Almost 3,000 students will take the pre-registration exam this week after months of delays.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) confirmed to the Pharmacist yesterday that 2,899 students have booked an appointment for a test centre or to sit the pre-reg exam remotely, while 98 candidates who were originally signed up have opted to defer until June.

The exam, which will take place in Pearson VUE centres across the UK this week (17 and 18 March), was initially postponed last April in response to Covid-19.

The regulator also told the Pharmacist that 57 overseas candidates will be sitting the exam this week, after it confirmed last month that those residing in countries with a time difference of more than two hours were now permitted to sit the exam at home.

This comes after students faced issues when trying to book an exam sitting at a test centre, with some left facing a 100-mile trip to sit the assessment and others discovering that an afternoon slot they had booked did not exist.

The GPhC has since apologised for the challenges faced by students and announced a series of actions it was taking to address the issues, including securing extra test centre places in Scotland.

‘A mix of emotions’

Josh Farrell, a pre-reg student from Glasgow and one of the 2,899 students who will be sitting the assessment this week told the Pharmacist that he is looking forward to getting the exam ‘out of the way’.

‘I’m feeling a really weird mix of emotions, on top of all the usual pre-exam jitters,’ he said.

‘Having waited so long, I’m definitely looking forward to getting it out the way and returning to some form of normality before the results are released.’

He added that there is a ‘real worry’ that provisionally register pharmacists could find themselves being a pharmacist one day, then getting the results and not being the next.

‘It would leave me feeling embarrassed, undermined and frustrated,’ he explained.

‘I’m hoping of course it doesn't come to that, and that tomorrow goes well. Obviously it's a new exam format, so hoping that runs smoothly too.

He added: ‘Mainly as I've said though, [I’m] looking forward to leaving that test centre tomorrow and feeling a massive weight lifted.’

Rachael Sarah Clynch, a provisionally registered pharmacist who is also sitting the exam this week, said that she is well prepared but has been left feeling anxious due to handling of the assessment.

'It definitely hasn’t been an easy time of it,' she said.

'Thankfully my employer allowed me to take time off before the exam using a mixture of holidays and paid leave, which has made this a bit easier.'

She added: 'I’m honestly just so tired of it all now that I just want to sit this exam and hopefully put it behind me.

'I have studied extremely hard for this for a very long time so believe I am as prepared as I could be in this present situation and still believe in this progression albeit a little disheartened by the actions of the regulator.'

'Inspiration to their peers'

A spokesperson for the British Pharmaceutical Students' Association (BPSA) said the body wished all registration candidates sitting the assessment this week 'the very best of luck'.

They added that the pre and prov-reg students sitting the assessment were an 'inspiration to their peers, those working towards registration and the wider profession'.

Gail Fleming, director for education and professional development at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), acknowledged that it has been an 'incredibly difficult time for provisionally registered pharmacists'.

'These students have been working incredibly hard to prepare for the assessment under the most difficult of circumstances, with Covid-19 restrictions and issues with the arrangements for the pre- reg exam,' she said.

'We are incredibly proud of all candidates and would like to thank them for their hard work and dedication shown during the pandemic. We wish them all the very best of luck this week.'

Exam pressure

Meanwhile, Paul Day, the director of the Pharmacists' Defence Association (PDA), urged the GPhC to not count the March exam as one of candidates' three tries to pass their assessment.

'The GPhC are unreasonable to continue to count the March sittings as one of the three attempts candidates have to pass their assessment,' he said.

'This unnecessarily adds to the pressure on those sitting the exams. Even on the eve of the first exam, it is still not too late for the GPhC Council to do the right thing.'

He added that many candidates do not have 'complete' confidence in the online exam arrangements, which have been provided by Pearson VUE for the first time year.

The GPhC said in a statement on Friday (12 March) that its contact centre would be open from 7.30am to 5pm on the days of the exam sittings.