Online invigilators for the Bar exams taking place in August have been trained to differentiate between candidates looking around naturally and trying to read hidden notes, students have been warned.
Despite objections from students, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) is pressing ahead with holding the centralised assessments for the Bar professional training course (BPTC) and Bar Transfer Test (BTT) remotely after the April sitting was cancelled due to Covid-19.
Pearson VUE is providing both the technology and also physical test centres for those who cannot sit the exams remotely. Unlike remote exams – for which they are advised to go to the toilet just before the test starts – students can take breaks at the test centres.
The detailed guide for candidates published yesterday by the BSB explained that it aimed to replicate the invigilation protocols of traditional exam-hall settings as far as possible.
“This is important because it protects the robustness of the assessments you are going to take and means that everyone who will rely on the fact that you have successfully passed your BPTC or BTT – such as other barristers and the public who will use the services you might provide as a future barrister – will know that you have been assessed to as high a standard, and by as robust a process, as those in previous years.”
The guide explains in depth the anti-cheating measures, which may calm some of the concerns expressed about them.
Students taking the test remotely cannot have any food in the room or pens and paper nearby – there is an online notes facility.
Students will need to take photos of their room to show that it meets the requirements – “Wall art and posters will be inspected” – and have a phone number on which they can be contacted at any point.
“Books on shelves are permitted as long as they are out of arms reach. Please remove the following publications from your bookshelf: The White Book, Blackstone’s and the BSB Handbook.”
The BSB said a proctor would “actively observe” students in real time via webcam and microphone during the exam session.
“If a noise is detected during your exam which is outside of your control, such as a dog barking or the doorbell ringing your session will not be automatically terminated nor will it necessarily lead to an intervention by your proctor…
“However, if a loud noise persists and it is preventing the proctor from listening out for other noises which might indicate misconduct – for example, someone else talking to you – the proctor will need to contact you about the outside noise.
“If, despite your requests in advance to housemates or family members not to do so, someone enters your room during your exam, the proctor would not automatically end the exam (unless you get up and leave the room).
“You would be expected to ask the person to leave the room but if you continue to talk to someone then you would first be warned to stop. Your session would only be terminated if you do not comply with your proctor’s instructions.”
The guide said the proctors were trained to differentiate between when someone was “looking around naturally” and when, for example, they might be repeatedly referring to a note or a similarly prohibited aid.
“If you are looking around naturally, they will not intervene. If you have a disability which means that you are prone to sudden head or shoulder or neck movements, simply mention this to your proctor when your exam starts so that he or she can disregard any such movements during your exam.”
BSB director of regulatory operations Oliver Hanmer said: “We fully understand why students have been concerned about the prospect of taking such important examinations under unfamiliar conditions.
“We hope this guide will explain the arrangements we have put in place for their exams and the steps we have taken to seek to make the arrangements accessible to everyone.”