Avoiding exam hall blunders

What is the worst thing that could happen to an ACCA student taking an exam? Brain freeze as soon you see the exam questions? Getting so delayed in traffic that you arrive too late to take the exam? Being unable to answer any of the questions?

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.

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

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.

Time flies

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.

Top tips

In summary, if you are studying hard, working hard, and investing money and time in your career, slow down enough before the exam to make sure you avoid any blunders in the exam hall.

  • Take some time to read the regulations on back of your exam docket – do not assume that ACCA’s rules are the same as in all the other exams you have taken.
  • Print your exam docket on blank paper – this is not a time for printing it on recycled waste paper from the office.
  • Write nothing on the exam docket and keep it separate from any other materials. If you store it in a plastic folder, check the docket is the only document in the folder.
  • Believe that the ACCA exam regulations mean what they say. Anything apart from the list of authorised materials needs to stay outside the exam hall – even your correction white-out. If in doubt, ask.
  • Even if you feel completely calm about the next exam, assume that you may show some symptoms of stress, including last minute fluster. Plan ahead for keeping your phone or electronics out of reach during the exam – there may be limited facilities on the day for storing your valuables.
  • Leave all books and revision materials outside the exam – then double-check your pockets for forgotten notes.
  • If you find that you have unauthorised material or item with you, waste no time trying to conceal it. Speak to an invigilator.