Studying for the PEBC Examinations

Hi all,

In my experience when it comes to becoming licensed as a pharmacist in Canada and taking the PEBC exams, the most frequently asked questions include: :?

  1. How do I become licensed as a pharmacist in Canada?
  2. How do I study for the PEBC exams?
  3. How much time should I spend studying for these exams?
  4. What books do I need?
  5. Where can I find a list of reference materials?
  6. Where can I source relevant books and reference materials?
  7. Where can I find past exam papers?
  8. How do I prepare for the PEBC MCQ exams?
  9. How do I prepare for the PEBC OSCE?
  10. Where can I find information on pharmacy law in Canada?

I'm sure there are many more questions you will have besides these. In the case that I don't cover your question or don't give you the answer you require please post your question in the relevant section of the forum so that other users including myself can read it there and post further answers, comments and questions (this information is correct at the time of publishing but please refer to the PEBC website for the most up to date information). So now to tackle the list of questions...wish me luck....

  1. How do I become licensed as a pharmacist in Canada?
  2. All graduates must pass the PEBC exams, and then they must meet the requirements of the province in which they wish to practice, before they can become licensed in that province. The steps you must undertake will depend on the country in which you obtained your pharmacy degree, the content of the pharmacy degree you have taken, and your status as a licensed pharmacist in your country. For instance, Canadian and American graduates apply directly for the Qualifying Examination. However, international graduates must complete a three part process (Two step evaluation process and then the PEBC Qualifying Exam).

    1. Document Evaluation
    2. The Evaluating Exam
    3. The Qualifying Exam: MCQ & OSCE

    The document evaluation process seeks to confirm you have obtained a pharmacy degree and that pharmacy degree is of a standard acceptable to the PEBC. This process will also seek to confirm, if you are currently practicing pharmacy in your own country, that you are currently in good-standing with your licensing body.

    The evaluating exam is carried out to determine whether the degree you undertook provided you with pharmaceutical knowledge comparable to that taught in Canada. As such this exam can test every subject you were taught throughout your university degree.

    Once you have satisfied the document evaluation process and the evaluating exam you can then apply to take the Qualifying Exam. The Qualifying Exam is an exam of two parts. Part one is the Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) exam and part two is the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). Both of these exams exist to test your competency in various areas of pharmacy as detailed in the Qualifying Examination Blueprint.

    Having passed the PEBC exams you will then be able to apply to the pharmacy association of the province of your choice for registration as pharmacy intern (you will need to seek an internship position with a suitable pharmacy) and then undertake the applicable jurisprudence exam. A good summary of provincial requirements for licensure as a pharmacist can be found on the Napra website.

    This process applies to all provinces except Quebec, where you do not need to pass the PEBC exams. Instead you must have graduated from a pharmacy program deemed to be equivalent to a Quebec pharmacy program, provide evidence of fluency in French, pass a law exam, and undertake 600 hours of training in Quebec.

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  3. How do I study for the PEBC exams?
  4. Studying for the PEBC exams is a daunting task. I do not intend to provide you with much in the way of basic study techniques here, as I hope most of you at this stage have found a study technique you are comfortable with (though study techniques may be discussed at some point in the future if desired). This is not just one exam but potentially three: the evaluating exam, the MCQ and the OSCE. Each exam is very different in presentation and content, and therefore requires individual attention when studying for a particular exam rather than studying for all exams at once (though any information you gather in the field of pharmacy will be relevant to each exam). These three exams examine the length and breadth of your pharmacy knowledge from the more technical aspects you learned at university to the more commonly used skills and pharmacy knowledge you use in a pharmacy every day.

    In preparing for the PEBCs you are expected to cover a huge body of material, as such it is important to know exactly which areas of pharmacy the PEBC expects you to be knowledgeable in. The short answer to this is, the PEBC expects you to be knowledgeable and competent in all areas of Pharmacy, but this is not helpful when studying for the exams. However, the PEBC are not so cruel and do lay out exactly what pharmacy topics they expect you to be able to answer exam questions on. My first study tip for the PEBC exams is to look at the syllabus/blueprint provided by the PEBC for each exam as follows:

    These syllabi or blueprints, though they appear long and general, will help you focus on specific subject areas as you study. Make out study plans including each subject area and tick them off as you progress. Once you know how much time you have and which subject areas you need to cover you then need to source reference materials. Refer to What books do I need? and Where can I source relevant books and reference materials?.

