In practice, the worst thing you might discover during an exam, which had been going just fine, is that your revision notes were still in your pocket.
Simply possessing materials relevant to the exam or syllabus is a serious breach of the exam rules, even if it was a mistake. It can result in removal from the student register.
Before each exam, students receive an exam docket with exam regulations and guidelines. The regulations warn students about taking anything into the exam that is not on the (very short) list given in the guidelines. Anything else is ‘unauthorised’. Even white-out tape.
Taking unauthorised materials or items into the exam, or having them while the exam is in progress, is banned. Also, if the ‘unauthorised’ materials are relevant to the syllabus being examined, the assumption will be that you had been trying to cheat.
At the exam centre, the exam supervisors remind students about the regulations. So, once the exam has started, there is no acceptable explanation for having unauthorised materials with you. The exam staff have no discretion to make allowances. They must send the incident to ACCA’s Investigations Department for investigation.
The student, once reported, will have no access to the exam results and will be unable to enter further exams until ACCA has completed its investigation. Cheating and/or intending to cheat is considered dishonest conduct. It is a very serious matter for ACCA and the student. ACCA works hard to safeguard the integrity of the exam process and protect the integrity the professional qualification that ACCA members have worked so hard to attain. This includes taking disciplinary action.
If the case is referred to ACCA’s Disciplinary Committee, the committee may decide the student was cheating, or intending to cheat, just by being in possession of notes that are relevant to the syllabus or exam. It could be the end of his or her ACCA career. That is why the ACCA exam regulations include this warning: If you attempt to gain an unfair advantage in the exam (whether by breaching an exam regulation or otherwise) you are likely to be removed from ACCA's student register following disciplinary proceedings.
Even a simple investigation requires evidence from within ACCA, from the student, from the examiner, from one or more invigilators. The report needs to be reviewed by an internal barrister and an independent assessor before the case even reaches a Disciplinary Committee. It can take a year or more for a student to know the ultimate consequences of what, at the time, may have seemed a fleeting mistake. That is a year of being unable to take any exams and of uncertainty about how much the investigation will cost in hard cash and damage to a student’s reputation and career.
ACCA publishes the decisions of its Disciplinary Committees, which means a student found to have cheated and breached the exam regulations will, in turn, find his or her name and the details of the incident available to the world via Google.
It really happens
Could this happen to you? Well, everyone can make a mistake. Here are extracts from just two of the Disciplinary Committee decisions published in 2016.
‘I put the smartphone inside the pencil case and put the pencil case on the floor (sic)… Midway through the exam my smartphone vibrated and I realised that I have forgotten to switch it off...’
‘She reiterated her account that she had decided to take revision notes rather than books to the exam with her; that she had put them in the pocket of her jeans and had forgotten about them...’
In each case, the student was removed from the register.