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Frequently asked questions about the Part A exam

Applying For the Part A examination

1. Am I eligible to take the examination?
2. Is there an attempt limit on the examination?
3. How do I apply for the examination?
4.I have a disability which may affect my ability to demonstrate my knowledge and expertise without being disadvantaged. Can I apply for special adjustments?
5. What documents do I need to submit?
6. What is the current application fee?
7. Can I pay the application fee by credit card?
8. I banked a paper at my previous sitting. I am therefore only taking one paper at the next sitting.
Do I still have to pay the full application fee?
9. Can a pass in the Irish Part I examination replace the Part A examination in UK PH Training?
10. When does the Part A examination take place and what venues are available to take the exam at?
11. Why is the only UK venue for the examination in London?

 

Preparing for the Part A examination

12. Are past papers available?
13. Are there practise questions for Paper IIB?
14. Is it good practice when answering such a question to identify one’s country so that the examiner can be clear of the context?  Or is this seen as using potentially identifiable information?

Sitting the examination, Part A structure, content and syllabus

15. What is the structure of the examination?
16. Why is the time allocation per question different between Paper IA and Paper IB?
17. How should I manage my time to successfully complete the papers in the Part A examination?
18. What is tested in the examination?
19. What statistical calculations and formula do I need to know for the examination?
20. I understand the public health specialty training curriculum was recently reviewed. Did this impact the Part A Syllabus?
21. Why are parts of the Paper IIA  journal article often redacted?
22. I understand that there is a word limit on the first question of Paper IIA. Will I be penalised for exceeding the word ?
23. What are the examiners trying to test in the ‘follow-on’* questions in Paper IIA? How can candidates prepare? * the questions that follow the ‘critical appraisal’ part of the question, usually Q2-4
24. Why do some questions specify "a country of your choice"?

Results and feedback

25. When and how are the results released?
26. Can a paper be banked?
27. What is the average pass rate for the Part A examination?
28. Do candidates receive feedback on their examination performance?
29. I failed my exam by one mark. Can I have my paper remarked?
30. Can the examination result be appealed against?
31. Can I request a copy of my paper once it has been marked via the freedom of information act?
32. What happens after passing the Part A examination?
33. Is there a validity period on Part A passes?


Applying For the Part A examination

1. Am I eligible to take the examination?

The examination is open to all people who hold a university degree. It is not necessary to hold a medical qualification to sit this examination, nor is it necessary to be enrolled in a training course.

2. Is there an attempt limit on the examination?

Yes.
No candidate will normally be permitted more than six attempts at the examination without providing evidence of additional educational experience. The attempt limit applies irrespective of whether a candidate has banked a paper or not.

For more information please take note of the MFPH Regulations which can be located on the FPH website.

For guidance regarding the Additional Educational Experience process, please take note of the guidance document which can be located on the FPH website on the pages dealing with the application procedure for the Part A and B examinations.

3. How do I apply for the examination?

Application forms can be downloaded from the FPH website. Once completed, they should be sent to FPH for the attention of the Part A Administrator (Instructions are on the form). There are strict deadlines for applications which can be found on the FPH website.

All applications will be acknowledged and places confirmed, along with details on the arrangements for the exam sitting, as soon as possible after the closing date.

4. I have a disability which may affect my ability to demonstrate my knowledge and expertise without being disadvantaged. Can I apply for special adjustments?

Yes. Special arrangements for examinations can be made to enable disabled candidates to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the subject notwithstanding their disability. For more information about the policy and how to submit a request please note of the MFPH Examination Regulations.

5. What documents do I need to submit?

Applicants who are enrolled on the UK public health specialty training scheme only need to submit an application form and appropriate payment. Specialty registrars must be enrolled with FPH before they will be allowed to sit the examination.

