Newly registered pharmacist Sean Quay reflects on his experience of this year’s General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) preregistration assessment, and provides insights to help current and future trainees best prepare for theirs.
With the current preregistration trainees starting to settle into their new roles and in the wake of the GPhC’s response to recommendations made by the British Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (BPSA), I thought it would be timely to reflect on the preregistration assessment after completing it myself this year.
This is the second year of the new assessment format where the questions are scenario based; this encourages the application of knowledge and reflects current practice, which is becoming increasingly patient focused. I found completing this year’s assessment challenging. However, this should not discourage current trainees from working hard and passing it. The pass rate was 78.2%, which is consistent with previous years, apart from 95% in 2016.
Feedback from the candidates was generally around the lack of time, as many questions in the paper required extensive reading to deduce accurate answers. As a result, candidates felt rushed.
On reflection, some of us felt there could have been more guidance around potential topics covered in the exam. As there is no set syllabus, the amount of potential content included in the assessment was overwhelming, especially if not encountered during training. For example, statistics, vaccination schedules, and the Green and Orange books.
Preparing for the assessment
Throughout my preregistration year, the training coordinator in my trust prepared mock papers to be attempted under exam conditions. This allowed trainees to discuss their answers and learn from each other, which helped us prepare psychologically and emotionally for the assessment. I also attended clinical tutorials arranged by the regional coordinator to help consolidate my practical experience.
As I completed my training in a hospital setting, I recognised early on that my law, licensing ages and over-the-counter (OTC) knowledge was weaker compared with trainees from a community setting. I compensated for this by reading Medicines Ethics and Practice (MEP). If you think your MEP can be left in your university dorm rooms, think again! I then used OTC references such as Managing Symptoms in the Pharmacy to understand common minor ailments and treatment options.
Additionally, I read the main sections of the British National Formulary (BNF) which contains information about medication profiles in relation to disease states, and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines to gain a full understanding of treatments for broader topics such as cardiovascular diseases.
In hindsight, I would have used the same preparation method but completed additional past papers. There were plenty of these available and although they are not an exact representation of the assessment, they would have helped with time management. I would have also dedicated more time familiarising myself with the format of the summary of product characteristics (SPCs), allowing me to work through questions faster.
Advice to trainees
To current and future preregistration trainees: allow enough time to review material to avoid struggling later in the year. Make full use of your day-to-day practice. Every experienced pharmacist will tell you that nothing beats learning on the job. Ask plenty of questions — your tutors will be more than happy to help you.
Working with other preregistration trainees will also get you through successfully. There is so much to learn from various sectors and each preregistration experience is different so share knowledge and resources among yourselves. There is no first place for the assessment, so do your best to help each other pass.
Another key point is to practise calculations throughout the year. Learn to recognise the different types of questions and work at increasing the speed at which you solve each question. With pharmaceutical calculations, there’s no two ways around it. Practice, practice, practice!
While it is not necessary to read the entire BNF, I would suggest reading the treatment summaries. This will help you answer plenty of assessment questions and enhance your practice.
Finally, have fun! If you are in a fun study group, you will be surprised how many funny helpful mnemonics you and your friends can create to recall facts. So relax, stay focused and I am sure the GPhC will have a great batch of pharmacists coming up on the register soon.
About the author:
Sean Quay is an alumni of the University of Notthingham, where he contributed regularly to the Nottingham School of Pharmacy blog. Sean completed his preregistration training at the Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) Trust and and will be practising as a relief pharmacist for Boots in Bristol.