    For more information refer to How do I prepare for the PEBC MCQ Exam? and How do I prepare for the PEBC OSCE?

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  5. How much time should I spend studying for these exams?
  6. In English there is a saying that relates to this question that asks "How long is a piece of string?". The answer to this question is ambiguous (unclear/unknown). Everyone has different methods of studying for exams. Some take their time, make study plans and study topics gradually and systematically. Others cram (memorize information quickly) for exams very close to the exam day. My recommendation is to use the study techniques you are familiar with and those that have got you through your pharmacy degree. Study techniques that have proven successful for you are most likely to continue to do so. I do recommend however, that you use a systematic study approach. These are not subject restricted or modular university exams and the lack of recent study, pressure, and unpredictability of these exams may affect your ability to study effectively. As mentioned above please review the PEBC syllabus for each exam.

    The syllabus material provided for each of the PEBC exams, though daunting, actually provides you with a broad reference of what the PEBC expect from you. The unfortunate thing is the PEBC syllabus is broad and pretty much covers your university pharmacy degree syllabus. However, if you try and overlook this fact you can make use of each syllabus. My advice is to read the syllabus briefly and then to read through texts such as Comprehensive Pharmacy Review and Quick Review of Pharmacy. These texts will help you identify your weak subject areas so you can focus yours study efforts on your weaker subjects.

    I realise many of you will be looking for a more specific time frame in answer to this question. Everyone is different and some people study faster than others or need to fill in more gaps than others, so the answer to this question can not be the same for everyone. My first piece of advice is to take as much time as you can and as much time as you need to feel prepared for the exams. You only get 3 attempts at each exam not to mention the cost of taking each exam is significant. Taking the exam when you feel unprepared will not only put you under extra stress it may also affect your performance in future exams or set you back financially. Having said this, my experience was that I studied for an average of 6 hours a week, over 3 to 5 days of the week, for up to 3 months before each exam. Again this time frame will not necessarily suit your needs, so do not rely on it. I would feel as a minimum this amount of study would give you a good foundation of knowledge with which to tackle the exam (depending on the quality of your time spent studying).

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  7. What books do I need?
  8. There are numerous text books available that will provide you with all the information you need to study for the PEBC exams. Chances are you may well still have some text books that you used to study for university degree. The one thing you must consider when choosing text books to use in the preparation for the PEBCs, is whether the book applies to pharmacy as it is practiced in Canada.

    The material covered in text books relating to core pharmacy subjects such as medicinal and organic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, and pharmacology are likely to apply equally in Canada as in other parts of the world. However, texts covering clinical guidelines, drug names, drug usage, and pharmacy law, will need to be specific to Canada and preferably as up to date as possible.

    The books I recommend for each of the PEBC exams are listed below. These books will give you a good foundation of knowledge but further texts may be required depending on your weaker subject areas and your particular preference.

    • The Evaluating Exam
      • Comprehensive Pharmacy Review
      • As the title of this book suggests, Comprehensive Pharmacy Review is a text that examines a very broad range of core pharmacy subjects. This text breaks each pharmacy topic down in to lists of key points, terms, definitions, formulas, images and graphs. At the end of each chapter you are also presented with study questions to help you review what you have learned. The book as it suggests is intended to be a review of each subject area and for more detailed subject coverage other texts should be used. For a means of refreshing your knowledge and learning key points for exam purposes this is an excellent text.

        Preview this book with Google Book Search.

      • Quick Review of Pharmacy
      • This book is aimed primarily at pharmacy students in the United States preparing for their NAPLEX exams. As a result any reference to drug brand names, clinical guidelines or pharmacy law should be treated with caution and double checked. The book however is an excellent tool for testing your knowledge in key subject areas such as pharmacokinetics, pharmacology, microbiology, chemistry, pathophysiology, clinical pharmacy and more. Each chapter covers a subject area by presenting you with Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) followed at the end of the chapter with the answers and a discussion of the answers. The book provides around 1000 MCQs.

        Preview this book with Amazon.

