Thank you for your interest in the Prescribing Safety Assessment (PSA).
The British Pharmacological Society and MSC Assessment are working together to deliver the Prescribing Safety Assessment (PSA) that allows all students to demonstrate their competencies in relation to the safe and effective use of medicines.
MSC Assessment and the British Pharmacological Society are working closely with all medical and foundation schools who have students due to sit the PSA over the coming months. If you have questions or concerns about your PSA sitting, please contact your school who will be able to provide you with the latest information.
If you are a medical or foundation school candidate expecting to take part in the forthcoming events instructions on how to register for the PSA online system would have been provided by your school. You must activate your account using the email link you have received and then login before you can access the PSA system. You are advised to do this as soon as possible in order to gain access to practice papers and information pages on the PSA.
Once you have successfully completed your account activation you will be able to view further materials to make you more familiar with the PSA assessment environment.
For general information about the assessment and its structure, click on the sections at the top of this page.
Prescribing is a fundamental part of the work of Foundation Year 1 doctors, who write and review many prescriptions each day. It is a complex task requiring knowledge of medicines and the diseases they are used to treat, careful judgment of risks and benefits of treatment, and attention to detail.
As well as offering the potential for improving health, it is an activity associated with potential hazards: a GMC-sponsored study found that 9% of hospital prescriptions contain errors ('An in depth investigation into causes of prescribing errors by foundation trainees in relation to their medical education - EQUIP study'). It is also apparent in other research that this is the area of the Foundation Doctor role that new graduates find the most challenging (The state of medical education and practice in the UK report: 2014 and Be prepared: are new doctors safe to practice?). As a result, in Outcomes for graduates(originally published in Tomorrow's Doctors), the GMC defined prescribing competencies required of new medical school graduates.
The Prescribing Safety Assessment allows candidates to demonstrate their competencies in relation to the safe and effective use of medicines.
The Prescribing Safety Assessment (PSA) is a pass/fail assessment of the skills, judgment and supporting knowledge related to prescribing medicines in the NHS. The PSA assesses the prescribing skills of final-year medical students and is based on the competencies identified by the General Medical Council outlined in Outcomes for graduates (originally published in Tomorrow's Doctors). These competencies include writing new prescriptions, reviewing existing prescriptions, calculating drug doses, identifying and avoiding both adverse drug reactions and medication errors and amending prescribing to suit individual patient circumstances. The content of each item is relevant to the prescribing tasks expected of an F1 doctor, i.e. the questions refer to ailments and drugs that graduates are likely to be dealing with in year one of the Foundation Programme.
The Prescribing Safety Assessment Blueprint identifies eight different question types, each of which may be set in seven different domains of clinical activity:
|Planning Management||Elderly Care|
|Adverse Drug Reactions||Obstetrics & Gynaecology|
|Drug Monitoring||General Practice|
For a better idea of what assessment items look like please see the Example Question Items in the Resources section. Users who are registered by their school to take the final-year PSA gain access to interactive practice papers, which provide examples of what the assessment questions look like.
Prescribing is a fundamental part of the work of Foundation Year 1 doctors, who write and review many prescriptions each day. It is a complex task requiring knowledge of medicines and the diseases they are used to treat, careful judgement of risks and benefits of treatment, and attention to detail.
A GMC-sponsored study found that 9% of hospital prescriptions contain errors. It is also apparent in other research (see The state of medical education and practice in the UK report: 2014 and Be prepared: are new doctors safe to practise?) that this is the area of the Foundation doctor role that new graduates find the most challenging. In response, the General Medical Council (which regulates undergraduate medical education in the UK) has placed a much greater emphasis on the prescribing competencies expected of new graduate in Outcomes for graduates (originally published in Tomorrow's Doctors).
The aim is to assess the outcomes required of newly qualified doctors in Outcomes for graduates (originally published in Tomorrow's Doctors) as they relate to prescribing. The content of each question is relevant to the prescribing tasks expected of a Foundation Year 1 doctor as outlined in Tomorrow's Doctors 2009, so the questions refer to ailments and drugs that students are likely to be dealing with in Foundation Year 1. Students taking the test can refer to the content of the online British National Formulary at any point during the assessment. While the BNF is a recommended resource, it is important to understand it does not answer all questions on prescribing.
The assessment aims to test eight distinct prescribing sections across a range of clinical contexts: prescribing; prescription review; planning management; providing information about medicines; calculation skills; adverse drug reactions; drug monitoring; and data interpretation.
The MSC Assessment and British Pharmacological Society are leading the delivery of the PSA. They are supported by the Assessment Board, and a cross-sector Stakeholder Group. The Assessment Board to the PSA is responsible for overseeing the recruitment of experts to write and review assessment items and for developing quality assurance processes. The Stakeholder Group includes a student representative from the BMA, and enables key stakeholders, including medical students, to be involved in the development of the assessment and the associated policies and processes.
