‘Abrupt’ changes to exam syllabi baffle medical students

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LAHORE: The new ‘common’ syllabus of the National MDCAT has become a ‘nightmare’ for 150,000 candidates appearing for the examination from all over the country. The Pakistan Medical Commission (PMC) uploaded a new syllabus on its website on Oct 19 just a month before the exams with some additional subjects and topics which, according to the students, were out of syllabus.

The issue further came to the limelight when Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in his tweet, raised voice in support of the students.

“The aspirants of medical entry test are protesting against abrupt change of syllabus imposed by the PMC. This dictatorial move puts at risk the future of over 150k students. This another remember puppets can’t run a country”, Bilawal tweets.

The PMC has announced the National Medical and Dental College- Admission Test (NMDCAT) on Nov 15, 2020, under Section 18(1) of PMC Act, 2020.

Candidates from Punjab feel ‘worst hit’; PMC announces rectification after Nov 15 exam

The 0.15 million students from Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu & Kashmir, and Islamabad will be competing for around 18,000 seats of MBBS and BDS.

Only the National University of Medical Sciences (NUMS) Rawalpindi and Agha Khan University have been exempted from conducting this test.

Before the enactment of PMC Act on Sept 23, 2020, the medical universities of provinces had already issued the syllabi of their respective MDCATs which they were supposed to conduct in compliance with [now defunct] Pakistan Medical & Dental Council (PMDC) Admission Regulations 2020.

As soon as the PMC became functional, it announced that the “NMDCAT exam will not contain any item/topic which is outside the existing syllabus of your (candidates’) respective province. No new syllabus will be issued for NMDCAT this year”.

A notification was issued by PMC President Dr Arshad Taqi on Oct 7, which categorically stated, “The Examination Committee of the Council will coordinate and ensure as far as possible that the final syllabus for the examination (NMDCAT) is common to all provinces and current syllabi for medical entrance examination already announced by each of the provincial examination bodies”.

“It will be ensured that the examination paper does not contain any item/topics which are outside the already declared syllabi of each province”.

Vide the same notification, the National University of Medical Sciences (NUMS), Rawalpindi, was given the task by the commission to prepare the NMDCAT examination paper and undertake the scoring while also ensuring the secrecy and security of the paper.

In this regard, PMC constituted a nine-member Common Syllabus & Table of Specifications (TOS) Settings Committee to establish guidelines for setting the paper.

Meanwhile, all the students were advised to continue their preparations based on the syllabus of their respective province/region.

However, the [serious] issue arose on Oct 19 when PMC issued a syllabus titled as “PMC National MDCAT Syllabus-2020”, an official privy to the development told Dawn.

Along with the syllabus, he said, a sample paper of NUMS was also uploaded on the official website and social platforms of the commission.

This “common syllabus” of the PMC came as a shock for thousands of candidates, the official said.

Since then (Oct 19), over 1,500 students have raised serious objections to the official webpage of the PMC, insisting on the commission to rectify it.

He said the syllabus issued by PMC is in fact the same as that of NUMS with a number of additional chapters and topics, especially in the subject of biology, as compared to the MDCAT syllabus of UHS according to which the students of Punjab had been preparing for the last many months.

In the Biology section, PMC syllabus has seven chapters, out of a total 20, which are not in the UHS curriculum. These include Prokaryotes, Protests and Fungi, Diversity among plants, Diversity among animals, Support and Movement (excluding muscles), Growth and Development/Development and Aging, and Man and his environment.

Several topics including nutrition, human nervous system, endocrine system of man, sexually transmitted diseases, male and female infertility, in-vitro fertilization, miscarriage, abortion, sex determination, sex linkages, chromosome theory of inheritance, genome maps, tissue culture, development of vaccines in biotechnology, DNA testing, DNA profiling, goals of human genome project, etc., have not been prepared by the students in Punjab as these topics were not included in the UHS syllabus.

Biology has the highest weightage (40pc) in MDCAT paper with 80 questions from the section out of total 200 multiple choice questions. Chemistry has 60 (30pc), Physics 40 (20pc), and English 20 (10pc) questions, he said. Same was the case with the Chemistry paper.

The official said the students feared that the new syllabus will put, especially, the candidates from Punjab at a disadvantage as compared to the students of other provinces (especially in case of admissions to private sector institutions) as the latter prepare from FSc books with no prescribed syllabus for MDCAT.

Some argue that the UHS syllabus was short for a reason. It was a ‘common core’ syllabus prepared as a result of an exercise termed as ‘cross validation’ in which only those topics that are common to both FSc and A-level streams of education were selected and the rest was excluded from the MDCAT syllabus.

Reponding to concerns of the students, the PMC announced rectification of the topics or subjects after the exams being conducted on Nov 15.

Uploading its decision on its website, the PMC stated that if any question found to be out of syllabus, it shall be removed from the scoring by the Examination Paper Review Committee immediately for all students.

“All the objections will be reviewed immediately after completion of the MDCAT exam on Nov 15 and any question found to be outside the identified syllabus, it shall be removed from the scoring”, the PMC states.

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