Preparing for the Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialists (BCPS) examination is a rigorous process. It involves discipline, commitment and concentration to win the game.

This year, the examination will be held from 20 April to 6 May 2017. We want to help you to pass the exam on the first attempt, so read on to find some helpful hacks.

Understanding the BCPS examination requirements

a) Who sets these questions?

The BCPS examination questions are set up by a BPS Speciality Council and this council is composed of six pharmacists practicing in the specialty area along with three outside pharmacists. BPS also routinely solicits questions from practitioners working in the field, ensuring a democratic examination with real-life relevance.

Therefore, the 100-questions that are raised in the examination are likely to be scenario-based questions rather than direct "recall-regurgitate" questions. It is also wise to focus on US-based clinical guidelines, rather than adapting information from other countries.

b) What is tested in BCPS Pharmacotherapy?

Starting from Fall 2016, candidates are expected to be competent in 3 basic areas - Patient-specific pharmacotherapy (55% of the examination), drug Information and evidence-based medicine (25%) and lastly system-based standards and population-based pharmacotherapy (20%).

c) What is the passing rate?

There is a total of 100 questions in the paper and candidates can score form a range of minimum of 200 to a maximum of 800. The minimum passing score on BPS examinations is 500. Pass/fail decisions are based on the total score indicated on the score report, not on performance in the domains. There is no negative marking for the questions.

The average passing rate over the last ten years has been around 65.5%. Since 2014, BCPS examinations are conducted twice a year. Generally, there are significantly more candidates in Fall then in Spring; the passing rate varies from 57% to 57% and the passing rates for Spring and Fall has been inconsistent to conclude which season will guarantee a higher chance of passing the examination.

5 useful hacks for examination preparation

a) Prepare early

This is a no brainer advice. The more time you spend preparing for the examination, the more time it gives your brain to absorb the information needed. There are at least 13 core chapters to which studying for the BCPS pharmacotherapy exam entails.

In general, a practicing pharmacist who must work in the day and devote time in the evening to study will take at least three months to assimilate this information. It is never too early to start reading through the core materials even if you may not want to register for the exam this coming Spring.

b) Audio rather than visual

Many pharmacists complain on the lack of time to prepare for the exam. The idea of sitting down in long uninterrupted stretches to study is not a reality.

Pharmacists must learn to take on the "stolen moment" to complete studying in bits. Purchase audio notes rather than visual notes sometimes help in memory work. Listen to podcasts while you commute to work, talk to yourself to summarise key points after a bulky chapter.

d) Form a study group

Strength is power. Gathering in a group of like-minded pharmacists who want to pass the exam can motivate you to study for the exam. Discussion helps you to consolidate learning points. Your study group mates can also pick up your weaknesses in topic discussion.

Remember that the 100-item questions are not straight-forward questions. There may be more than one correct answer and the trick is in picking up the most favourable answer in the case scenario.

e) Prepare your weapons

The SI units for United States are different from what we usually use in Singapore. Remembering to convert mg/L to mmols/L for glucose for example can save you a lot of time during an examination by avoiding flipping the conversion charts.

Also, get ready a pencil and eraser for exam halls which are yet to be electronised. Do not expect the exam venue to have a clock, bring your own watch to tell time.

f) Take care of yourself

Sleep well before the examination. Hydrate and take vitamin C more often if you need to boost your immunity. The worse is getting 100% prepared but falling sick just before the examination.

We wish all candidates the best of luck to pass the BCPS exam with flying colours! MIMS

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