Bar exams latest: BSB pushes ahead with ‘pen and paper’ October resits

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By Aishah Hussain on

One third of exams beset by technical difficulties, regulator confirms

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today announced that students who encountered technical difficulties during their online exams will have the opportunity to resit from October.

The regulator had aimed to offer the opportunity to resit exams in traditional ‘pen and paper’ format in September, subject to providers being able to arrange venues either on their campuses, if open, or at alternative locations.

It has now confirmed that providers will offer resits in civil and criminal litigation and professional ethics in the traditional manner from 5 until 12 October. The exam sittings will be subject to “strict adherence to whatever coronavirus restrictions are applicable at the time”, according to the BSB’s statement.

Students undertaking the centralised Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) assessments this summer documented their troubles accessing the remote proctoring system on social media, with some reporting they had been ‘locked out’.

In today’s statement, the regulator said “although we believe that the majority of students were able to complete their exams at that time it is now clear that around one third of exams were affected by difficulties at some point during the examination period, significantly more than the original estimate from our supplier when the exams began”.

The October 2020 sit will be open to all those who were unable to access the exams online or whose access was interrupted. It will also be open to any student who felt that they were unable to perform as well as they might have done because of the conditions in which they sat the exams and to any student who had deferred until December 2020, as had been permitted.

The definitive result for anyone taking centralised assessments in August and October will be whichever is the better performance, the regulator said, adding that there will also be a further opportunity to sit the exams in December 2020.

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BSB director general, Mark Neale, repeated his apology to students beset by technical difficulties during the August exams. He said:

“The BPTC providers usually host these exams but the BSB stepped in to provide the assessments when the COVID-19 lockdown prevented them from doing so in April. The majority of students were able to complete their exams as computer based assessments but we deeply regret that technical and other problems prevented many students from doing so and left others feeling that they had been unable to give their best performance. I should like to apologise once again to those students and, as I have already announced, we are commissioning an independent review of the handling of the August examinations.”

The “lessons learned review”, announced last month, will report to the regulator’s governance, risk and audit committee, which is composed of independent non-executive directors, and will be undertaken independently of the BSB. Around the same time, Students Against The BSB Exam Regulations, a Twitter account set-up to voice the concerns of bar students, called for the exams to be waived entirely. A petition was also launched.

The BSB today ruled out the possibility of a waiver. Neale continued:

“We know that there have been calls for us to waive these exams but we see them as essential to demonstrate whether students have sufficient core knowledge to move to the next stage in the journey towards becoming a barrister. Our duty to the public is to ensure that anyone who practises at the bar is fully competent to do so. We therefore believe that the fairest way to enable students to demonstrate that competence is for BPTC providers to offer them further opportunities to sit the exams in the traditional manner and at the earliest opportunity.”

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