Before the coronavirus pandemic, students took their exams in those universities that provide the Bar Professional Training Course. Since universities were closed as a result of the pandemic, we had to cancel the April sittings of the centralised assessments in Professional Ethics and Civil and Criminal Litigation. To ensure that Bar students can complete their vocational training as soon as possible, students have been offered the choice to sit their exams via online proctoring or in one of Pearson VUE’s many test centres.
Online proctoring through Pearson VUE allows students to complete their training as soon as possible, regardless of when their universities are able to reopen. Although the majority of students beginning pupillage this autumn will have already passed their exams in previous years, we have also waived the requirement that this year’s students must have passed their exams before beginning the non-practising part of pupillage.
The BPTC exams are an essential professional qualification for students seeking to enter a profession that requires the utmost integrity, a profession on whom the public depends for vitally important advice and representation. The integrity of the exam is therefore extremely important, and preventative measures are put in place to protect the exam content and experience, especially when students are taking the exam remotely via online proctoring.
When candidates select to take the exam via online proctoring, they are told in advance the rules and requirements meant to protect against cheating, including that they are not allowed to leave the room during the exam. Taking exams remotely requires these additional measures because it is an uncontrolled environment.
Students have been reminded to read the Guide on our website, which has been available since June 29. The Guide recommends that students “prepare yourself for not being able to leave the room for the duration of your exam, for example by going to the toilet as close to the start of the exam as possible”. If candidates felt that they were not going to be able to stay in their room — for example, if they might need a lavatory break during their exam — they were offered the opportunity to take their exam at a test centre, where lavatory breaks are available, or an alternative venue supplied by their BPTC provider, if their needs could not be met by computer-based testing at all. We regret that the exceptional demand for test centre places from other bodies also conducting examinations meant that not every student was able to find a test centre place at a time and in a location that was convenient to them but many students are successfully sitting their exams in test centres.
Despite completing the required system tests in advance, inevitably, with any online testing platform, students may face technical issues that prevent them from accessing or completing their exams. These technical issues could include a variety of problems such as a disrupted power supply, interrupted broadband services, or a hardware or software issue with the student’s computer, and, unfortunately, these types of issues are beyond our control.
Our test delivery partner, Pearson VUE, has assured us that at this stage their statistics suggest that 89% of our exams have been delivered without any reported incident and 97% of exams have been successfully completed in all. We are very sorry that some students have encountered difficulties, however, and together with Pearson VUE, we are committed to investigating any issues as quickly as possible.
For candidates who sat a BSB exam through Pearson VUE in August and experienced a technical failure that prevented them from accessing or completing their exam, we are looking at options as to how we might enable them to sit for their exams before December.