Applicants who are not enrolled on the UK training programme must provide documentary evidence demonstrating their eligibility. Registered members of a profession related to health will be required to produce documentary evidence of their professional registration (eg. with the General Medical Council (GMC), Nursing and Midwifery Council, etc.). Medical graduates not registered with the GMC must provide the original copy of their primary medical qualification with their application form.

Applicants who are not professionally registered must also provide original evidence of their qualifications with their application form.

6. What is the current application fee?

The current application fee, as well the application closing dates and examination dates, can be found on the FPH website.

7. Can I pay by credit card?

Yes.
It is possible to pay the application fee by credit card. To do so you will need to contact the FPH Finance Department (020 3696 1465). Please indicate on your application form that you have paid by credit card. It is not possible to process or confirm applications until payment has been confirmed.

8. I banked a paper at my previous sitting. I am therefore only taking one paper at the next sitting. Do I still have to pay the full application fee?

Yes, candidates who have previously banked a paper do need to pay the full application fee for any subsequent attempt. Fees for the Part a MFPH examination are set by the FPH Board. The fees are designed to cover the costs incurred for the examination including costs of staff who are employed solely to run the examinations. A significant fixed cost surrounding a single sitting of the exam includes the hiring of the venue. Other fixed costs are those which are incurred by developing the examination, training examiners and running examiner meetings. All these are fixed costs which are incurred regardless of the number of papers any one particular candidate sits.  The only ‘saving’ which might be made by a candidate sitting only one paper is in the marking and examiners are not currently remunerated for their time.

9. Can a pass in the Irish Part I examination replace the Part A examination in UK PH Training?

In order to comply with the recent GMC position on approved curricula and the role of UK and overseas exams, FPH has had to alter the reciprocal arrangement where a pass in the MFPHMI Part I examination lead to an exemption from the MFPH Part A. FPH will now be transitioning to a position where an exemption from the MFPH Part A will only be able to count towards membership of FPH as opposed to also counting towards CCT.

As part of the GMC’s transitional guidelines, FPH is able to provide MFPH Part A exemptions that count towards CCT where the following two criteria are met:

  • The MFPHMI Part I examination pass has been achieved before 1 June 2015

And

  • The doctor enters the UK training programme before 31 December 2016.

FPH has published a statement on the status of the MFPHMI Part I examination which outlines the FPH position in further detail.

10. When does the Part A examination take place and what venues are available to take the exam at?

The Part A examination is held in January and June each year. The exact dates are available on the FPH website.  The Part A examination can be taken in either London or Hong Kong.

11. Why is the only UK venue for the examination in London?

FPH takes very seriously the provision of a quality setting for candidates to undertake the Part A examination. The selection of a venue includes a number of factors including costs, logistics and suitability for examinations.  Running the Part A exam in a venue outside London would involve significant logistic and financial challenges, including significant additional costs for staff travel and accommodation which would have an impact on the application fee.

Preparing for the Part A examination

12. Are past papers available?

Yes.
Past papers are held on the FPH website for easy downloading. However, questions in the Paper IIB paper are not published, as they form part of a reusable question bank. Following GMC approval of Standard Setting in October 2016, FPH is working toward a closed bank of questions for all sittings from June 2017.  A selection of past papers will continue to be available on FPH website.

13. Are there practise questions for Paper IIB?

There are specimen questions, but the real questions are not published. The specimen questions can be found on the Paper IIB Specimen Questions webpage.

The Paper IIB paper was introduced in 2010. Questions in the Paper IIB paper are not published, as they form part of a reusable question bank. 

In preparation for the release of the new format, specimen questions were made available on the FPH website which would indicate the type of questions candidates might encounter in Paper IIB. These specimen questions were used in the pilot of Paper IIB involving specialty registrars in June 2008. These questions can be found on the FPH website.

14. Is it good practice when answering such a question to identify one’s country so that the examiner can be clear of the context?  Or is this seen as using potentially identifiable information?

