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Postponement of November Part 3: FAQs

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about the College's decision to postpone the November 2020 Part 3 MRCOG exam.

Please read our news story for further context about this decision.

These FAQs were updated on Friday 6 November.

 

Why was the decision to postpone made at such short notice?

The exam model we built was suitable to be run based on national restrictions, thorough risk assessment and our duty of care to all involved, until Thursday 29 October when new data emerged regarding the growing infection rate. These data promoted a new risk assessment which ultimately led to the decision to postpone the exam. This was a complex process that we worked through as quickly as possible, and communicated the decision to candidates as soon as possible after the decision was made. We recognise that the timing of our decision is extremely unfortunate and can only apologise for the frustration this will cause to all affected candidates. However, we cannot ignore the environment around us and have prioritised the safety of all rather than continuing.

Why didn’t the College plan for a fully digital Part 3 given the context of the pandemic? Other medical royal colleges have run their equivalent exams fully digitally.

Our intention has always been to develop a fully digital model for the Part 3, following successful implementation of a fully digital Part 1 and Part 2 MRCOG and DRCOG this autumn. However, we have been unable to develop a fully digital Part 3 in the time available while still ensuring the integrity and security of the exam and meeting the requirements of our regulator, the GMC, while concurrently implementing fully digital models for our written exams. Therefore, for the November diet we developed a hybrid digital–in-person model diet that ensured the assessment would be robust and meet all GMC requirements and, and from a health and safety perspective, was built upon available guidance, thorough risk assessment and constant monitoring of national restrictions.

As noted above, until the release of new data on Thursday 29 October, the hybrid model was suitable to be run based on national restrictions, a thorough risk assessment and our duty of care to all involved. The revised risk assessment we undertook following release of those data made it clear we regrettably could not safely proceed with the exam as planned.

We have been working hard to implement a fully digital model as soon as possible, which will mitigate the issues that caused the postponement of the November exam. We will do everything possible to fast track implementation given next week’s postponement and will provide regular updates on our progress.

Throughout the pandemic, we have been in close contact with the other medical royal colleges, both individually and via the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, given we are facing many of the same challenges. While some colleges have proceeded with fully digital versions of their Part 3 equivalents, others have used similar hybrid models to the RCOG, having concluded this was the only way to proceed with the exams while ensuring the assessments remain robust and secure and meet GMC requirements. The GMC has approved all of the RCOG’s plans for the Part 3 exam. We will continue to share learning among our colleagues in the other medical royal colleges.

Why didn’t the RCOG ask for guidance from colleges that have run fully remote Part 3 equivalents when planning its own exam?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the royal medical colleges have worked closely together to share ideas and learning about how to deal with the impact of the pandemic. This collaboration has included planning for exams. However, each individual college ultimately has to make its own decisions based on its own individual circumstances, the requirements of the exams it runs and assessment of the complex balance of risks. For the RCOG, the best option for the November Part 3 was deemed to be the hybrid model.

Why didn’t the College have a contingency plan in the event that postponement of the hybrid model would be needed given the context of the pandemic?

As explained above, in the time available it unfortunately was not possible for the College to develop a fully digital model for the Part 3 that we were confident would meet GMC requirements and ensure the security and integrity of the exam. If this had been possible, this would have been our preference over a hybrid model.

The November Part 3 would have entailed candidates taking the exam via Microsoft Teams using a computer at the RCOG building in London. Would it not be possible to replicate this with the candidates joining the Microsoft Teams meeting from their local hospital, with one of the consultants in that hospital acting as an invigilator?

Unfortunately, this would not be possible for a number of reasons. First, it would place a significant burden on trusts around the country to free up staff to act as invigilators, at a time when the NHS is under increasing strain due to the second wave of the pandemic, the usual winter pressures and the need to attempt to catch up on procedures and appointments missed during the first wave. Second, there would be logistical issues with a number of elements of the exam, predominantly the need for the College to securely despatch and destroy confidential exam materials. Finally, this model would require reliable internet availability from each Trust where the candidate is sitting the exam, and we are aware that quality is variable across the NHS.

