Specialist colleges face backlash after yet another exam debacle

Medical politics

By Michael Woodhead

21 Feb 2022

Doctors in training have expressed anger and incredulity at yet another examination system failure by a specialist training college that has forced many candidates to postpone and resit the annual test.

More than one in ten of the candidates sitting the RACP’s computer-based Divisional Written Examination on 14 February were hit by a technical glitch that prevented them logging in to the system, leaving them unable to complete the session in the allocated time.

The technical breakdown affected 120 of the 1150 candidates who sat the computer-based exam were trainees in Melbourne, Sydney and New Zealand.

The RACP has said the trainees will be able to resit the exam on 8 March, but the AMA says specialist colleges need to have back up plans to avoid exam failures that cause huge distress to candidates whose medical careers depend tests.

“One-off, high-stake barrier examinations are extremely stressful and take up to a year of personal and professional sacrifice. It is extremely disappointing for both trainees and supervisors that ongoing difficulties arise with virtual/online examination platforms with insufficient contingency planning in place,” the AMA  said in a statement released on 17 February.

“The AMA is concerned about the ongoing difficulties Specialist Medical Colleges are having with examination processes both during and prior to the pandemic … The AMA Federal Council of Doctors in Training (CDT) has received feedback from many RACP trainee members about the significant distress the exam failure and disruption has caused.”

The AMA noted that the RACP’s 14 February exam system breakdown was just the latest in a litany of technical failures and cancellations inflicted on trainees by specialist colleges. The RACP’s infamous 2018 computer system meltdown left hundreds of trainees in despair, and this has been followed by exam glitches for RACGP trainees and more recently the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in November 2021.

“The AMA is calling on the Specialist Medical Colleges to learn from past experiences, share successes and failures, and work collaboratively to improve education and training to ensure this does not continue to be a regular occurrence,” the AMA said.

“In this third year of the pandemic, it is hard to see why robust contingency plans for disruptions to examinations and progression through training are still not in place and communicated to trainees sitting examinations.”

The RACP said the login problems experienced on 14 February were not the same problem as the data loss experienced by eight candidates during the October 2021 exam.

“The issue experienced by some candidates on Monday, 14 February 2022 was not encountered during the two CBT exams we ran in 2021. Neither was it identified through the extensive exam system testing program implemented by our exam provider and College staff before the examination on 14 February,” it said.

The College said trainees affected by the glitch would not be required to apply for Special Consideration to sit the backup exam on Tuesday, 8 March 2022.

“We will work with the affected candidates to identify other support we can provide. The RACP Support Program, delivered by Converge International, is also available to all members with contact information available on our website,” it said.

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