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Student Insights

7 tips for flawless exam conduct

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 28 May 2024

exam room young student black woman wearing glasses red top black cardigan sitting typing at a computer keyboard

Whether you’re sitting in an exam centre or remotely, give yourself the best chance of success by avoiding these common pitfalls.

1 Use one screen

Many accountants use dual monitors, especially when working with multiple documents or large amounts of data, or combining a laptop with a larger desktop display. If you’re sitting an exam via remote invigilation, make sure one of your screens is switched off, or that they’re set up to mirror. 

“The reason is one of exam security,” explains Richard Eckersley, Head of Assessment at ICAEW. “The system can only monitor one screen, and if we can’t see what you’re doing on the other, the exam is not secure.” While a minor breach like this might not seem like a big deal, “If it takes away our ability to verify, that’s a problem,” he adds. “If we can’t verify the integrity of the exam, then we’re not going to be able to carry it forward.”

2 Ensure the right setup

As well as monitoring your screen, the remote invigilation system for Professional and Advanced Level exams uses your webcam to record you, and your mobile phone camera to provide additional coverage of the room. “Your phone will usually be positioned a few metres behind you, so that we can see you, your screen and your room,” Richard explains. Make sure it’s plugged into a charger – running out of battery halfway through could again impact exam security. 

If you’ve followed the guidelines and got your setup right (watch the video here), you should be prepared for any unexpected eventualities – like someone coming into the room, for example. “We record video and audio, so we can see and hear what happens – and that might include a student asking someone to leave the room,” says Richard. “As long as we can verify the integrity of the exam, we can cope with that sort of thing.”

3 Be punctual

If you’re sitting via remote invigilation, you have 30 minutes from your scheduled start time for on-boarding – getting everything set up correctly and completing security checks – and to start the exam. As long as you’ve completed the technical system checks in advance, this should only take a few minutes. “If you start after 30 minutes, your exam won’t be marked – unless you’ve been in touch with us to let us know that you have a problem,” says Richard. Make sure you let Student Support know about any issues as soon as possible, either via the live chat function or, if you no longer have internet connectivity, over the phone. 

If you’re sitting at an exam centre, again it’s your responsibility to be on time – and there is a strict half-hour cut-off. You can start the exam up to 30 minutes late, but you will lose those minutes from your total time.

4 Be professional

Sitting an exam can be a stressful situation – but that’s no excuse for rude or unprofessional behaviour towards invigilators, says Richard. “The invigilators are in a position of responsibility, and are able to report your behaviour back. Even if there are frustrating or difficult events happening, you need to cope with those professionally.” Exam centres will often be covered by CCTV and, if not, there will usually be plenty of other people in the room observing your behaviour. 

“You’re entering into a profession in which conduct matters, and there’s a high expectation there,” adds Richard. “You wouldn’t conduct yourself that way in the workplace and expect to continue in an organisation. You need to remain professional.”

5 Use stop the clock properly

If you’ve been granted access arrangements that entitle you to ‘stop the clock’ rest breaks, it’s up to you how you use them – but they must be complete breaks. You’re not allowed to read or write notes, or look through permitted texts during this time. “There’s a button you can click within the exam environment; the screen blanks out, a coffee cup appears and the timer starts counting down,” Richard explains. 

“While that’s happening, you’re permitted to take a break – not work on the exam.” It can be difficult for invigilators to tell exactly what you’re doing, he adds, “So just never be in a situation where there’s any doubt at all. Close all your books, stare up at the sky, or get up and move around.”

6 Heed warnings

If you’ve been warned about your exam conduct for any reason, make sure you don’t make the same mistake again. “It could be that an invigilator in an exam centre asked you to stop doing something, or we detected a minor breach like wearing a watch,” says Richard. 

“If you receive a warning letter saying we’ve identified an issue but are not going to sanction you for it, don’t do it again. Seeing a repeat of the same behaviour after you’ve been formally advised against it is when it becomes problematic – and you might be sanctioned for a second offence.” A repeated breach becomes an issue of professionalism – personal integrity rather than exam integrity. 

7 Never cheat

When it comes to exams, directly seeking to cheat is the most serious thing a student can do – and a clear breach of the ethical conduct and behaviour expected from ICAEW Chartered Accountants and the profession. “Bringing notes into an exam and being caught trying to use them is pretty serious, because you’re going out of your way to get an advantage you shouldn’t have under the rules of the exams. It’s not a mistake of omission – the intent is clear there,” Richard says. 

“In portfolio-style exams, such as the Level 7 Project Report, every submission goes through plagiarism-checking software. If you haven’t written your submission from scratch, there’s a very high chance that it will be picked up. And the consequence of that is always serious – there’s no minor infringement if you’ve copied someone else’s work.” Students could be referred to the professional conduct department and may be fined or even prevented from continuing the qualification. “It depends on the extent and the seriousness of the plagiarism, but this is a really serious matter.”

You’ll find detailed instructions on exam conduct for all levels here.

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