    • The Qualifying Exams
    • (Including the above texts)

      • Therapeutic Choices
      • Therapeutic Choices, in my opinion, should be your bible for the PEBC qualifying exams (it will serve you well in your day to day practice in Canada too). Not to say you should not reference other texts, but knowing the contents of this book will give you a very good foundation with which to tackle the exam. The book has been written by Canadian health care professionals and delivers current clinical guidelines and evidence based practice in a concise form. The book covers most major clinical disorders providing information on pathophysiology, prevalence, risk factors, investigations, treatment goals, lifestyle advice, pharmacoeconomic considerations (and much more) as well as decision trees (algorithms) and drug tables to support decision making in the prescribing, treatment and drug management process.

        Preview this book with the CPHA

      • Patient Self-care
      • This book focuses on Over The Counter (OTC) treatment of common ailments presented in the pharmacy. The book provides you with the tools to assess symptoms and make evidence-based recommendations for conditions that can be treated without prescription. Patient Self Care covers a large range of common ailments that affect the major organs and systems of the body. Patient Self Care includes herbals, nondrug therapy, patient information pages and tables of drug choices. Very useful when tackling the PEBC OSCE.

        Preview this book with the CPHA

      • Compendium of Self-Care Products
      • This book makes a great companion to Patient Self-care providing comparative tables on thousands of products and monographs on hundreds of commonly used non-prescription products. One great benefit for international students is the inclusion of brand names for commonly recommended OTC products. Again very useful for the PEBC OSCE.

        Preview this book with the CPHA

      • Compendium of Pharmaceutical Specialties (CPS)
      • The CPS is an impressive tome of Canadian drug information as it contains 2500 current product monographs including 129 drug or drug class monographs prepared by CPhA, quick reference drug information and clinical tools, directories of sources of drug and health care information, a list of discontinued products and a comprehensive crossed reference index of generic and brand names.

        This text makes an excellent addition to the texts already mentioned and is a core reference text found in every pharmacy. For those of you familiar with 'Martindale: The complete Drug Reference' and 'The British National Formulary', it is very much like a cross between both books for Canadian pharmacists. However, this book is expensive and heavy, and therefore unless you can obtain a second hand copy or even better get one for free, it is often not practical to obtain a copy if you are living overseas. If you do get a chance to look at a CPS, then I highly recommend doing so. This book will be made available to you during the OSCE exam, and knowing how to use it efficiently may help you on the day.

        Preview this book with the CPHA

    In the books section of this site you will find a list of reference books organised by subject area that you can use to study for the PEBC exams. This list is not exhaustive and I am adding to this section all of the time. I hope in the future to add book reviews by site members. Please feel free to suggest a text book for inclusion in this list by submitting it in the book forum topics.

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  9. Where can I find a list of reference materials?
  10. First of all check out the books and links section of the site for a longer list of reference materials. After that these are my top tips on how to find reference materials and resources for the PEBC exams

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  11. Where can I source relevant books and reference materials?
  12. As I have mentioned earlier many of you will have reference texts from university that you can use to study core pharmacy subjects that are comparable in most countries of the world (e.g. chemistry, anatomy etc). However, books and reference texts relating to pharmacy as it is practiced in Canada (Canadian drugs, pharmacy law and clinical guidelines), will need to be sourced to successfully complete your studies.

    I personally found it hard to source Canadian reference materials while living outside of Canada. The PEBC very kindly provide a list of recommended texts and reference materials as well as internet resources. While your local bookshop may carry some more popular general pharmaceutical references, in many cases they will not necessarily be able to source specific Canadian reference texts. Like I did, you will no doubt turn to the internet for help. Sites such as Amazon can often help you source these reference materials and that is why I have used an Amazon store in the books section to help you purchase these texts easily. Unfortunately Amazon does not carry all of the texts you may require. If you are having problems sourcing a text then please contact me and I will try and help you source the text (as I live in Canada). If demand is high enough then I may sell a full range of relevant reference texts directly from the site in the future.

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  13. Where can I find past exam papers?
  14. This is the burning question on the minds of nearly every PEBC exam taker and the honest answer is, that you can not legitimately obtain past PEBC exam papers. The only legitimate sources of such material are the PEBC website (Evaluating Exam Questions, MCQ Questions and OSCE Stations) and the mock exam papers provided by fee based PEBC preparatory courses. Such exam material only represents the style of PEBC exam questions and not actual exam questions from past PEBC exams.

