Sitting the examination, Part A structure, content and syllabus

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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 here.

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.

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.

  • 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 here.

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

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 here.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Poor handwriting and grammar will not normally be penalised by examiners, however, candidates should bear in mind that their scripts need to be read by examiners, and so should take care over their handwriting. Examiners make great efforts to read candidates scripts, but helping them by writing clearly is sensible. Writing for up to (or beyond for those with extra time) 2.5 hours is tiring both mentally and physically. It is well worth preparing for that through timed practice exam opportunities (either formal or informal). Finally, candidates are also advised not to write below the final line of the answer-booklets, as these are photocopied before being marked, and that final space relies on good positioning of booklets when they are photocopied.

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).

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.

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