When Should I Sit MRCP Part 1, Part 2 Written & PACES?

As soon as aspiring physicians overcome the hurdle of transitioning from medical student to real doctor, one of the first questions we ask ourselves is “When should I sit MRCP?“.

Fortunately this difficult question has been made slightly easier by MRCPUK:

“Part 1 is the entry-level examination accessible to doctors with a minimum of 12-months’ postgraduate experience in medical employment.”

When Should I Sit MRCP?

This essentially means that the earliest you can attempt Part 1 is at the beginning (generally September) of foundation year 2 (FY2). Some deaneries and royal colleges go one step further and advise you to accrue more medical experience and wait until core medical training prior to attempting Part 1. This is evidenced at core medical training year 1 (CT1) applications where you’ll find no additional shortlisting points awarded for an attempt or even a pass at the exam.

For me personally, the foundation years were the least demanding (hindsight is beautiful) in terms of workload and e-portfolio requirements so attempting in mid-FY2 isn’t a bad idea at all. Be wary that if you attempt Part 1 in early FY2 you’ll also be juggling CT1 applications. Multitasking never ends well for me…

A common concern with sitting Part 1 in FY2 is perceived lack of experience but personally, I never felt significant “shop floor time” was required for this initial hurdle. The exam can be considered as purely theoretical meaning a combination of familiarity with guidelines and repeating a relatively large number of practice questions should suffice.

If you’re reading this having bested Part 1, take a breather and congratulate yourself first…but not too much. You’re probably not going to like what follows. When should I sit MRCP Part 2?

One of the biggest regrets from Part 2 written candidates is taking a break after passing Part 1. Thus I’d recommend an attempt at Part 2 written immediately. I wouldn’t worry about under-preparation because realise that the pass mark for Part 2 written is significantly lower than the previous exam and…you’ll be fine. All the work you did for Part 1 is half the battle, trust me.

If you follow this guideline and work diligently then you may find yourself in the enviable position of having passed both written exams by the commencement of CT1. So, when should I sit MRCP PACES?

However, if you’re like me and wish someone gave you all this advice when you were a foundation trainee then do not despair. I passed all three MRCP exams within 10 months during CT1 so it’s very achievable if you’re willing to sacrifice some things. Just enter your email and hit the subscribe button for a free ebook to read how I did it!

In the first situation I would recommend spending the best part of 6 months to gain further competencies and clinical experience prior to attempting PACES in late CT1. In contrast to Part 1, PACES requires you to command strong clinical and communication skills, which can only be gained and refined through daily practice in your placements. Use these 6 months very wisely and find a study partner or group early on.

If you pass Part 2 Written in late CT1 or even in CT2 I would advise attempting PACES at the next immediate sitting because the opportunity cost of failing PACES now will be much higher. Hopefully you won’t need it but ideally you want the time and option for a re-sit. An unsuccessful attempt near the end of core medical training could mean delayed entry into higher specialist (ST3) training.

If you find yourself in that situation with no further diets available prior to August, take a deep breath and keep calm. MRCPUK traditionally offer the chance (you have to apply and pay again of course) for another attempt outwith the usual three annual diets, a process currently called PACES fast track.

If you enjoyed this article make sure you get your own copy of my MRCP Part 1 & 2 Written Guide. In this guide, I explore the above and other concepts such as time allocation and the most preferable resources for the written exams in much more detail.

Alternatively, if you’ve passed the written exams then How to Pass MRCP PACES in 8 Weeks will take you through your next and final hurdle. The reason an entire new guide has been written about this mammoth clinical exam reflects the different skills and attitude you need when tackling MRCP PACES. Instead of simply relying on reading textbooks, you’ll need to utilise a concept called the PACES Triangle to successfully navigate the examiners’ obstacles.

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