An analysis of the GB Pharmacy pre-registration exam pass figures from 2011 to 2019

Identifying key trends and their potential reasons

Identifying key trends and their potential reasons

Take away chai (summary)

  • From 2011 to 2019, there has been an overall increase in the number of pre-registrants sitting the exam by 36.7%, however the increase in the number passing over the same period is 13.7%.

  • The percentage passing the exam has fallen from 86% in 2011 to 71.5% in 2019.

  • The average number of pre-registrants passing in June is 82.4%, whereas in September is 63.8%.

  • The number of people sitting the exam in September has been increasing since 2016.

Collated table and graph of the pharmacy pre-registration pass data from 2011 to 2019 (Source: GPhC website)

Key notes on the data

  • Data for the 2014 September assessment is missing. I’ve only been able to find that the percentage pass rate is 3% lower compared to September 2015, therefore I’ve assumed 61%. For data relating to the overall figure for 2014, I have used June data only.

  • The format of the exam changed from June 2016 onwards. Previous to this, the last change in the format of the exam was in 1993.

Description and analysis

Trend 1: Number of students sitting the exam

There has been an overall increase in the number of students sitting the exam from 2,926 in 2011 to 3,999 in 2019, representing a 36.7% increase. At face value, this could be attributed to an increase in the number of pharmacy schools. From 2011, the number of pharmacy schools increased from 21 to 25 (University of Birmingham, Newcastle (transferred to Durham), Lincoln and Sussex). Linking the increase in the number of schools of pharmacy by four, to an overall increase of students sitting the exam by 1,000 (30% compared to 2011 figures) doesn’t fit, and so I would guess other universities increased the size of their cohorts over this period, contributing to the overall rise.

Trend 2: Number of students passing the exam

The number of students who passed the exam rose from 2,515 in 2011 to 2589 in 2019. The percentage increase was however smaller in comparison to increase in the number who sat, at 13.7%. The reason for this could be the falling pass-rate. In 2011, the total number of pre-regs passing was 86%, but this fell to 71.4% in 2019. With this data, there are 2 points to note:

  1. The exam format changed from June 2016 onwards

  2. The movement from 86% to 71.4% was not one directional; in some years the total numbers of pre-regs passing increased to 89.5% like in 2012.

Since the number of students sitting the exam increased from 36.7%, the pass rate should also increase by a similar proportion. However this was not the case, indicating one of two potential reasons:

  • The exam difficulty remained the same and the exam pass mark increased i.e. a higher mark was needed to pass; or

  • The exam difficulty increased, while the pass mark remained the same.

There is a potential third option which could be contentious: subsequent cohorts of pre-regs are generally weaker (don’t shoot the messenger!).

Interestingly, since the change in the format of the exam in 2016, from 2017 the overall percentage of those who pass has now stabilised to the low 70s. This could be the result of a fair framework being identified to grade each year consistently.

Trend 3: Sitting in June versus September

Between 2011 and 2019, the average number of pre-regs who pass in June is 82.4%, whereas in September is 63.8%. The reason for the drop in September could be due to the cohort being weaker or the exam being tougher. There are many reasons why someone may choose to sit in September, ranging from being unable to sit in June (e.g. illness, personal situations, starting pre-reg late etc), or failing the June exam.

Interestingly in 2019, the percentage of students who pass in June and September is almost the same, both either side of 70%. To see if this trend continues, data from subsequent years is needed.

Since 2017, the number of candidates sitting in September has increased steadily. This could be a result of candidates failing at their first sitting in June, then deciding to resit the next September. This is supported by the decreasing percentage of pre-regs passing in the June exam despite an increase in the numbers who are sitting. However the data to support this is inconclusive due to the lack of available information on the number of people who passed first time.

The June 2016 situation

The GPhC changed the format of the exam from June 2016. Given this change, and the potential issues with a lack of exam papers going to be available, the number of people who sat in September 2015 was the highest it had ever been (excluding June 2019).

The number of candidates who sat the new format in June 2016 fell slightly, when compared to the numbers in June 2015 and 2017. This could be linked to the anxiety student felt by sitting a new format exam, coupled with little availability of past examination questions to practice style. Surprisingly, the pass rate for this cohort was 95.3% (2672), which is the largest percentage pass rate since I started doing this (this being my first time). The reason for the high number of people passing could be a result of a number of factors:

  • Weaker candidates did not sit, explaining the smaller number of those sitting

  • Candidates who may have chosen to sit in June 2016 may have instead pushed to sit in September 2015 if they could, given the upcoming change in exam format

  • The pass mark fell. The pass marks for the June 2016 exam was 64.51% for part one and 61.27% for part two. This compared to the June 2019, where the pass marks were 65% for part 1 and 71.4% for part 2. Given both exams have the same format, the reduction in the pass mark for paper 2, and the points above in combination likely contributed to the increased pass rate.

Conclusion

  • Trend 1: The number of candidates sitting the exam is increased by 36.7% from 2011 to 2019.

  • Trend 2: The number of candidates passing the exam has increased by 13.7% from 2011 to 2019.

  • Trend 3: More people pass sitting the exam in June (82.4%), compared to September (63.8%). However there is data to suggest the percentage who pass is narrowing around 70% in either sitting.

  • June 2016 situation: Changing the format of the exam had a short term impact on the numbers and pass-rate which was quickly corrected.

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