1. What is the PCOA?
  2. Why is the PCOA needed?
  3. When and where will the PCOA be administered?
  4. How do the colleges and schools of pharmacy register for the assessment?
  5. How is the PCOA scored?
  6. What information is provided in the score reports?
  7. What are the system requirements for the PCOA?

1. What is the PCOA?

The PCOA is a 220 item multiple-choice assessment developed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). The content of the PCOA follows its blueprint, which covers four content areas and 28 subtopics (see page 8 for a detailed listing). The PCOA is intended to be a valuable and integral component of the process that colleges and schools use to assess student performance in pharmacy curriculum. The data obtained from the PCOA will provide participating colleges and schools of pharmacy with detailed feedback related to the subject matter covered throughout the professional pharmacy curriculum. Data can also be used to provide information to individual students on their performance with regard to the curriculum. Because the PCOA is administered on an annual basis, resulting data are both formative and summative in measuring student progress and allow comparisons to be made to a national reference group.

Download PCOA Sample Items

2. Why is the PCOA needed?

The colleges and schools of pharmacy have expressed a need for an objective assessment that is psychometrically validated to assist with measuring performance. The PCOA can be administered across years of study in order to evaluate progress.The PCOA can be used:

  • To measure the overall performance of pharmacy students and compare their scores to a representative national sample of students
  • As a tool for faculty to provide constructive feedback on the performance of the student and to track individuals' scores from year to year and individual growth over time
  • To document improvement in student performance after the college's or school's curriculum has been modified or updated
  • For research and correlational studies with existing assessments such as Pharmacy College Admission Test scores, current grades, and future North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) administrations.
  • As a component and outcome measure of the evaluation plan suggested by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) Standards. As such, the PCOA:
    • Has formative and summative measures
    • Provides for collective analyses of findings
    • Evaluates trends over time
    • Includes standardized instruments and data analyses
    • Documents that the college or school is providing the scientific foundation necessary for achievement of the professional competencies

3. When and where will the PCOA be administered?

Colleges and schools of pharmacy may choose a date within three testing windows available each year. Thus, the college or school can choose a date in late winter, late spring, or fall. The assessment is administered on the campus of each participating college or school of pharmacy, so no additional or unusual travel is required of the students. Colleges and schools of pharmacy may also choose either the computer-based or the paper-based PCOA.

Effective January 2015, the paper-based format will no longer be available. The PCOA will only be delivered in the computer-based format. 

4. How do the colleges and schools of pharmacy register for the assessment?

In early fall, NABP will provide registration materials, PCOA testing policies, and proctor requirements to all the colleges and schools of pharmacy. Registration for the assessment must be returned to NABP at least 90 days prior to the start of the testing window and include a listing of the names of all students that will be taking the assessment, the assessment fees ($75 per assessment), and the designated college or school of pharmacy contact's information.

5. How is the PCOA scored?

NABP uses a Rasch-based item response theory model to produce individual scores. Rigorous psychometric analyses are performed to assess model fit, item functioning, accuracy of the key, and form-level reliability. Scores are produced for the total assessment as well as for each of the content areas. Assessment forms from each annual administration are equated. As a result, scores across administrations are placed on the same measurement continuum, which permits accurate comparisons to be made between the content area scores and between the scores from one year to the next.

6. What information is provided in the score reports?

Two types of score reports are provided: one is customized for each individual student and another is prepared as a school-level summary report. Both types of score reports are sent to the pharmacy school. Student reports are provided to pharmacy school faculty so that they may disseminate to individual students. It is recommended that faculty meet with students to provide and discuss individual results and plan for the students' next program year. Scores are provided within four weeks of the last day of the testing window in which you take the assessment.

Student score reports include students' scale scores and their national percentile for their program year for the total assessment and for the four content areas. Additionally, the percent of items correct on the 28 subtopics is provided.

School score reports include summaries of data for the particular college or school by program year, including the number of examinees, mean school scale scores, mean school percent correct, and mean school percentile. For information about the norm based reference group, the mean national scale score and mean national percent correct scores are provided. All these scores are provided for the total assessment as well as for each of the four content areas. Also, the average percent of items correct on the 28 subtopics is included, as is the mean number of items correct for the national reference group. Finally, a score roster listing the college's or schools' students' scores (in a condensed format) is provided.

Download a Sample Score Report (PDF).

7. What are the system requirements for the PCOA?

Taking the PCOA requires the following Internet browsers:

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 8, 9, or 10
    • The compatibility view should be disabled.
  • The current version of Mozilla Firefox
  • The current version of Google Chrome
  • The current version of Apple Safari

Additionally, test takers should make sure their computers have the following:

  • Adobe Flash Plug-in, version 9.0.115 or newer
  • JavaScript enabled
  • Cookies enabled
  • Screen resolution of 1024 by 768+

Schools should ensure that the computers students use to take the PCOA, whether they are school-issued or personal, have DSL Internet connectivity or better, a continuous power source, and adequate bandwidth to support the number of test takers. 

To ensure security during the examination, NABP requires the use of special software called WebLock that prohibits other computer programs from being opened during the assessment. This software must be downloaded at least one day before the PCOA administration.