    I hate to drone on, but I would like to remind you all that PEBC exam content is protected by copyright, sharing past PEBC exam content in any manner is strictly prohibited by the PEBC and there may be dire consequences for ignoring these rules.

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  15. How do I prepare for the PEBC MCQ exams?
  16. The Multiple Choice Question Exam consists of two exam papers of 150 questions each (300 questions total). Of the 300 questions only 200 questions will be used to determine your score. The other 100 questions are pre-test questions that the PEBC are pre-testing for use on future exams. The PEBC states 'the exam is written in two sittings, on two consecutive half-days. Questions on QE-I (MCQ) assess the understanding and application of knowledge to problems, as well as the ability to make judgements and problem-solve in situations relevant to pharmacy practice. Each question assesses one specific competency.' Each part of the two parts of MCQ exam lasts for 3.75 hours. :jawdrop:

    Many people approach MCQ exams with too relaxed of an attitude. Just because the answer is in front of you doesn't mean you will pick the right answer 'because it will be obvious' or out of luck. Over a period of 3.75 hours you are presented with 150 questions relating to complex pharmaceutical scenarios. Some questions may be simple calculations, others may involve a full review of a patient's medication profile and medical history. The fact is when you are under pressure and presented with a large volume of material, luck will not help you pass, knowledge and good preparation will.

    Now that we have an overview of what the MCQ exam involves we should look at the exam in more detail. Again the PEBC website provides us with useful tools to prepare us for this exam. I encourage you to firstly look at the Qualifying Examination Blueprint. This blueprint lists the competencies the PEBC will test during the MCQ exam. This blueprint should give you an idea of the areas you should cover. For example let us look at competency 1.6 and 1.7:

    1.6: Determine, select and recommend appropriate therapeutic options including non-drugs, and nonprescription and prescription drugs.

    • Prioritize identified problems.
    • Assess alternative treatment strategies including drug and non-drug therapies.
    • In consultation with the patient and other health care providers, select the therapeutic option best suited to the patient.
    • Explain the rationale for the proposed treatment.

    1.7: Refer patients to other health care providers when required.

    • Determine if a referral is necessary.
    • Identify the most appropriate health care provider or agency for the referral (e.g. medical or social).

    Think about the above competencies and how the PEBC could ask you a question about this. Presenting you with a patient's history, drug profile, and complaint, and asking you to determine which of a patient's drugs is causing a particular side effect, which medication would or would not be suitable for addition to their therapy, which medications may cause an interaction, and whether a patient should be referred would fulfil all of the above competencies. Well that's very helpful I hear you say, but what would such a question look like, well again the PEBC does give you some clues. The PEBC Qualifying Exam sample questions page provides 63 MCQ style sample exam questions. Each of the questions provides you with the answer to the question and the competency which it is testing. Take a look at questions 9 and 10. Question 9 presents you with a statement you are given 5 possible answers, you must pick the most suitable one. This question is making you "Determine, select and recommend appropriate therapeutic options". Question 10 gives you a patient history and is making you "Refer patients to other health care providers when required". Such questions could be posed in combination with each other to form a larger question covering both of these competencies.

    So now you aware of the competencies being tested and the style of the questions, how does this help you study for the exam? Well you now know that you must study for every common clinical scenario, every major disease, applicable clinical guidelines, the drugs used in these scenarios, how they are used, their common side effects, potential interactions, how to calculate drug dosages and formulations, clinical goals and outcomes and, well the list goes on and on, and all of a sudden you are overwhelmed! Well let's step back for a second. If you are reading this then there is a very good chance that you are either a pharmacy student, graduate or a qualified pharmacist. This means you have studied and shown your competency in everything we have discussed here so far. You are not starting from scratch and you are not learning a subject that you have no hope of understanding. All you need is a systematic approach to list what you need to know, review what you know and do not know, find the means to fill in the gaps, and review your knowledge again.

