With the current preregistration trainees starting to settle into their new roles, 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.
The assessment this year was 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%1 in 2016.
Preparation for the assessment
Throughout my pre-registration 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 those 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.
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.
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 to 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 pre-registration 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; and ask plenty of questions – your tutors will be more than happy to help you.
Working with other pre-registration trainees will also get you through successfully. There is so much to learn from various sectors and each pre-registration experience is different so share knowledge and resources amongst yourselves. There is no first place for the assessment, so do your best to help each other pass.
Another key point is to practice 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 is no two ways around it. Practice, practice, practice!
While it is not necessary to read the BNF from cover to cover, 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.
Sean Quay is an alumni of the University of Nottingham where he contributed regularly to the University of Nottingham School of Pharmacy blog. Sean completed his pre-registration training at the Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) Trust and will be practicing as a relief pharmacist for Boots in Bristol.