The questions that ask the candidate to fill a prescription chart carry 10 marks each: 5 for the drug choice and 5 for the choice of dose/route/frequency, making a total of 80 marks for this item style in a summative assessment. Please note that timing and signature fields are automatically populated by the system and no marks are awarded for them. For more information, please look at the PSA Blueprint document.
In schools that use the PSA summatively, final-year students are required to take and pass the test in order to complete their medical degree. In other schools the assessment is formative and passing it is not a requirement for completing the medical degree. Students in these medical schools may still be required to take the assessment as a formative part of their medical education. Medical schools will communicate their requirements to their students.
By registering for the PSA, candidates agree that information about those who pass the assessment will be available to UK Foundation Schools. Those who have not passed the PSA in the two years prior to starting their F1 job will be required to pass the test before the end of their F1 year. A PSA sitting will be held by Foundation Schools for those F1 doctors who have not taken or not passed at the PSA at the start of F1. Doctors will be made aware of Foundation School/employer requirements for the PSA once doctors have been matched to individual programmes by their allocated Foundation School (April onwards).
F1 doctors applying for the UK Foundation Programme who have not taken or not passed the PSA prior to graduation will be expected to take the PSA with their foundation school. These candidates will be registered on the PSA Interface and notified by the foundation school when they can activate their accounts.
The pass mark for the PSA is set using the Modified Angoff method of standard setting. The exact pass mark cannot be published before the test as adjustments may be required to take into account differences in difficulty across papers and also any issues with items identified after the test has been sat. The passing standard of each question is defined by the Standard Setting Group, which is composed of undergraduate assessment experts from UK medical schools and representatives of the MSC Assessment Alliance
The prescribing items are marked using an automated system that compares the given answer with a mark scheme containing a number of correct answer(s) and suboptimal answers. The given answer must exactly match one of the answers in the mark scheme in all respects for credit to be given automatically.
Each answer is composed of several variables (drug description (including form and strength), dose, route & frequency) and therefore, a correct answer can be expressed in a variety of ways, depending on the product selected. Due to the breadth of possible answers, some credit-worthy variations may not be included in a given mark scheme and recognised by the auto-scoring system.
In the real assessment, the post-assessment review process considers every unrecognised answer and all credit-worthy answers are added to the mark scheme to enable marks to be credited.
This is one of the reasons why results release is delayed after each sitting; to make sure that no candidates are disadvantaged for providing answers that are not initially recognised but are credit-worthy.
Medical devices (including IUDs) are not included in the PSA drug bank, which is used to populate the drop-down menu of answers. Whilst they may be an appropriate treatment option in some PSA scenarios, the prescription-writing-skill (PWS) items are phrased to ask 'write a prescription for ONE drug . . . .' to which the optimal response would be a medicine, rather than a device or other therapeutic intervention. Knowledge of such devices may be tested in other item styles (e.g. planning management or providing information questions).
It should be noted that whilst the BNF contains lots of information that will be useful for the PSA, this information has to be taken within the context of the question. Furthermore, answering questions within the PSA requires more than a critique of information within the BNF; it requires an appraisal of the case history and use of student clinical experience gained in undergraduate training and related to commonly encountered prescribing scenarios at FY1 level. The PSA is not just a test of how well one knows the BNF but also of practical clinical experience.
Your school will submit a list of candidates registered to take the PSA no later than four weeks before your test date. At this point, accounts will be created and the school will be informed when this is complete. The PSA Lead at your school will notify you when your account is ready to activate. If you have not received notification, please contact the PSA Lead at your school.
The PSA is an online assessment. The formats of the questions vary depending on what skill is being assessed; some ask the candidate to 'write' an appropriate prescription for a given problem, others ask the candidate to choose the most appropriate option from a list or to perform a calculation. Examples of what the items can look like can be seen on the Example Question Items page.
The PSA includes 60 items and is two hours in length. The length of the test may be reviewed in the future, in light of developments such as introduction of a national licensing exam and in respect of the stakeholders' views.
You will only be able to activate an account once your school has submitted a registration list for the PSA and received confirmation that the accounts have been created. This usually takes place four weeks in advance of the test date. In the first instance, please confirm with the PSA Lead at your school that they have registered you for the PSA.
If your account has been created and you are unable to activate it, or login once it is activated, please send a screenshot of the error message displayed to email@example.com with the subject header "Login Problems".
The BNF is a recommended resource; however, candidates should understand that it does not answer all questions on prescribing.
In 2016, OpenAthens introduced a new authentication point as a security measure, which does not allow OpenAthens to work within iframes (i.e. the PSA practice papers). In order to use the BNF and BNF for children via Medicines Complete whilst completing the practice papers you will need to open a new tab on your browser and go directly to the Medicines Complete website.
Please note that access to the Medicines Complete BNF and BNF for children is enabled by IP address in the computer venues for the PSA. You do not need your OpenAthens login for the PSA and will be able to access the BNF directly within the test interface without being prompted for login details. It is advised that you also make yourself familiar with the NICE BNF and BNF for Children which is freely available and accessible during the PSA.
