21 July 2020

Mock exam to cost trainees real money

COVID-19

GP trainees who would like to practise the new Remote Clinical Exam (RCE), set to replace the traditional OSCE, are being asked to pay the RACGP nearly $700 for the privilege.

In an email sent to trainees last week, the college invited all individuals registered to sit the final fellowship exam this year to take part in a mock version.

When trainees clicked on the registration link, they were surprised to see that the practice exam would cost them $695.

It’s the latest frustration for GPs planning to fellow this year, with the OSCE having already being delayed due to COVID-19, and then replaced entirely with the transitional assessment known as the RCE.

The RACGP told The Medical Republic in May that any trainee who didn’t feel comfortable sitting the interim RCE exam could either be refunded their registration fee of $4770 or defer without penalty and have their training time extended.

But trainees who decide to delay sitting the RCE this year will potentially face a more uncertain future, as the college plans to overhaul the clinical exam format for 2021.

Some trainees said that being charged so much to practise the new exam format felt like an additional punishment, following months of disruption to their ability to study and work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“How can this possibly be justified?” one anonymous GP trainee told The Medical Republic.

“We have already paid for the exam and this should be included in that cost.”

But the RACGP defended its decision, saying that all RACGP assessments, including the mock RCE, attracted a registration fee.

“The fee for the mock RCE is based on extensive modelling of the costs associated with delivery of this package to help candidates prepare for the RCE,” said college spokeswoman Dr Tess Van Duuren.

Dr Van Duuren said that while some would assume a virtual exam would be cheaper to deliver, the RCE was going to cost the college more than the traditional OSCE format.

The RACGP told The Medical Republic the additional costs included the licensing and testing of multiple IT platforms to deliver a seamless experience for candidates and examiners, recruiting and training more examiners, and hiring actors to role-play cases.

“We have also had to write and road-test an entirely new suite of questions and marking rubrics to suit the new format,” Dr Van Duuren said.

“We have taken on board feedback from trainees about preparing for past assessments to develop the mock RCE and sought to improve the experience for candidates.”

Trainees registered for the RCE in October and November, who pay to access the mock exam, will receive:

  • pre-exam webinars covering each of the four RCE case types
  • one-on-one practice exam with four typical RCE cases in the exam format
  • individual feedback from examiners immediately after the mock exam, including advice on areas for improvement
  • post-exam webinar, including group feedback and exam tips.

But while the mock RCE will continue to sit behind a paywall, the RACGP said it was committed to providing some other free preparatory resources for all candidates.

“These resources will include an online exam module with examples and marking rubrics,” Dr Van Duuren said.

“We will also provide a resource to support the technological aspects of the RCE, to help ensure all candidates know how to set up their computer and have the ability to test it in advance.”

Dr Sama Balasubramanian, president of the General Practice Registrars Australia (GPRA) said trainees were feeling anxious and uncertain about sitting an exam they had never seen before.

“The GPRA is looking to work with the RACGP to ensure there is limited financial impact on trainees,” he said.

“While we understand there are costs in delivering an online assessment, we don’t want anything to exacerbate the financial stress our trainees are already under.”

Update: After this story was first published, the RACGP pointed out that ACRRM’s practice exam fee was higher, in fact double the price at just over $1400. We note that ACRRM also charges significantly less for the entire bout of examinations – by about $2000. 

Any trainees experiencing financial hardship are invited to discuss options for the mock RCE by calling the RACGP on 1800 472 247 or by completing an application for special consideration and emailing it to pathways@racgp.org.au.

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