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This week we launch an advice section aimed at helping readers pass summative assessment and the MRCGP. To introduce the section, Dr Mei Ling Denney describes both the assessment and the exam, and highlights impending changes

Summative assessment aims to provide objective evidence that on completion of your training you have achieved a minimum level of competence, and can practise as an independent GP in the NHS.

It has four elements, all of which must be passed:

• A multiple choice question paper (MCQ)

• An assessment of consulting skills

• A written submission of practical work (WSOPW)

• A structured trainer's report (STR)

Within the first three components is a degree of choice. As an alternative to the MCQ, you may wish to sit the MRCGP MCQ paper, as a pass in this will exempt you from the SA MCQ.

You could also sit a simulated surgery examination rather than submit video evidence of your consulting skills. Alternatively, a pass in the MRCGP video module gains exemption from SA.

The WSOPW is commonly referred to as ‘the audit', as this is the form that most registrars choose. However, you could submit a variety of written projects under the National Project Marking Schedule.

A full description of the requirements of the summative assessment can be found on the website

MRCGP examination

The MRCGP examination is the entrance examination to the RCGP. Up till now it has been regarded as a ‘gold standard' exam. Many job advertisements for positions of higher responsibility require it, and it is a prerequisite for a GP trainer. The exam has four modules, each of which must be passed:

• A multiple choice question paper with ‘single best answer' and ‘extended matching' questions

• The written paper – with modified essay-type questions, and critical reading questions

• The consulting skills component – either a video or a simulated surgery

• An oral examination consisting of two 20-minute vivas.

More details can be found on the RCGP website:

The future

If you are thinking about taking the different parts of summative assessment, or the MRCGP in its current form, you need to avoid delay.

From late 2007, there is very likely to be a new assessment process. This will be the new membership examination of the RCGP (nMRCGP), and will be the new end-point exam for GP vocational training. It will consist of three elements:

• An applied knowledge test – (multiple choice paper)

• A clinical skills assessment, intended to be taken in your final year of training

• Workplace-based assessment will take place throughout your three years of training. The new assessment process is bit of an unknown quantity to you and your GP trainer at present. However, in the end, it should be more fit for purpose. Much more information about the new exams will be made available to you over the next couple of years.

The important thing for all of the exams that you will or may face is that you plan your study throughout your training, and discuss your progress with your GP trainer. Otherwise, you will feel unduly pressured during the last few months of your training, and may not be giving yourself the best chance of success.

Mei Ling Denney is a GP in Peterborough and an examiner for summative assessment and the MRCGP

‘Plan your study throughout your training to avoid undue pressure'

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