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ICBSE statement on MRCS A pass mark

20 Nov 2020

The Intercollegiate Committee for Basic Surgical Examinations (ICBSE) has issued a statement in response to concerns from candidates about the pass mark for the MRCS Part A exam. This exam was delivered online for the first time in September, as a result of the COVID pandemic. 

The full statement is below:

“The cancellation of exams earlier this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic caused great disruption for many of those who were preparing for and sitting these significant assessments. We understand the real concerns that those affected had about the potential impact on their career progression, which would have knock-on effects on health services as a whole. That’s why the Intercollegiate Committee for Basic Surgical Examinations (ICBSE) and the four Surgical Royal Colleges of the United Kingdom and in Ireland worked hard over a short period to get these exams up and running again in a way which was safe for candidates and examiners, and which protected the integrity of the exams themselves. 

With this in mind the MRCS Part A exam was delivered online for the first time in September, with the approval of the GMC as the regulating body. This avoided the risk of large numbers of candidates and staff meeting and, also allowed the examination to be taken outside the UK and Ireland. More than 3,500 candidates took the examination, and despite these unique conditions the overwhelming majority were able to sit the exams without incident. 

We know that some candidates experienced issues with the new exam, and so given these exceptional and stressful circumstances we’ve tried at every stage to engage positively with all concerns that have been raised with us. We’ve already provided an unprecedented level of information to candidates about the exam, including details on the specific technical issues encountered by a minority of candidates sitting the examination, why we need additional time to issue the final results and how the final pass mark was calculated.

We sincerely apologise for the distress caused to candidates by issuing the pass mark before we had provided candidates with sufficient context. We’re now looking to learn from our experience over the past couple of months, and are undertaking a review of the processes around this exam. While the experience of the majority of candidates this time around was positive, we want to continue to improve the candidate experience before, during and after the examination is as positive as possible for future diets. This will ensure that the four Surgical Royal Colleges continue to be in a position to provide candidates with a Part A examination that is accessible to candidates in the context of ongoing restrictions on travel and congregation whilst retaining the rigour and defensibility required of a high-stakes examination.”

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