Yes, it is good practice. FPH is an international examination body, and public health is carried out in many settings. For this reason, questions often ask candidates to specify a named country, setting or example to provide context for their answer and demonstrate understanding of the particular question's topic area. As papers are marked anonymously and each section by separate examiners, individual candidates should not be able to be identified.


Sitting the examination, Part A structure, content and syllabus

15. What is the structure of the examination?

The Part A examination consists of two written papers (Paper I and Paper II). Both Papers I and II are split into two parts/components A and B – (Paper IA, Paper IB, Paper IIA and Paper IIB) and taken over two consecutive days. More information is available on the FPH website.

16. Why is the time allocation per question different between Paper IA and Paper IB?

The timings for Papers IA and IB have been set for a number of years. Every candidate is allocated two and a half hours for Paper IA and an hour and a half for Paper IB (except those with special adjustments who are given extra time). A change to any of the examination timings would compromise the consistency in the standard of the examination papers and make comparisons between different sittings impossible. Furthermore, if extra time were allocated to IB, it would put candidates requiring extra time as part of an agreed special adjustment potentially at a disadvantage (ie. later morning finish, shorter break and earlier afternoon start for IB).

This is one area that may be in the workplan of the Part A Development Committee to be revisited.

17. How should I manage my time to successfully complete the papers in the Part A examination?

Every paper in the Part A examination has an element of time pressure and some candidates will find some of the four papers more pressurised than others. Each question in Paper I are worth the same amount of marks so some planning of time allocation can be based on that.

In contrast to Papers IA & IB where, in order to pass that paper, candidates are required to score above the Angoff set pass mark and to pass 7 of the 10 questions, there is no similar restriction in either Paper IIA or IIB. Provided that across both papers candidates score more than the Angoff set pass mark across both papers they will pass.

Time pressure might also be alleviated for some candidates by following the instructions in the questions. For example, when bullet points are asked for, candidates should provide just that, as opposed to a mini essay. Candidates are strongly advised to do timed practice questions and papers during their preparation.

18. What is tested in the examination?

  • Research methods
  • Disease causation & prevention; health promotion
  • Health information
  • Medical sociology, social policy and health economics
  • Organisation and management of healthcare
  • Design and interpretation of studies
  • Data processing, presentation and interpretation
  • Communication, written presentation skills.

The Part A Syllabus.

Further information is available on the exam content.

Candidates are advised to cover the whole syllabus in revision as the examination can test any part of it.

19. What statistical calculations and formula do I need to know for the examination?

The level of knowledge, skill and understanding required within all sections of the syllabus is that which could reasonably be expected of a competent practitioner in public health who may aspire to attain specialist status.

The Part A syllabus outlines the core statistical techniques that will be required in the examination and lists a number of specific examples. These can be found on page three and five of the Part A Syllabus. The Part A Syllabus is available on the FPH website.

20. I understand the public health specialty training curriculum was recently reviewed. Did this impact the Part A Syllabus?

No. FPH gained approval from its two regulators for a new public health specialty training curriculum in 2015. No changes to either of the MFPH examinations were made as an outcome of this review, and the Part A has separately been subject to lengthy review (including external scrutiny in the case of Part A) and have their own development timetable. The recent review of the Part A examination has led to some changes but these are primarily around standard-setting with no changes to the content or format of the examination and do not affect the way candidates should prepare. Please see separate document on FPH website relating to standard setting in Part A.

21. Why are parts of the Paper IIA journal article often redacted?

FPH examiners would prefer to provide non-redacted journal articles. However, it is often necessary to make redactions so that the article is of an appropriate length in relation to the time permitted for Paper IIA. It also is not always appropriate to provide candidates with sections which will significantly aid their answer.

