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Student Insights

Tales of the unexpected

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 05 Jan 2023

ICAEW Students exam problems two young women studying computer

Most exams go without a hitch, but what should you do if there is a problem? Shaun Robertson, Director, Education and Qualifications, and Elliott Skinner, Head of Exam Projects, explain the process for exam centres and remote invigilation.

You’ve completed your tuition, scheduled plenty of revision time, practised the question bank and the exam day has finally arrived. You’re as prepared as you can be – but then the unexpected happens, and something out of your control goes wrong during the exam. So what should you do? “First of all, be reassured that this is not something that happens often,” says Shaun Robertson, Director, Education and Qualifications at ICAEW. “We have built a very robust, fully tested system, and we have contingencies in place for when things do go wrong.”

Most often, Shaun explains, the issues will be technical infrastructure ones, such as internet connection problems or power failures. “It is a computer after all, and it is using the internet,” he says. “Beyond that, the things that go wrong are a lot more low-tech than you might think – fire alarms, roadworks outside, birds flying into the room… That’s just life, isn’t it?”

The most important thing, he stresses, is that you contact ICAEW as soon as it happens. “If you get into difficulty during a Professional or Advanced Level exam, let us know during the exam,” he says. “There are things we can do behind the scenes to fix it – and we want to learn from any problems too.” 

During every Professional and Advanced Level sitting, Shaun and his team are on hand to deal with any issues. “There’s a team of us here from five in the morning, waiting to deal with any questions,” explains Elliott Skinner, Head of Exam Projects. “We always say we hope for a boring day – we want to be sitting there with nothing happening!”

Remember to keep an eye on the exam systems status page, which is constantly updated before, during and after each session – you are allowed to check it during the exam, too.

What to do: exam centres

If you encounter a problem in an exam centre, chances are you won’t be alone. “The biggest risk for an exam centre is a power failure or internet issues,” explains Shaun. In that situation, the best thing to do is to “Sit tight and bear with us,” says Elliott. “The invigilators are in contact with us constantly, so they will be able to guide you on what to do. We’ll do everything in our power to get you to sit that exam that day.”

The exams are automatically saved every two minutes, so once the power is back on or the internet is up and running again, you’ll be back to a recent point in time and can continue on. “We’ll obviously give you extra time to compensate for the disruption you’ve had, and we’ll also take it into consideration when marking your script,” says Shaun. “We want you to pass – we’re not here to be a blocker,” adds Elliott. “We’re here for you to demonstrate your competency so that you can become a chartered accountant.”

For any other individual problem, the invigilator in the room should be your first port of call. If, once the exam is over, you feel that your result will be adversely affected by whatever happened, you must contact ICAEW as soon as possible – and within seven days – to apply for exam disruption appeal. “That’s really important,” says Catherine Christmas, Assessment Operations and Development Manager. “If you don’t apply within seven days, that result will stand.” For Certificate Level and ICAEW CFAB exams, make sure you contact ICAEW direct rather than Pearson VUE (though the incident will need to be logged with Pearson VUE – find out more here).

What to do: remote invigilation

If you’re sitting an exam remotely, the most likely issues are again technical ones. Many of those can be pre-empted, though, by making sure you’ve done all the necessary system checks beforehand. “As long as you do those tests – and not just the night before or the morning of the exam – sitting at home is no more risky,” says Shaun. “The kinds of problems we see with remote invigilation are not outside the normal range – most people have very good IT at home these days.” The exam software is also relatively low-spec, points out Elliott. “It wasn’t designed for all-singing, all-dancing laptops,” he says.

What’s equally important is that you know – and stick to – the rules and requirements of remote invigilation. That means no headphones, no picking up your mobile phone – and no interruptions from the household pet.

If something does go wrong, don’t panic. If you’re still connected to the internet, start with the TAWK chatbot for the most commonly asked questions. “I think someone asks every time if they can go to the bathroom, so that’s in there,” says Shaun. (The answer is yes for Professional and Advanced Level exams, and no for Certificate Level/ICAEW CFAB.) If your query can’t be answered there, then the next step is to use the live chat function, which will connect you to an invigilator. “If they can’t answer your question easily, they’ll come straight to us,” says Elliott.

“The live chat function is the best way to contact us. We monitor the web chats constantly, and we’ll take over straight away if we see something we need to deal with. If you’ve still got internet, we can see your screen, so we can talk you through what to do. We’ll do everything in our power to get you back on that exam.” If your internet connection drops out, first try to reconnect – the exam will pause while you get up and running again. If that doesn’t work, get in touch with student support by phone. “Whichever way you contact us, rest assured you have a direct line to ICAEW,” says Shaun. “We are the team on the day that triages everything.”

Again, once the exam is over, make sure you contact ICAEW within seven days to apply for exam disruption appeal if you really feel it’s needed.

Moving with the times

“Some people hark back to the glory days of pen and paper, and think that was much safer – it wasn’t,” says Shaun. “The exams are more secure now than ever before.” One big advantage, he says, is that today’s students are more IT savvy – and much more resilient, especially after the challenges of the past few years. “Some of the candidates we’ve seen are so professional, and so understanding with it,” says Elliott. “That professional attitude, and ability to remain calm under pressure, is exactly what we’re looking for in an ICAEW Chartered Accountant – things don’t always go right in the workplace after all.”

Things don’t often go wrong in an exam. But, when they do, it’s essential that you get in touch with ICAEW at the time – not after the event. “As long as you contact us, we’ll get you through,” says Shaun. “We have a whole list of contingencies, and ways of getting you through – and we haven’t lost any students yet!”

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