Medical students banned from toilet and failed for taking notes in three hour final exam

‘These events have taken a huge toll on my mental health’, one student said

Final year medical students have been banned from taking toilet breaks and failed for writing notes during a three hour exam.

Candidates taking the Situational Judgement Test (SJT) have even claimed they’ve wet themselves in their seats in order to stick to the rules of the exam.

One student said she was failed for taking notes, with her exam abruptly terminated halfway through. She was initially denied a resit, meaning she faced a poor final grade and being sent on placement to one of the country’s least popular areas. It was only after complaining that she was offered the option to rescue her degree with a resit.

The SJT makes up half a student’s final ranking and is usually taken in an exam hall. However, this year most candidates are taking it online with an invigilator monitoring them.

After graduation, they go on placements to different areas, or deaneries, around the country. Some of these deaneries – especially London – are particularly popular. Only students with the highest rankings make it to these deaneries – making the SJT a make-or-break exam for many student doctors.

“I went through all of the regulations made available to me,” one student doctor at a top medical school told The Tab. “There was no guidance that suggested I wouldn’t be allowed blank paper.”

Before the start of the test, the student showed the invigilator her workspace, including her notepad, and was allowed to start, “but my test was terminated 40 minutes through by my invigilator, because they saw I was writing my workings on a blank notepad.

“I have never sat an exam where blank paper wasn’t allowed, and I didn’t interpret the instructions to ‘clear notes off desk’ and not use ‘notes’ or ‘textbooks’ as referring to blank paper.

“These events have taken a huge toll on my mental health.”

The NHS body which oversees the SJT and manages the first two years of placements – UK Foundation Programme (UKFPO) – contracts the test out to a private company, Pearson VUE.

After the issues, UKFPO initially said candidates could not retake, but has now u-turned and is offering students the chance to resit their exams in a short window.

Pearson VUE said that all clients are offered the option to include scheduled breaks – which would allow candidates to use the toilet – but that UKFPO chose not to use it.

A Pearson VUE spokesperson said: “To safeguard the integrity of our services and the content of our clients’ exams, we actively monitor against strict security policies. The SJT is designed to be fair to all candidates and as the UKFP’s testing partner, Pearson VUE takes all necessary steps to ensure that all candidates have a consistent experience but is allowed to stop a candidate’s exam if our rules, policies and procedures aren’t followed.

“This detailed information on Pearson VUE’s website has been specifically developed as a helpful resource to support candidates who may be using OnVUE (taking an online proctored test) for the first time.

“This information was communicated by the UKFPO by email to all SJT candidates at the recommendation of Pearson VUE.”

Dr Mike Masding, co-chair of UKFPO, told The Tab: “Out of 8000 UKFPO applicants a small number (less than 0.25 per cent of the Cohort) were disqualified by the testing invigilator for prohibited actions. We are working with individual applicants whose tests were discontinued and where appropriate will offer the option to re-book. All applicants were given guidance in advance of the test but we will continue to work with partners to review the process and ensure all applicants are fully supported.”

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