Issue 1 • 2022
© 2022 The Royal Australasian College of Physicians
A message from
your President
John Wilson.png
I want to talk about our recent exam problems.
These most recent problems are very stressful for our trainees, DPEs, supervisors and staff.
We, as a College, regret that they have occurred and are individually contacting the affected trainees.
As I am sure you can imagine, there were comprehensive contingency and crisis plans in place ahead of the exam.
When you heard about this – you may have thought 'not again' or 'why on earth can’t the College just get this right?'
I want to explain some context and background – not to be defensive or make excuses. It’s important you are fully informed and understand the issue.
On this occasion we offered a computer-based exam with a paper based alternative available under special considerations. As part of the contingency plan, should any interruption occur, those affected will sit a back-up exam on Tuesday, 8 March 2022.
Our trainees and DPEs have long requested that we run the Divisional Written Exams more than once a year.
That enables people who don’t pass early in the year to re-sit later in the year. It also gives those with young families, carer roles or other commitments the flexibility of having two exam dates each year to choose from.
But setting, printing, distributing, staging, marking, and notifying results for just one secure paper-based exam a year is one of the College's largest and most complex annual logistical exercises.
It involves many Fellows and staff, and thousands of hours of preparation. Multiple question banks have to be developed by volunteer Fellows.
Staging just one paper-based examination each year is a significant draw on these resources.
If we are to regularly stage any more than one exam a year, realistically it needs to be computer based.
Computer-based tests allow more flexibility in delivering examination questions and we can release results more quickly.
Comparing us with other Colleges or education institutions here and overseas is problematic.
Smaller Colleges with smaller cohorts and fewer examination venues do not face the same complexities that we do – with over 1100 sitting each year.
Our circumstances are different to many in other settings.
And we are heavily dependent on our volunteer Fellows to write questions.
Some of you have asked why we didn’t have paper-based backups ready to go on the spot if there were computer problems.
It’s difficult to distribute, secure and then release backup papers during an exam that’s in progress and venues hosting the CBT exam have to be geared up for this different process.
Nearly every peer College and many similar education institutions in our region and internationally have found CBTs challenging to implement and have experienced issues as we have.
We need to carefully consider the College’s further implementation of CBT delivery when we have a clear view of what has occurred.
The prolonged delays in escalation of the login issues had not been experienced in previous exams or in any of the extensive trials beforehand.
This explanation does not minimise the experience of this latest exam for our trainees and DPEs.
The NHS reformer and author Jan Filochowski who wrote ‘Too Good to Fail’ famously stated that ‘you’ll all make mistakes, it’s about correcting them before they become really big’.