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Exam centre versus remote invigilation: Certificate Level/ICAEW CFAB

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 09 Jan 2023

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Deciding whether to sit your next Certificate Level or ICAEW CFAB exam remotely or in an exam centre? The ICAEW assessment team look at the pros and cons of each option.

Whether you prefer the comfort and convenience of a familiar environment, or to have the support of fellow students around you in an exam centre, Certificate Level and ICAEW CFAB students sitting their exams can choose the delivery method that’s right for them. “The beauty of where we are now is that students can choose the method that works best for them for each exam – subject to their tuition provider’s requirements – and both options will be there for them going forwards,” explains Catherine Christmas, Assessment Operations and Development Manager at ICAEW.

Catherine and her team are responsible for the smooth delivery of Certificate Level and ICAEW CFAB exams at ICAEW, and are always looking for ways to improve the experience for students. The introduction of a remote invigilation option for all Certificate Level and ICAEW CFAB exams took place in May 2020. 

“Although the introduction of remote invigilation was a real success, we learnt a lot from those first few months,” says Senior Assessment Executive Stuart Brunning. “We introduced improvements as and when they became available. The lessons learnt at the Certificate Level and ICAEW CFAB exams were invaluable for introducing remote invigilation at Professional and Advanced Levels.”

Remote invigilation is a popular choice with students, particularly in the UK. In 2021, with some Covid restrictions still in place, 61% of students chose to sit their exams this way. In 2022, the balance between remote and in-person examinations was one-third to two-thirds. According to the data, says Catherine, UK-based students are more likely to choose remote invigilation than their international counterparts, probably because of concerns around internet connectivity. 

While technology is still the main barrier for students considering remote invigilation, according to Catherine and Stuart, there are robust systems and processes in place to deal with any issues that might arise. “Understandably, many students are more comfortable at the thought of turning up to an exam centre and everything being taken care of for them,” says Catherine. “At an exam centre, all the equipment is provided for you, and everything will have been checked beforehand to make sure it’s working properly.” All you need to bring along are your two forms of ID and a calculator. If there are any technical hitches, the invigilators may even be able to push the session start back by a few minutes.”

Some students find that the exam centre environment helps them to get into the right mindset, and they like to be surrounded by others going through the same experience. Bear in mind, though, that not all students may be sitting the same exam as you. “Because the Certificate Level and ICAEW CFAB exams are delivered on demand, rather than scheduled sessions, you might have other people in the room taking a different exam that finishes at a different time, so that can be distracting,” explains Catherine. “You might also find that you have to wait a bit longer for availability at an exam centre, especially in busy cities like London. With remote invigilation, you can often get a slot the next – or even the same – day.”

Home or away?

One of the main advantages of remote invigilation is that you are in a familiar, comfortable environment that you can control, and with the computer that you are used to using. You will need a quiet, private room where you won’t be disturbed, a laptop with a webcam and microphone, a strong, reliable internet connection and a mobile phone. “We always recommend that you use a personal rather than work laptop if possible – company equipment may have restrictions that may not allow the video monitoring software to run,” explains Catherine. And, while it may be tempting to rely on the office wifi rather than your home connection, you’ll need to ensure the company’s firewall doesn’t restrict access, so it’s worth checking with your IT department or employer in advance.

Once you’ve checked that you have the right technical requirements in place and run a system test – ideally a few days before your exam – the remote on boarding process is as straightforward as that in a centre. “At home, you only need one form of ID, as the system uses biometric software to confirm your identity,” explains Catherine. The only other thing you will need to provide is a whiteboard and wipeable pen if you want to use one for your workings, though the exam software features a digital whiteboard and scratch pad.

As in an exam centre, you’ll need to be ready 30 minutes before your scheduled start time to allow for the necessary security checks and connection to a remote invigilator. Once the clock starts ticking, you won’t be able to leave the room, even to go to the bathroom – another aspect that students can find daunting with remote invigilation, says Catherine. “It’s also against the rules to pick up your phone – which is often the first thing a student will do if their connection drops, to take a picture of an error message for example,” she says. For more on the guidelines, have a look at the essential information here.

Help is always on hand if you do run into any problems during an exam, whether at home or in an exam centre (find out more about what to do here). “With Certificate Level and ICAEW CFAB exams, you can resit as soon as another slot is available, so that gives some comfort if something does go wrong,” says Catherine. For both methods, the exam software, content, timings are just the same.

At the end of the day, the choice comes down to deciding what works best for you and your personal circumstances. “What’s been obvious from the first introduction of remote invigilation is that some students prefer it – and, going by the pass rates, there is little difference in results. It’s great to have the option – it makes the service a lot more accessible to everyone,” says Stuart. 

“As with everything, it’s about being prepared, particularly if the remote invigilation option does appeal,” adds Catherine. “There’s a lot of information to take in, so do spend some time familiarising yourself with the process, requirements and regulations – and always read your emails.”

Discover more about the Certificate Level and ICAEW CFAB exams, how to book an exam, remote invigilation exam guidance and exam centre guidance.

Read our exam guides for Accounting, Assurance and Finance and Principles of Taxation, Law and Management.

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