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 225-item, computer-based 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 subtopic areas (see PCOA Content Areas for a detailed listing). The PCOA is intended to be a valuable and integral component of the process that schools and colleges use to assess student performance in pharmacy curriculum. The data obtained from the PCOA will provide participating schools and colleges 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 (as they can be interpreted as a starting point for the knowledge base) and summative (as results show student progress and developments in learning). 

Download PCOA Sample Items.

2. Why is the PCOA developed?

The schools and colleges of pharmacy have expressed the need for an objective assessment that is psychometrically validated to support the interpretations of student outcomes within the professional curriculum. 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 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 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?

Schools and colleges of pharmacy may choose a date within three testing windows available each year. 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. 

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

In early fall, NABP provides​ registration materials, PCOA testing policies, and proctor requirements to all the schools and colleges of pharmacy via the NABP website. Registration for the assessment must be returned to NABP at least 90 days prior to the start of the testing window and include a roster of the names of all students that will be taking the assessment, along with the contact information  for the individual designated by the college or school of pharmacy to schedule and manage the assessment.

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 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 the other 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 administrators/faculty to disseminate to individual students. It is recommended that faculty meet with students to provide and discuss individual results. Scores are provided within four weeks from the last day of the testing window in which your institution takes 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 and number of items reflective of the 28 subtopic areas are 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. The average percent of items correct on the 28 subtopic areas is included, as is the mean number of items correct for the national reference sample. Finally, a score roster listing the college's or schools' student 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 one 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 Internet speed equivalent to 1.5 mbs or higher, 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 a special browser called WebLock that prohibits other computer programs from being opened during the assessment. This browser must be downloaded at least one day before the PCOA administration.