An increasing number of journal articles are now published online and are too lengthy for examination purposes, while a paper journal format for articles such as in the British Medical Journal is too short.  Redactions are made to the paper in order to control their length. In certain instances redactions are also made to sections which would render questions pointless. For example, if a question required candidates to comment on the strength and limitations of a paper and the paper included a section on strengths and limitations, that section would need to be redacted. Great care is taken in proof reading to ensure that the redactions are appropriate and that candidates are given any necessary instructions concerning the redactions.

22. I understand that there is a word limit on the first question of Paper IIA. Will I be penalised for exceeding the word limit?

Following a review of Paper IIA in 2013 and 2014, the Part A Development Committee agreed that to improve the focus of the paper, the critical appraisal question would be adjusted so as to make it more specific, focused and with a word limit provided for the answer.

The new Paper IIA was introduced for the first time at the June 2015 sitting of the Part A examination.

April 2017 - Advice to candidates: enforcement of word count limits for Paper IIA question 1
 
Candidates have been asked to limit answers to approximately 600 words for the first part of section IIA (the critical appraisal) since June 2015. The majority of candidates succeed in doing this remarkably accurately, though a small number of candidates do not. From June 2017 the following guidance will be in place to examiners. Examiners will be asked not to mark any material provided by candidates in excess of 660 words (ie. word count + 10%).  
 
Candidates are strongly advised to keep within this word count. Candidates are welcome to write less than 600 words, and equally will not be penalised if their answers are between 600-660 words as we understand that counting accurately during an examination is an unnecessary extra burden on candidates.  
 
We advise candidates to practise to this word limit and during the exam to estimate approximately how many words they write per line, and how many lines they can then write up to in order to remain within the word limit.

Poor handwriting and grammar will not normally be penalised by examiners.

23. What are the examiners trying to test in the ‘follow-on’* questions in Paper IIA? How can candidates prepare? * the questions that follow the ‘critical appraisal’ part of the question, usually Q2-4

Question 2 in Paper IIA is usually a short technical question about the statistical techniques used; knowledge tested here is also tested in Paper 1 (section A) and in questions in Paper IIb. 

 The purpose of the follow-on questions (Q3 and 4) is to test candidates’ understanding of how information from published papers might encountered in a ‘real life’ public health situation. 

The scenario at the start of the question will describe this and should be considered when answering Q3 and 4; the information in the scenario will guide the candidate in considering the audience they are dealing with, the expectations that they might be facing and the level of conflict, anxiety or challenge they might face in presenting their findings.

When answering questions 3 & 4, candidates should be able to summarise their findings, consider the practical aspects that might need to be considered in any local response / implementation. Often there are questions about implementation, establishing and managing working groups etc.  Candidates may apply knowledge that they have used in answer to questions in section E on Paper 1.

 The examiners consider the best way to prepare for these questions is to practice in real-life situations; this can be either in real-life work settings (for instance, looking at correspondence that might come in to their department, tasks that colleagues are undertaking in establishing working groups or developing a strategy) or through summarising papers for different imagined audiences, using different formats (letters, short briefing notes, press releases, bullet points in preparation for an interview).



24. Why do some questions specify "a country of your choice"?

The Part A Examination is taken by candidates from a variety of countries. An examination centre is also based in Hong Kong which is also available for candidates to take the exam at. The Part A Examination is therefore designed to test public health knowledge that is translatable across countries and healthcare systems. As such candidates are given an option to select a country of their choice with which to apply their public health knowledge. Part A Examiners are aware of this and mark accordingly.


Results and Feedback


25. When and how are the results released?

Examination results will be sent first class and marked "private and confidential" normally within three working days of the Part A results meeting, usually around seven weeks after the examination.

A pass list and results summary will also be published on the FPH website on the second Monday following the Part A results meeting. Examination results will not be given over the telephone or in person.

26. Can a paper be 'banked'?

Yes, it is possible to 'bank' papers at Part A. This means that if the candidate does not pass the examination but has passed an individual paper, this result can be banked so that the candidate need not sit this paper again.

This is feasible due to the explicit separation of knowledge and skills between Papers I and II.

