The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has announced that Bar students will be able to take this year’s exams online – but barristers have expressed concern about the “astonishing” anti-cheating provisions.
The centralised assessments on the Bar professional training course (BPTC) and for the Bar transfer test (BTT), which were postponed from April to August due to the coronavirus, will now be computer-based exams delivered using Pearson VUE’s OnVUE “secure online proctoring solution”.
The regulator also confirmed that anyone due to complete their exams this summer and who has been offered a pupillage would be permitted to start that pupillage in the autumn whilst awaiting their results, provided those offering that pupillage are content for them to do so.
Further, the BSB announced that the Bar course aptitude test (BCAT) would reopen for registrations before the start of June. This will also be available as a computer-based test that can be taken remotely.
The BSB said OnVUE used “a combination of artificial intelligence and live monitoring to ensure the exam is robustly guarded, deploying sophisticated security features such as face-matching technology, ID verification, session monitoring, browser lockdown and recordings”.
These “robust security measures” would assure students, the profession and the public “that the 2020 cohort of BPTC graduates will have been assessed to as high a standard as those in previous years as they will have taken the exams that they were intended to take in a secure environment”.
In certain cases, exams can be taken at one of Pearson VUE’s physical testing centres around the world, subject to health and safety guidance.
OnVUE says it will monitor the testing session in real time via webcam and microphone. On social media, barristers highlighted the terms and conditions of using the system.
These say that if any third party is “detected as being in your physical location, whether visible or not; or overheard in any manner, whether physically detected through movement and making of noise or through sounds irrespective of whether they are in your current location or not ruing your testing session, the test will be terminated and you will not receive any score”.
Barrister @RadFemLawyer described these measures as “quite astonishing” and asked: “How on Earth is this fair to Bar students with children?”
Others questioned how students with caring responsibilities or who did not live alone would cope, given that they will be at home.
OnVUE also says that, if there is no scheduled break in an exam, the test will be terminated if a student leaves their computer. “Roommates or pets? Make sure your space is free from noise or distractions,” its website says.
The results will be issued at the beginning of November and the BSB will schedule a new exam sitting in December to enable students to resit any of the centralised assessments.
On pupillage, the BSB said: “Although the current lockdown may affect the number of pupillages which can be offered, the BSB hopes that as many as possible will remain available.”
BSB director-general Mark Neale said: “Since the current health emergency began… students and transferring qualified lawyers have had to face considerable uncertainty, which we very much regret, and I am delighted that we can now deliver centralised assessments remotely in August with Pearson VUE’s state-of-the-art online proctoring system.
“Allowing students and transferring qualified lawyers to start the non-practising period of their pupillages in the autumn will also enable them to progress while maintaining the robustness of the assessment process.
“The BPTC and the BTT are gateways to a very respected profession, where high standards of competence are rightly expected, so it is right that standards of entry are maintained even in these most challenging circumstances.”