Is the registration exam failing trainees?

A cursory examination of pass rates of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) registration assessment reveals an astonishing level of variation, from a high of 94.5% in 2012 to an all-time low this year of 74.0%. Overall pass rates as published by the GPhC are as follows:

  • 2011: 85.5%
  • 2012: 94.5%
  • 2013: 78.0%
  • 2014: 85.3%
  • 2015: 74.0%

Is it credible to conclude that the quality of preregistration trainees and tutoring varied by as much as 21% in the three years between 2012 and 2015? Or is there a fundamental problem with the assessment itself and the way that it is set?

If a circa 74% pass rate is correct, it implies that perhaps 500 registered pharmacists from the 2012 cohort are not fit-for-purpose. Whereas if a circa 95% is the right pass rate, a similar number of pharmacy students have just been denied their professional future as the direct result of an arbitrary, inconsistent and seemingly randomly variable process.

The British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association has published a list of 18 concerns about the exam and it does not make for comfortable reading.

Of even greater concern is that the BPSA also published a similar list of concerns in 2013 when the pass rate also nose-dived. This was met by the usual bland obfuscation by the GPhC based on the predictable invocation of the public interest. But the truth of the matter is that the GPhC has end-to-end responsibility here. It is responsible for setting the undergraduate and preregistration training syllabus. It accredits all schools of pharmacy and it accredits every training environment.

Is it really in the public interest to allow so many students to enter a five-year training programme, accumulate at least four years of student debt and then fail them in such numbers? Albeit many of those who fail will go on to pass at the second or third attempt, is it right to demoralise 25% of the pharmacy profession at the very beginning of their careers? Do other professions accept such high and inconsistent attrition rates, especially at the final hurdle? I suspect not.

So perhaps the question we should all be asking is: “Are pharmacy students failing the registration exam or is the exam failing trainees?”

Graham Phillips

Preregistration tutor

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 12 September 2015, Vol 295, No 7879;295(7879):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2015.20069110

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