Why didn’t the previous communications to November Part 3 candidates make it clear that the exam might be postponed?

All of our correspondence with Part 3 candidates has included the caveat that all plans were subject to the pandemic. While we very much hoped that, like other medical royal colleges, we would be able to proceed with the hybrid model, unfortunately the timing of our exam has coincided with significant growth in the R rate around the country, hence our difficult decision to postpone the exam.

What assurances has the GMC given about the lack of impact on progression through the training programme and how will this work in practice?

The GMC has made it clear that for trainees where the Part 3 exam is their only requirement to move between training years, there will be no impact on progression through the training programme. More information about how this works in practice is available here.

How do I claim reimbursement from the College for my travel and accommodation expenses?

Candidates have been contacted to confirm the process of how to claim expenses incurred. If you have not received this communication, please contact MRCOGPart3@rcog.org.uk

When will the next Part 3 be held? The College website lists the next available diet in May 2021.

The next scheduled Part 3 is May 2021. However, we are committed to holding a Part 3 diet as soon as possible before then for candidates affected by the November postponement. This will be a fully digital exam which will require significant development, planning and testing to ensure the integrity of the exam and provide the best possible experience for candidates. This is an urgent priority for the College and we will share more information as soon as we are in a position to do so.

If I can’t sit the diets being held just for November 2020 candidates, when will I be able to sit the Part 3?

If your personal circumstances mean you are unable or do not want to sit the Part 3 at the additional diets we are scheduling for November 2020 candidates, then you will be prioritised for the next sitting that works for you.

What will the fully digital Part 3 look like? Will we sit the exam from our own homes, from our trust or from dedicated assessment centres?

At this stage it is not possible to confirm the exact details of a fully digital Part 3 as we have not yet identified the solution or platform we will be using. Details of what to expect will follow as soon as we have them.

What are the factors that need to be addressed to ensure the security and validity of a fully remote exam?

A remote examination must be delivered via a secure platform that meets the necessary security and information governance standards. Given the variability of Wi-Fi and broadband connections, a remote exam must have fail safes should issues occur on the day. Remote proctoring must be enabled to invigilate the exam and provide on the day support for candidates. The standards of the examination must be maintained and it is paramount that the requirements of the GMC are met.

I have used all of my study leave and annual leave to prepare for the November Part 3 and therefore will have none left to allow adequate preparation for the rescheduled exam. What is the College doing to support me?

If this is your situation, please contact us at MRCOGPart3@rcog.org.uk and we will contact your Head of School or Educational Supervisor to do what we can to facilitate additional study leave. We will do everything possible to support you and would expect your local trust to also be supportive.

How do I ensure I have a place at the next available diet?

All candidates who were booked to sit the November Part 3 exam will be automatically given a place at the next sitting of the exam. If you wish to take up this opportunity, you do not need to do anything. The Exams team will be in touch with more information in due course.

I would like to receive a refund for the November exam. How should I arrange this?

If you would prefer to receive a refund for the November exam, please contact MRCOGPart3@rcog.org.uk to arrange this. If you choose to have your payment refunded we will still guarantee you a place at the next Part 3 exam.

How will you ensure you do not need to postpone the Part 3 again?

Although it was not possible to make the November Part 3 fully digital in the time available while also digitising the College’s written exams, work had already begun to explore options for a fully remote Part 3 before the decision to postpone the November diet was taken. This work will now be fast-tracked to ensure the context of the pandemic will not further disrupt the Part 3. The process includes demonstrations of possible solutions and discussions with royal colleges that have run digital Part 3 equivalents to learn what worked well and what the pitfalls were. Whatever solution we choose, we will ensure it undergoes robust advance testing to minimise the risk of problems occurring on the day of the exam.

How can I find out more about the need for the College to postpone the Part 3 exam?

On 5 November the College held a webinar to which all candidates booked to take the Part 3 in November were invited. This provided an opportunity for candidates to hear more about the College’s decision making when planning the hybrid model, as well as our ultimate decision that we needed to postpone the exam for reasons of health and safety. A recording of the webinar will be shared with all candidates.