsorship, letter from UK Immigration Office)
  • Bring the correct type of calculator as permitted by Pearson Vue:
    • Casio MX-8S-WE — this model is still permitted in the assessment although it has now been discontinued
    • Casio MX 8B-WE / MX-8B
    • Aurora HC133
    • Aurora DT210

About the authors

Khalid Khan is head of training and professional standards at community pharmacy chain Imaan Healthcare. He is also a preregistration training programme director at Health Education England.

Aamer Safdar is principal pharmacist and lead for education and development at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, where he manages the preregistration programme at his hospital.

Atif Shamim is primary care lead for London and South East at Health Education England, and the national clinical lead for the preregistration recruitment scheme.


Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, October 2019;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2019.20207043