The situational judgment test is a compulsory exam for entry to the UK Foundation Programme and is designed to test the attributes needed to work as a foundation doctor. It is run by the UK Foundation Programme Office (UKFPO), which this year commissioned a US testing company, Pearson VUE, to coordinate the test.
Students were told that they could sit the exam at Pearson VUE testing centres or virtually from home, with online proctoring. However, many students were unable to get a slot at a testing centre and were forced to sit the exam online from home.
One student told The BMJ that she had been disqualified from her exam for taking notes on a blank notepad despite having sent an image of her desk, including the notepad, to her invigilator before the exam started.
Another student said that they had been disqualified for playing the audio of a video question out loud from their laptop speakers. Before doing so they had asked their invigilator whether this was allowed but received no response.
“They indicate that the treatment for some students undergoing the exams has been unfair, unacceptable, and in some cases inhumane,” they said. “This is the latest in a line of issues with the SJT [situational judgment test] delivery for this year, and we have serious concerns of the impact this will have on final year students.
“It’s clear that this is a totally unacceptable situation, and we will be taking this up with the UK Foundation Programme as a matter of urgency.”
They have written to the UKFPO calling for it to consider the allegations against Pearson VUE’s mishandling of the exam, review its online proctoring policy, and offer further extensions for students to resit the test where relevant. The UKFPO has said that fewer than 20 students—less than 0.25% of the 8000 applicants—were disqualified from the exam by a Pearson VUE invigilator for “prohibited actions.”
Mike Masding, co-chair of the UKFPO, said that he was working with applicants whose tests were discontinued and “where appropriate will offer the option to re-book.”
The Doctors’ Association said that, while it welcomed this “gesture of good will,” it had received complaints of students being forced to resit exams when they had covid-19 symptoms and of candidates not being allowed to use the toilets at test centres.
Freya Rhodes, medical student representative for the Doctors’ Association UK, said, “Telling students that their appeals have been rejected, and then days later offering resits, is a U turn that demonstrates poor preparation and lack of understanding from UKFPO and Pearson VUE.
“Furthermore, these resits have been offered with limited flexibility and extremely short notice, with some students being asked to take the examination while being unwell with covid-19. We must continue to support our final year students who are also facing the challenges of graduating during a pandemic.”
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