UK PACES prioritisation 2021/2

MRCP(UK) has received feedback in relation to the prioritisation criteria we have used to select candidates for PACES places in the UK during the COVID pandemic. The current prioritisation criteria were established following lengthy discussion and deliberation within the three Royal Colleges.

Prioritisation of candidates in UK training for PACES 2021/2 diet | MRCPUK

Unfortunately, because of the adaptations to the PACES carousel, social distancing and infection control measures we had to introduce during the pandemic to ensure the safety of all candidates, examiners and assessment staff, it is not possible to offer the same number of PACES spaces as the three Royal Colleges of Physicians would offer during a normal diet. We are limited both by the availability of clinical space in centres that is appropriate for the adapted carousel, and the reduced number of candidates we can examine in a day. In centres that can deliver the adapted carousel we are currently limited to 12 candidates per day, instead of our usual 15-30 candidates, depending on the centre. As a result, for the first time in the UK, we were unable to guarantee every UK applicant a PACES place. A prioritisation group was therefore established to consider how and to whom we should allocate the limited number of places. This group met on multiple occasions and the proposed criteria were approved by the Federation Board and the three Royal Colleges of Physicians.

Inevitably, some candidates were unsuccessful in their applications and we are very sorry that a number have been left disappointed. We do appreciate the anxiety and frustration this has caused and have worked incredibly hard to maximise the number of PACES slots in the UK. The COVID pandemic has presented many challenges out with our control and it is simply not possible to increase capacity at will. In contrast to the written parts of MRCP(UK), PACES relies on a much more complex delivery method including the recruitment of large numbers of suitable venues, patients, surrogates and examiners. 


Why have you not moved to an online / remotely delivered exam?

One of the hallmarks and discriminating features of PACES is the assessment of the candidate’s ability to identify physical signs (skill B) in real patients. We believe that this is a key skill for all physicians and that we should continue to assess it. The trainee committees of the three Royal Colleges have been strongly supportive of the retention of the assessment of skill B. Moving to an online or remotely delivered exam is something we are investigating as a possible future option but we must ensure that the exam retains the same reliability and validity. A simulated exam cannot be delivered overnight and requires new content to be written, piloted and then approved by the GMC. 

What is the rationale for your prioritisation criteria?  

Prioritisation has been afforded to candidates who hold a national training number in the UK and in particular to those who are closest to career progression points. Part of this decision making has been driven by the reality that UK NTN holders are required to obtain MRCP(UK) as part of their ARCP requirements. We believe that doctors in the UK who are in non-training posts are not subject to such formal progression points. We recognise that many candidates will have their careers and aspirations put on hold. We are therefore working hard and hope to clear the backlog in the next few diets. 

Can I be placed in a higher priority group as my eligibility period is running out?

Eligibility periods have been extended for candidates who have been subject to COVID cancellations. Details are available here.

MRCP(UK) Part 1 and 2 are progressing normally. This will mean more candidates will be competing for limited PACES places. What is MRCP(UK) going to do to address this?

Pre-COVID we were able to guarantee a UK PACES place to all doctors working in the UK. There was still some additional capacity in most diets. We anticipate that we will be able to use this spare capacity to help clear the backlog when we return to pre-COVID examination rates. The three College examination offices continue to work extremely hard with PACES hosts to maximise capacity in the latter part of 2021 and into 2022. 

I would like to be prioritised as I am applying for ST3 posts in the UK and wish to have full MRCP(UK) to strengthen my application. 

MRCP(UK) status is not being considered in the scoring process for ST3 posts. Any candidate who enters ST3 training without possessing MRCP(UK) would be prioritised in group 1 under the current prioritisation criteria.

What can I do if I believe I been placed in the wrong prioritisation group?

Candidates who believe they have been incorrectly categorised will have the opportunity to have their categorisation group reviewed before PACES spaces are allocated. Guidance on how to raise a concern will be provided following the application period

What if I am IMT1 at time of application but IMT2 by the end of the diet?

Applications will be considered based on the applicant's status at the time of application. 

Why have I been offered a place far away from my home? This is contrary to travel advice during the pandemic.

The three College exam teams aim to limit travel for both examiners and candidates. However, on occasions, it may not be possible to offer all candidates a place close to their locale. This may result in the candidate having to travel The four UK nations do allow travel for essential work, and taking professional exams for career progression qualifies under this regulation.

International PACES Update

MRCP(UK) has delivered 315 international PACES places during March 2021 in Pakistan, Hong Kong and Singapore. There are 3 centres in India due to run in May. The deteriorating pandemic situation in India is being closely monitored as it may prove impossible to run these exams safely for candidates, patients and examiners. Candidates will be informed immediately if the situation changes. There are 6 further centres internationally due to run in July/August.

Release of results

We remind candidates that there are inevitable delays getting marksheets back from examination venues and remote examiners and in transporting marksheets to our offices in London for scanning. We will strive to limit delays and provide results within a maximum of 6 weeks.

Live Twitter chats

Live Q&A sessions about the exams occur regularly on our Twitter account. The next one will be on Tues 20 April at 3pm. Follow us for updates at @MRCPUK.       


We are always keen on feedback. If you have specific queries relating to your exam day please contact the exams office at your College of entry.

For other general queries or suggestions please email: