Registrars say the RACGP had plenty of warning about a potentially catastrophic remote exam experience, weeks before the high-stakes fellowship exams were botched.
Serious concerns about the proctor exam service, contracted by the RACGP to Genix Ventures Pty Ltd, had been raised by candidates following a series of mock exams in September.
Grievances experienced in the mock exam included significant delays in logging on, being kicked out of the exam part-way through answering questions and being unable to contact RACGP support lines.
Candidates also reported having nonsensical conversations with the overseas exam proctors provided by the company, who used phrases such as “soory sever isshu” and “kingg pokas on the camera”.
Hannah* told TMR that after completing the mock exam, she decided to participate in an RACGP questionnaire which asked candidates for “anonymous feedback” about their experience.
But she had her anonymity betrayed when she received a call from an RACGP representative about her feedback, just days later.
The college told Hannah that the company’s proctors had been retrained, and that they had removed proctors who didn’t meet high standards.
Reluctantly, Hannah agreed to a second mock exam, only days before she was due to sit for the real Applied Knowledge Test and Key Feature Problem exams.
“The second time I trialled the exams, it was a great experience. The proctor was very nice, and it all went smoothly,” she told TMR.
But there was one caveat – very few candidates participated in the second trial of the mock exams.
“This is because the second trial was taking place so close to the real exams, and very few people had the time. That’s likely why it worked so seamlessly: because there were maybe one-tenth of us online,” Hannah said.
The AKT and KFP exams were originally due to be held in July, but thanks to COVID-19 they were delayed to October to allow for the development of a remote examination platform.
It is now unclear when candidates will be able to sit for the exams again, and whether the format will be remote, or held in dedicated testing centres.
But the RACGP has refunded the exam fees and insists that candidates will not incur any additional fees, provided they attempt the exams within the next 18 months.
Hannah said it was disappointing that despite the RACGP collecting more than $5 million in registrar fees to deliver these fellowship exams, they outsourced the task to a company which used “an unreliable overseas proctor service”.
“It was like your computer was a one-way mirror where these unknown people could see you and everything you were doing, but you couldn’t see them,” she said.
“Many people were concerned about their privacy, especially given that we have to hold up our Australian driver’s licence or a passport at the start of the exam to verify our identity – but we had no idea who was on the other side.
“It very much felt like the RACGP sold the exam contract to the cheapest bidder, and we as registrars were left with an experience that mirrored a bad Telstra call centre.”
The RACGP this week has welcomed an external, independent investigation of the incident.
RACGP acting president, Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda, said the college would look to input from the RACGP National Faculty of GPs in Training to inform the terms of reference for the investigation.
But the General Practice Registrars Australia group has since called on the RACGP to extend more leniency to the trainees, including abandoning the prerequisites of needing to pass both the AKT and KFP in order to qualify for the final fellowship exam.
Oscar* would also like to see the RACGP extend all registrars’ period of candidacy, which is a rule that requires trainees to complete all fellowship exams within three years.
Oscar was originally enrolled to sit his remote KFP exam this month but decided to withdraw following a terrible experience completing the mock exam.
But as a registrar who has already passed his AKT, if he waits to sit the exam at a testing centre, or by using pen and paper, his term to complete all exams may expire.
Oscar contacted the RACGP with his concerns, asking if his period of candidacy could be extended until he was able to access the exam in a more robust format.
But Oscar said the RACGP denied his request and expects his candidacy will still expire in December.
*Names have been changed.
UPDATE: After this story was published, we received a further response from the RACGP.
RACGP Acting Censor-in-Chief Tess van Duuren said the RACGP had been carefully listening to candidates affected by the cancellation of the KFP and AKT.
“We are working as hard as we can so that they can progress their path to Fellowship,” she told TMR.
“We have previously decided that all exam candidates who are eligible to sit the RCE or CCE examinations in 2020 or 2021 will automatically be granted an additional exam semester.“On top of that, those candidates who were affected by the recent KFP and AKT cancellation will be given a second additional exam semester. Therefore, the candidates who meet both of the above will automatically be granted a total of two additional exam semesters.”