Preparing for the BCGP Exam – Why Are People Failing?

Preparing for the BCGP Exam

Preparing for the BCGP Exam was apparently very difficult for pharmacists in 2018. The Spring 2018 results revealed a pass rate of 43%. I anticipated that it would at least be a little higher in the Fall of 2018, but I was wrong. The pass rate for the fall testing period was actually 39%! Don’t believe me? See all fall 2018 results here.

Why Are So Many People Failing?

Pass rates are 20% lower than most of the other certification exams. The big question is why are so many people failing the BCGP exam. Are geriatric pharmacists not as intelligent as critical care or ambulatory care pharmacists? For my sake, I hope that isn’t true 🙂 I can point to a couple of reasons as to why the pass rate is so low. I will also share some tips on how I would develop a study plan to try to pass this exam.

Reason 1: Exam Format Change

In 2016, pass rates for the BCGP exam were around the 80% mark. The exam format changed in 2018. The number of possible responses went from 3 to 4. Does that explain the pass rate being cut in half? I think it played a role, but I don’t think it was the major reason for the drop in pass rates. I believe the major reason was the BCGP content outline change.

Reason 2: BCGP Content Outline Change

With the shift to the BPS umbrella in 2018, the content outline changed significantly. 40% of the BCGP exam is considered to be non-clinical or maybe more accurate, non-medication related. I have seen a few posts about the frustration on this. This frustration is probably amplified by the crazy high failure rate that has been reported by BPS.

20% of the content outline is classified under the heading “General Principles of Aging”. Another 20% of the BCGP exam is classified under the “Population and Public Health” section.

On a 175 question exam, the number of “non-medication” related questions is going to be 70! That is a very high figure and if you are not studying these topics, you are making a huge mistake and are likely going to fail.

I discussed the 2018 BCGP Exam changes in a previous blog post when they were first reported if you’d like to read further on the other changes.

Preparing For The BCGP Exam – Where do we go from here?

Many pharmacists ask me what I would do in preparing for the BCGP exam. Here’s what I advise.

Set Up A Study Plan

My first step would be to review the content outline and devise a plan. We’ve created this free BCGP Study Schedule download if this helps you create a plan.

How long should you should study for? I advise 3-6 months. I have had some pharmacists do more than this and some do less depending upon the number of hours available for studying per day.

Closely Review The BCGP Content Outline

Review every term in that content outline (especially in the “Principles of Aging” and “Population and Public Health” Sections). Make sure you have at least a basic understanding of the terms found in the outline. Because a lot of these topics aren’t comfortable target areas for most pharmacists, I would spend at least 40% of my study time working on these areas. Here’s some example topics from the content outline that I would recommend you have an understanding of (not an all-inclusive list).

  • Different levels of care (continuum of care)
  • Falls
  • Different types of elder abuse
  • MUE
  • Education
  • Different type of cost analysis for medication use
  • Research
  • Literature review/statistics
  • Non-drug interventions
  • Social/financial considerations in the elderly
  • Cultural considerations
  • Ageism
  • Hospice/palliative care
  • IADL’s and ADLs
  • Ethics
  • Neglect
  • Therapeutic nihilism
  • Communication challenges

In our most recent release, myself and another BCGP pharmacist have done the leg work for you in our BCGP Regulatory, Geriatrics, Social, and Public Health study guide.

Study Statistics

Prepare for statistics questions. Evaluation of literature, study design, and research is right on the content outline and I would strongly encourage you to make sure you are ready for this. We’ve got you covered on statistics in our All Access Pass.

How to Focus on Clinical Topics

When preparing for the BCGP exam, the clinical section should not be overlooked. It is 60% of the exam after all! Hopefully you have a good base understanding from working as a pharmacist, but some pharmacists are more clinical in their work than others. Here’s a few basic rules for preparation that I would recommend.

  • Know the drug(s) of choice for disease states and 2nd and 3rd line agents as well.
  • Understand for each medication why you would use a drug (i.e. compelling indications, guidelines, better safety profile in geriatrics, etc.) or why you shouldn’t use a drug (contraindications, drug-drug interactions, drug-disease interactions, adverse effect profile, Beer’s list, etc.)
  • Focus on drugs with a lot of clinical quirks/pearls (amiodarone, digoxin, phenytoin, carbamazepine, etc.) and/or ones that are commonly used. For the BCGP exam, I would also review drugs that are on the Beers’ list and in the STOPP/START criteria.
  • Have a good understanding of geriatric specific topics (i.e. Parkinson’s, different types of dementia, etc.)
  • This is a higher level exam, so understanding differences between agents in the same class can be very important as well. (SSRI’s, Antipsychotics, Anticoagulants, etc.)
  • Think broad, so study your weaknesses first.

This information should give you a good place to start in preparing for the BCGP exam.

BCGP Study Materials

We are so honored to have received this review from a fellow pharmacist! With a laser focus on the content outline, we’ve made preparing for the BCGP exam more efficient than ever. We’ve had several successful candidates use our study material and we have continually tried to improve and add new content. Our most recent addition is our 27 page PDF on Social, Regulatory, Geriatric and Public Health Issues (the non-clinical 40% of the exam)! Knowledge of these topics is absolutely critical to passing the exam.

This will be included at no additional cost in our 6 month and 1 year BCGP all access passes! Our board certification statistics study guide, 2 BCGP Practice Exams, Medication Comparison Tables, and 12+ Hour Review Course with slide deck is also included in the all access passes.

If you have any questions on the BCGP Exam or our study material, you can email me here!


Eric Christianson, PharmD, BCGP, BCPS


  1. Viren Patel

    Hi Eric
    I took the BCGP exam in September and missed by 11 points
    Missed most of the questions that non drug related
    I did buy all all your study materials last year
    Including both exams and statistic course as well separately do give discounts to loyal customers

    • Eric Christianson

      Hi Viren, sorry to hear that. Unfortunately you are in the majority with the extremely low pass rates. We’ve just added more non-clinical content to the All Access Pass for 2019 and beyond. I will drop you an email. Best, Eric

  2. randall thornton

    What was the passing grade for the latest exam?

    • Eric Christianson

      Hey Randall, good question…the pass rate was a dismal 39%! BPS does not actually give out a score as far as how many questions you need to get right to pass the exam as I believe they scale/curve the score each year, but I don’t know if anyone knows the exact scoring process. They do give you a “scaled” score with which I believe 500 and above is passing. Hope that helps and best wishes on your preparation!

  3. P

    Hi Eric. Reporting back from that discouragement in Fall 2018. Second time’s the charm. Glad I didn’t give up.

    • Eric Christianson

      That is so awesome! Persistence pays off! Congrats!!!!

  4. Maria

    Hi Eric,
    What have the most recent passing rates been for this exam?


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Written By Eric Christianson

December 30, 2018

Study Materials For Pharmacists


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