    1. What do you need to know?
    2. Well the PEBC have told you in the Qualifying Examination Blueprint. They don't tell you the questions they will ask but they tell you the subject areas they will cover and how they will ask the question. You may look at the blueprint and say, they do not tell us the subject areas. Well looking at the competencies you can guess that the subject areas are everything to do with the clinical treatment of major diseases, ailments and symptoms using your knowledge of drugs, their effects, dosages, side effects, interactions and goals of drug therapy. With these we can include drug calculations, interpretation of lab values, assessment of symptoms, evaluation of scientific data, pharmacoeocnomic assessment, pharmacy management principles, and the application of ethical and legal knowledge.

    3. How do you review what you know and do not know?
    4. The simplest way to do this is to test yourself on a broad range of pharmaceutical and clinical subject areas. The easiest way to do this is to do practice exams (preferably MCQ). Unfortunately the PEBC only provide you with 63 MCQ questions, while I encourage you to test yourself with these, they will not provide you with enough material to truly test yourself. This is where we turn to other reference materials. In an ideal world we would have access to some of the past PEBC exam papers to help us here, but the PEBC expressly forbids this and we must honour that. Two books which I found very useful to help here were Comprehensive Pharmacy Review and Quick Review of Pharmacy. Comprehensive pharmacy review covers key points for a large range of pharmacy subject areas, browsing these points will show you what you do know and what you did know but have now forgotten ;). At the end of each chapter you are also presented with test questions. Quick review of pharmacy on the other hand is book of up to 1000 pharmacy MCQ questions, though the book is aimed at American students, a lot of material still applies to Canada. After that seek out whatever means of testing yourself you can find. In the future I hope to provide further links to test questions and perhaps one day we can host mock exam papers on the site?!

    5. How do you fill in the gaps?
    6. To make it simple....reference books. A good reference text is all you need to fill in those gaps in your knowledge that you have identified through the previous steps. Comprehensive Pharmacy Review is a great text for providing the key points on pharmacy subjects however for more in-depth clinical knowledge I recommend Therapeutic Choices. Therapeutic choices covers the details of the common ailments of major systems of the body and gives up to date clinical treatment guidelines, drug therapies, goals and decision making tools. Having a good knowledge of the contents of this book will serve you very well. For even more in-depth information on therapeutics I recommend Applied Therapeutics.

    7. How do you review again?
    8. Simple, gather all those sample questions you used to find the gaps in your knowledge and try taking them again. Even if you know the answers off by heart anyway, that's not a bad thing! Keep looking for new tests and if you know someone who is taking the exams (and of course you do because they are all on test each other!

    When taking the MCQ exam please remember to stay calm. This is a stressful exam but you are fully capable of doing well. Listen carefully to and follow all the instructions you are given. Read each question carefully and if you are not sure of the answer mark it and come back to it, answers sometimes become clearer the second time around. Also remember if the questions just seem impossibly hard, some of the questions you find difficult may be pre-test questions and not count toward your mark. Regardless of the situation answer every question as you are not negatively marked for wrong answers. Once you finish the first of the MCQ papers forget about it as soon as possible. No matter how you did in the first paper, don't let it affect your chances in the second paper, you can quite easily make up for any mistakes by doing well in the second paper. Be prepared, stay clam, stay focused, be confident and pass :).

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  17. How do I prepare for the PEBC OSCE?
  18. OSCE stands for Objective Structured Clinical Examination. This type of PEBC exam puts the student in a simulated clinical situation to test the student's competency and ability in the following areas:

    • Practice pharmaceutical care.
    • Assume ethical, legal and professional responsibilities.
    • Access, retrieve, evaluate and disseminate relevant information.
    • Communicate and educate effectively.
    • Manage drug distribution.
    • Apply practice management knowledge and skills.

    For further explanation of these competencies see the Qualifying Examination Blueprint.

    The exam consists of 20 stations, 16 test stations and 4 rest stations. You are allowed up to 7 minutes at each station to complete your objective. An OSCE exam may be very different to anything you have experienced before. The exam is not only testing your pharmaceutical knowledge but also your communication skills, language proficiency, counselling skills, information gathering skills, organizational skills, your ability to act in a professional manner and in many ways your confidence. To help familiarize candidates with the OSCE exam process, the PEBC has kindly provided 10 OSCE video clips on its website. I highly recommend viewing all of these videos.

