Some 11% of Bar professional training course (BPTC) students taking their first exam online this week have experienced technical problems, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) said today.
However, it seemed to lay the blame at the door of students, rather than test provider Pearson VUE.
Social media has lit up with complaints since students began taking the ethics exams on Tuesday, with system failures the main issue.
Those who had seen some of the questions before the system went down have been told they will now have to wait until December to re-sit.
The BSB has also been criticised after students had to urinate into receptacles where they sat in front of the online invigilator because of the anti-cheating provisions.
The regulator said students could have chosen to sit the exams in a test centre – but then admitted such centres were oversubscribed.
In a statement issued today, the BSB said: “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.”
It said Pearson VUE has “assured us” that 89% of BPTC exams have been delivered “without any reported incident” and 97% of exams have been successfully completed in all. Some 830 have been taken so far.
This does not indicate whether students who completed the test nonetheless lost time during it – some have reported how the exam clock kept ticking even during system outages and that the answers they had already typed in had been deleted when they re-entered the exam.
“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.”
The BSB stressed that candidates were told in advance  the rules meant to protect against cheating, including that they were not allowed to leave the room during the exam.
“Taking exams remotely requires these additional measures because it is an uncontrolled environment,” it said, stressing the importance of the exams’ integrity.
“If candidates felt 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.”
On Twitter, it was noted that the BSB statistics did not capture students who could not sit the exams at all because exam arrangements would not cater for their reasonable adjustments.