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BPTC students report being locked out of online ethics exam

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BSB says the ‘great majority’ did manage to finish their assessment

Online bar exams taking place this week have been beset by technical gremlins, students say, with the authorities telling some of those affected that they’ll have to resit in December.

Students on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) took to social media to complain that issues with the proctoring software prevented them from sitting or completing yesterday’s ethics exam. The Bar Standards Board (BSB), which oversees centralised assessments in three subjects that were moved online because of the pandemic, admitted that “some students did face technical issues”.

Some will be able to resit today or later this week, but the regulator added that those who had caught a glimpse of the questions before the system went down would have to wait for the next sitting in December.

Complaints from students, both in their own names and submitted anonymously to a campaign group, flooded Twitter yesterday.

One BPTC student wrote: “I was scheduled to take my exam at 10am this morning… I logged in at 9.30 as instructed and completed the check in process. The proctor told me that my exam was going to be released and she asked if I could see the welcome screen. As [I began] to type to say I could not, the chat box disappeared. My whole laptop screen went blank… I was no longer able to contact the proctor”.

Another said: “Same thing happened to me; software crashed and blacked out while waiting for the exam to start, after 10 minutes I decided to force restart my PC and redo the steps”. A third student tweeted “I never even got to see the ethics exam paper”.

Anger flared as students blamed the BSB and exam provider Pearson VUE for the fiasco. Referencing previous controversies about exam arrangements, a bar candidate said:

“Imagining cancelling all of your summer plans and holidays to spend it revising through a global pandemic, fighting with your exam provider for over a week just to get yourself booked onto an exam, warning the @barstandardsboard about your very legitimate concerns with the intrusive proctoring system… oh look at that, the @pearsonvue system crashes part way through, you ring their helpline and oh – because you started the test – you’ll have to miss this sit out and the next time is DECEMBER?!”

Barristers weighed in to support their future colleagues. Kirsten Sjøvoll of Matrix Chambers branded it an “appalling debacle”, while Sarah Forshaw QC from 5KBW opted for “dog’s breakfast”. Caspar Glyn QC said “the profession would like delivered solutions for candidates ASAP from our regulator”.

Secure your place: The Legal Cheek Virtual Pupillage Fairs 2020

Writing for Legal Cheek in June, BSB director of regulatory operations Oliver Hanmer confirmed that students would be allowed to start pupillage before passing their centralised exams — assuming their chambers are up for it.

A BSB spokesperson told Legal Cheek: “The BSB has worked hard to ensure that students are able to sit the centralised BPTC assessments this year, which were originally due to take place in April, but which have been delayed as a result of COVID-19. Pearson VUE is responsible for delivering the examinations and we understand that the great majority of students’ exams which took place yesterday were completed successfully”.

They added:

Inevitably with any online based exam, some students did face technical issues that prevented them from accessing their exams. Pearson VUE will try to rearrange their exam to take place on another scheduled sitting date subject to availability. Students who have accessed the exam but experienced a technical failure during the course of it will be allowed to defer to December without penalty if they have not successfully completed enough of the exam to achieve a pass.

Pearson VUE has been approached for comment.

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