Cookie policy: This site uses cookies (small files stored on your computer) to simplify and improve your experience of this website. Cookies are small text files stored on the device you are using to access this website. For more information please take a look at our terms and conditions. Some parts of the site may not work properly if you choose not to accept cookies.


Subscribe or Register

Existing user? Login


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

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20069110

Readers' comments (5)

  • Altaf Vaiya

    I agree with your thoughts Graham, I echo what you have said. I also would like to add that 91 % of hospital based pre-registration students passed the exam, does this mean that the exam was more relevant to pre-registration students training in hospital or is it the fact that community based pre-registration students are not getting enough support. There is a large variation in the standard of pre-reg training in community and some tutors see students as an extra pair of hands and do not support these students. I really think the GPhC has to be able to support students and at the same time help support tutors maybe bring in some sort of governance for pre-reg training sites. Passing the exam alone does not make you a competent pharmacist the exam has a role to play and should be structured so that it reflects student understanding and knowledge needed to serve our profession.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Chijioke Agomo

    I agree with you Altaf.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Graham Phillips

    I go along with much of what you say, Altaf. I wrote previously about the need to control pharmacy student numbers here:

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Graham - The pass rates appear to be reasonably stable amongst students who have attended the top 5 Universities (table 2) and the variation appears to be largely amongst students who attended those Universities with the lowest pass rates (table 3). These have in particular been exceedingly low for the last two years although we have yet to see this year's past rates by University until after the September meeting of the GPhC Council.

    Similarly the pass rates in hospitals over the years in question do not seem to to have the same fluctuation - I accept the two may be linked and hopefully someone can provide answers to that question?

    Rather than bemoaning the exam failing students it may be we the profession that are collectively failing students? Why do these differences, where a significant minority in the last 3 years are unable to pass an exam designed to test the ability of a candidate to put knowledge into practice may be something more worthy of investigation and debate. Then the harder part being what are the solutions and how can we implement for the benefit of patients, public and the pharmacy profession going forward?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Graham Phillips

    Interesting points Dave: but as I point out in my letter, the GPhC has total and complete end-to-end responsibility. If we assume (for the sake of the argument) that certain Schools of Pharmacy are the problem then we must ask why the GPhC has granted them accreditation in the first place and/or on an ongoing basis. As to your broader point about the profession collectively failing students, I disagree. Pharmacy education at every level is woefully under-resourced compared with other health professions. If your point is that we need a fundamental rethink then I agree. I've argued for years for an integrated, 5year degree. Integration without control of student numbers would be impossible because there will always be limited numbers of PreReg places. I concur entirely with the points made her by Claire Anderson and colleagues:

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

For commenting, please login or register as a user and agree to our Community Guidelines. You will be re-directed back to this page where you will have the ability to comment.

Recommended from Pharmaceutical Press

  • Pharmaceutical Toxicology

    Pharmaceutical Toxicology

    Explains the methodology and requirements of pre-clinical safety assessments of new medicines. Includes registration requirements and pharmacovigilance.

    £40.00Buy now
  • Further MCQs in Pharmacy Practice

    Further MCQs in Pharmacy Practice

    Further MCQs in Pharmacy Practice contains 600 practice-oriented pharmacy exam questions. Includes both open- and closed-book sections.

    £30.00Buy now
  • Hospital Pre-registration Pharmacist Training

    Hospital Pre-registration Pharmacist Training

    A practical explanation for undergraduates and pre-registration trainees. Shows what to expect from a hospital pre-registration pharmacist training programme.

    £25.00Buy now
  • Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions

    Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions

    Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions features over 400 closed book and calculation questions. With the registration exam having gone through a complete transformation in 2016, this volume has been developed around the new General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) guidelines.

    £33.00Buy now
  • Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions 2

    Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions 2

    Pharmacy Registration Assessment Questions 2 features more than 400 entirely new, closed book and calculation questions. It can be used in conjunction with the previous volume or on its own. All questions are in line with current GPhC guidance, enabling you to prepare for the pharmaceutical pre-registration exam with confidence.

    £35.00Buy now
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Save
  • Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Newsletter Sign-up

Want to keep up with the latest news, comment and CPD articles in pharmacy and science? Subscribe to our free alerts.