As of January 2017, we no longer stipulate that candidates who bank a paper at a sitting must then sit the remaining paper at each subsequent examination. The limit on holding a banked paper is now one year (two sittings). If the candidate requires longer then they should submit a statement from their educational supervisor or training programme director which will be considered by the Part A Chair. This is because any longer than a year is likely to impact on training progress.

Further information about banking.

27. What is the average pass rate for the Part A examination?

The pass rate for the Part A examination can vary quite a lot across the sittings. This can be due to a combination of factors including the number and compilation of candidates that make up each sitting.

The number of candidates who sit the exam can vary from between 70 to 120 candidates. These fluctuations in candidate numbers can have a significant effect on the pass rate. For example, candidates on the public health specialty training programme tend to do better on average than candidates not on the training programme. Therefore changes in the balance of registrars and non-registrars can have a significant impact on the pass rate.

Candidates do not receive further detailed individual feedback.

28. Do candidates receive feedback on their examination performance?

No.
All candidates will only receive feedback on their examination performance in the form of the marks they received for each of the questions (receiving a marks breakdown for each full question is the standard format for results). There is no individual feedback for successful or unsuccessful candidates. Candidates who wish to appeal against their examination results must consult the appeal procedures.

30. I failed my exam by one mark. Can I have my paper remarked?

No.
FPH takes the examination marking process extremely seriously. Each section of the papers is marked by two separate examiners who come to an agreed mark for each candidate for the questions within their sections. The marks are then reviewed and ratified at a meeting of the Part A examiners where all the results are agreed. Further details about the marking process are available on the FPH website.

Candidates concerned about the validity of their result have two actions available to them. They can request an office review or appeal their result. However, neither of these procedures involves a re-mark of the original script.

Candidates may request an office review if they have reason to believe that there may have been an administrative error in their result for an examination. An office review will only involve a clerical check for errors in the examination process, particularly in the calculation or collation of marks or grades. There is a fee for an office review, which will be refunded if the candidate’s result is changed.

With regard to an appeal, the FPH appeals policy does not permit appeals on the grounds that a candidate believes that their script has been under-marked. Candidates who wish to make a formal appeal against their examination result must write to the Chief Executive of FPH within one calendar month of the date of dispatch of the result, as indicated in the procedures. Candidates should ensure they read the appeals procedure, located within the MFPH Regulations, carefully to ensure that their grounds for appeal are legitimate before writing. For a full description of the appeals policy please consult the FPH Examinations Regulations which are located on the FPH website.

31. Can the examination result be appealed against?

Yes - but only under certain circumstances.
Candidates who wish to appeal against their examination results must consult the appeal procedures.

32. Can I request a copy of my paper once it has been marked via the freedom of information act?

No.
The Freedom of Information Act covers public authorities and as such does not apply to FPH which is not a public authority. Upon the conclusion of the marking period for each sitting of the examination, the original scripts are stored securely on the FPH premises until the conclusion of the appeals period. They are then stored in a secure off-site facility for a further period before eventually being destroyed.   

31. What happens after passing the Part A examination?

After successful completion of the Part A MFPH, candidates are eligible to become Diplomate Members (DFPH) of FPH. FPH will contact the successful candidate to offer this.

Candidates are able to take the Part B (OSPHE) MFPH after successful completion of the Part A MFPH.

33. Is there a validity period on Part A passes?

Yes.
Once the Part A examination has been passed, no candidate will be permitted more than seven years to pass the Part B examination. The seven-year validity period will be calculated from the date that a candidate passes the Part A examination. Should a candidate fail to achieve a Part B pass within the seven-year limit, they will be required to take the Part A again.

 

Thankyou: The Part A MFPH Examiners would like to thank and acknowledge the contributions of members of the Specialty Registrar Committee in updating these frequently asked questions, especially Caroline Vass, Catherine Floyd, David Munday and Rebecca Nunn.


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