    For me, after pharmaceutical knowledge, confidence was the most important thing in this exam. Being put in a live scenario, where people are asking you questions and you are being graded on your responses and ability to reach an objective in 7 minutes, can be quite stressful. This however, is not unlike everyday practice, you never know what you will be asked or have to deal with on a day to day basis in a pharmacy. If you have already practiced in community pharmacy or on hospital wards, this will have given you some invaluable experience in counselling and communicating with the general public. In either case, whether you are taking an OSCE exam or dealing with real life pharmacy situations, confidence is very important. You must trust that you have the ability to help the person in front of you and that no matter what they ask, you will be able to find an answer to their question or refer them to someone else who can help them. Remaining calm 8) and knowing your limits are also very important in the exam and in practice. Never guess an answer, if you don't know then tell your patient that you need to check the answer and use your information gathering skills to consult the references available to you.


    If you are lucky enough to have other PEBC exam takers close by I highly recommend meeting up and practicing your counselling skills and role playing clinical scenarios with each other. Check out the forums to see if there is a study group in your area or post a request for a new study group.

    With this in mind, my advice on how to prepare for this exam is to improve your pharmacy knowledge, especially in areas related to over the counter ailments and counselling. The first and main reference text I would recommend in preparing for the PEBC OSCE is Patient Self-care. This book covers the major ailments presented at and treated over the pharmacy counter, and provides a wealth of information on disease pathophysiology, assessment guides, preventative therapy, pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatment guides, goals of therapy and monitoring. This is a very comprehensive text but this alone will not necessarily provide you with all you need to know. For example this book provides you with the generic names of drugs commonly used to treat over the counter (OTC) ailments, however you will also need to become familiar with the common brand name products used in Canada. While I was living in the UK when I began studying for my PEBC exams, I personally found it hard to track down the brand names of commonly used OTC drug products in Canada. The following are great resources for finding the brand name products Canadian pharmacists commonly recommend for OTC ailments:

    These references will provide a great foundation of material to study in preparation for your PEBC OSCE. However, depending on your experience it may be wise to cover topics such as general OTC counselling, counselling on the use of common medical devices (inhalers, eye drops, insulin pens etc) communication skills, lifestyle advice, herbal products, drugs in pregnancy and breastfeeding women, and drug interactions in more detail. Here are some further reference texts that can help you with these:

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  19. Where can I find information on pharmacy law in Canada?
  20. Studying the law as it applies to pharmacy in any country can be difficult. In Canada the situation is complicated even further, as in addition to federal pharmacy law (that applies to all of Canada), every province has its own pharmacy law that amends or adds on to the federal law. Having good resources to study with is vitally important in order to fully understand and apply the law to your everyday practice.

    Referring to the Qualifying Examination Blueprint, you will see that one of the competencies tested includes "Assume Ethical, Legal and Professional Responsibilities". This competency collectively accounts for 9% of the overall Qualifying Exam and is therefore a small part of the exams but none the less vitally important for your future practice. While the PEBC exams do not thoroughly examine your knowledge of pharmacy law in Canada, both the MCQ and the OSCE will require a good working knowledge of federal pharmacy law. The PEBC exams do not test your knowledge of provincial pharmacy law as this is a national test and it would be impracticable to test your knowledge of the law in the province in which you will practice. It is important to remember, once you have completed your PEBC exams you will have to pass a provincial jurisprudence exam which will test your knowledge of federal and provincial pharmacy law.

    Studying federal pharmacy law can be daunting as you will be studying from a legal document. In my opinion the most important areas to cover are the Canada Health Act, drug scheduling, law relating to prescribing rights, law relating to prescription requirements, and the laws relating to controlled, targetted and narcotic drugs. Please remember though when you are licensed you will need to know all applicable law.

    Federal Pharmacy Law

    Provincial Pharmacy Law

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I hope all of you have found this blog useful. I have only briefly discussed the topics above, this is by no means a definitive guide to the PEBC exams, but I certainly hope this will help cover the basics. If anyone finds any errors or anything they do not agree with then please feel free to contact me. If anyone has any questions in the mean time please feel free to place them in the forum so other members can help you too. With any luck if there is enough interest we can discuss and expand upon these subjects in future articles here at

Best of Luck to you all,
Mat (siteadmin) :)

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