30-questions-long practice papers are available to candidates who are registered to take the assessment.
Candidates are strongly encouraged to complete the practice papers on their own once they are registered to understand the timing of the assessment and how long it may take to respond to different types of questions.
Another important part of preparing for the assessment is learning to use the most up-to-date content of the online British National Formulary.
The level of difficulty of each of the practice papers is reflected by its pass mark.
Medical school staff wishing to use the practice papers as part of their teaching can be granted access through their local PSA Lead.
Medical school candidates should contact their PSA Lead or assessment office. If you’re taking the PSA at a Foundation School, please request adjustments by contacting your Foundation School.
Please make the request at the earliest opportunity to allow time to accommodate it.
After each PSA date a post-assessment review is carried out. Although the PSA is automatically marked, this review checks for any answers that did not receive an automatic mark but may be eligible for marks if prescribing guidelines have been updated since the assessment was constructed.
The post-assessment review can take a number of days depending on the assessments sat and number of candidates involved and the results will be made available up to three weeks after the PSA date.
The PSA Lead at your institution will confirm when the results will be available to you on the PSA website as soon as the information is released.
All medical schools may decide to offer re-sits, especially if the PSA is taken as a summative test. Medical schools where the test is formative should also offer re-sits. Medical schools are responsible for providing further training and support in prescribing for those re-sitting, and they will inform their students of the local re-sit dates.
Current F1 doctors who did not pass the test at their Foundation School’s first sitting will need to undergo remediation and have two further opportunities to retake the test. F1 doctors who did not pass the test while at the medical school will be able to sit the test at their Foundation School.The PSA dates are listed here.
Candidates are advised to download a certificate with their performance soon after results become available on the PSA Interface in order to have a record for their future portfolio. Downloading the certificate may not be possible at a later date e.g. if the registered email address expires.
Candidates who took part in the PSA in the past and have not downloaded a certificate are advised to contact their medical school in order to receive another form of confirmation of their result.
Candidates who take part gain access to feedback on their overall score in relation to the pass mark and on their score per each domain of the assessment. The local organising institution (medical or foundation school) notifies the candidates once these results become available on the PSA Interface.
It is understandable that candidates would wish to review their results and go over the questions on which they lost marks. However, the question bank has a limited number of questions and so every question made public is in need of replacement. The development of new questions is a complex process requiring considerable time and expertise.
The bank of questions is growing steadily in the hope to eventually allow 'releasing' old questions. The practice papers available to registered candidates have a function to display detailed feedback comments about the optimal responses to each practice question.
A PSA pass is considered valid for two years. An FP applicant who has taken and passed the PSA before February one year prior to the start of the Foundation Programme will be required to take it again by their foundation school.
For F1s, the PSA certificate does not have an expiry date as such. A PSA pass within two years prior to starting the F1 year is valid, but the pass does not expire during the F1 year. If trainees are required to record an expiry date in their e-portfolio it is suggested that the last date of the F1 year is entered.
Please note, if you pass the PSA at medical school and need to retake your final year, your medical school can decide whether they require you to retake the PSA or not. If you fail the repeat PSA, this will overwrite your previous pass and you will be required to pass again before completing the F1 year. The PSA status is based on your most recent attempt.
It is advised you download and save in a safe place (eg cloud-based storage) your PSA pass certificate as accounts are disabled at the end of each academic year. If you no longer have access to your account and have lost your certificate you will need to contact your medical school who can confirm your PSA pass on university headed paper and can be used in place of the certificate.
If you are a clinical pharmacologist, pharmacist or other clinician with an understanding of the prescribing duties of an F1 doctor and are interested in writing assessment items for the PSA then please state your background and register your interest by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
More practice items are available to candidates who are registered by their medical school and activate their accounts.
If you are a clinical pharmacologist, pharmacist or other clinician with an understanding of the prescribing duties of an F1 doctor and are interested in writing assessment items for the PSA then please state your background and register your interest by emailing email@example.com. Feel free to browse through the item writing templates and style guides below in order to gain a sense of what item writing involves.Resources for authors
Please use the PSA Item Writing Manual to guide you when writing new items.Workshop presentations
Project Team presentations from the September 2015 PSA Training Workshops can be found and downloaded below.
The assessment is developed through a cycle of the following four workstreams.
Information about the membership of these groups can be found using the links above.
The PSA Assessment Board takes responsibility for overseeing the quality assurance process, which ensures that PSA question items entered into the item bank are fit for the intended purpose and assess the prescribing-related competencies described in the blueprint. The Board selects question items from the item bank to create PSA assessments, supervises the work of the standard setting group and reviews the performance of individual items during summative assessments. The initial Assessment Board was convened during 2012.
The PSA Standard Setting Group determines the passing standard for each assessment developed by the Assessment Board.
If you experience any difficulties, please send your enquiry in a detailed email outlining the problem to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the PSA Project Team: email@example.com
To contact the British Pharmacological Society: www.bps.ac.uk
To contact the MSC Assessment: www.medschools.ac.uk