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Cracking the exam conundrum in a lockdown

The London Institute of Banking & Finance (LIBF) has been working hard to make CeMAP and its other regulatory exams available remotely from mid-June, following the closure of exam centres in early March due to COVID-19. LIBF’s Mark Heaton and Linden Muirhead explain what was involved.

How do you take exams in a lockdown? Not easily.

As anyone who was due to take an exam in the weeks following the nationwide lockdown will know, exam centres were forced to close their doors in March. Thousands of exams were delayed, often by months.

At LIBF, we’d been looking at delivering exams remotely for some time, but COVID-19 prompted an escalation of that timetable.

“Our courses and qualifications are delivered predominantly online, so remote invigilation was something we had already been exploring and piloting,” says Mark Heaton, managing director, corporate & professional learning at LIBF.

“With physical exams being cancelled, we knew we had to look at making remote invigilation available more widely – and quickly. This is particularly important where exams form the licence to practice, as is the case with regulated advice.”

Giving our students a choice

Mark explains that we’ve worked closely with our providers to develop robust systems and, even though it’s still relatively early days, we can now open up access more widely.

“This is not just a contingency arrangement though. LIBF will retain the remote invigilation option alongside centre-based delivery for the long term, to give students a choice about how and where to sit their examinations.”

Sitting exams remotely isn’t for everyone. It depends on personal circumstances related to the testing environment and technical set-up.

Mark says that many people prefer to sit exams at a centre because it helps to focus the mind.

“In current circumstances, when everyone is trying to work from home, trying to carve out the time and space to sit an exam at home is more challenging. Imagine trying to sit an exam with your children pestering you – either for home schooling lessons, or just because they want your attention – and with your partner doing a conference call in the next room.”

In fact, some centres are starting to re-open – but with reduced capacity due to social distancing.

“However, it’s clear that Covid-19 has changed the landscape forever. Even when exam centres fully re-open, we expect more students to take advantage of remote options,” says Mark.

So how have they gone about developing remote exams?

Developing exams with remote invigilation

Developing remote invigilation is not a straightforward process, particularly at significant volumes. For example, thousands of mortgage advice students may want to use a remote channel for exams.

“Our immediate focus was to support those students studying our qualifications which form a licence to practice, after all it’s their livelihood at stake. But in setting that priority we didn’t want to lose sight of all the others who are seeking to progress in their careers. It was a careful balancing act between those priorities, our own capacity to deliver, and the availability within the remote invigilation systems,” says Linden Muirhead, LIBF’s director of learning provision.

We had to make some significant changes to our systems, especially in terms of secure data flow between us and providers – for both eligibility to take an examination and delivering results. This requires almost real-time updates.

“And don’t forget these are Ofqual regulated qualifications,” says Linden, “so we had to keep Ofqual up to date with the changes and ensure our approach was fully compliant with their guidance.”

Preparing staff and materials

Underpinning all that work was the need to ensure our students are well supported by staff who understand the system and can help them, should things go wrong.

So we developed FAQs and troubleshooting guides for our customer services teams, who also sat the examinations to get a feel for the student experience.

“We also created clear guidance for students about what to expect and the pre-test checks that are necessary,” says Linden.

“As we progressed and learned lessons along the way, we soon realised our students will benefit from multi-channel delivery in the long term. So even once centres re-open, we will continue to offer remote invigilation as an alternative to give students a choice.”

At LIBF we have been piloting remote invigilation since April, working with our e-assessment delivery partners. We have now successfully delivered around 150 exams so we can now start rolling it out to the broader communities.

“It’s still early days,” says Linden, “but – the odd technical hitch aside – we’re confident that this will prove to be a convenient choice for a lot more students from now on.”


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