Experiencing an exam

22 September 2021

Here at BTS, we pride ourselves in making sure that we know what the candidate experience is going to be like when they sit their Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning exams, so that we can answer any practical questions they may have.

It’s hard enough making sure you have the right level of technical knowledge and application skills for your exams without worrying about how the exam itself will run.

Hearing first-hand about how the exam process works, from someone who’s recently gone through a sitting, can really help to clarify what can be expected and take away some of the pre-exam pressure. This can be as simple as finding out what the log-in process was like, how the screens are set up, and the look and feel of the overall exam. To make this possible, each year we make sure that at least one of the BTS team has sat each of the diploma exams, R01 to R06. With that in mind, on a Saturday afternoon in late August I sat my R03 exam one more time…

In this article I will share some of the experiences, some learns for myself, and provide an update on conversations with the CII.

Getting set up

Being keen, I sat in front of my PC thirty minutes before the exam was due to start so I could make sure that all the systems were working well. Thank goodness I did. The exam is taken using a secure browser provided by PSI, and I had used the system before, so I thought I’d be fine. Unfortunately, the secure browser wouldn’t work.

The software said it was loading, but just stayed on a holding screen for 10 minutes. So, twenty mins before scheduled exam, I called the technical helpdesk, who used their remote system ‘Anydesk’ to access my PC. They spent about 5 minutes making some changes and all seemed to be working fine.

A learn for me here is that I shouldn’t have assumed that just because the system was OK for my previous exam, it would be good for this sitting. Windows does all sorts of updates which may change a setting that affects the PSI browser, so it’s best to follow the CII’s advice and do a test-run 24 hours in advance.

Getting ready to launch the exam

Fifteen minutes before my scheduled exam I logged onto My CII and launched the exam. At this point, the system guides you through the security process, including showing my ID to the camera, allowing the system to take a photo of me, and scanning the room with my webcam. All went well and the system submitted my evidence and information for validation. My screen showed a spinning ‘wheel’ and a message saying everything was being reviewed (or words to that effect) and to wait.

Five minutes before the exam start time, and the wheel was still spinning! Even though the exam was not career-critical to me, I found myself starting to worry. What is it about taking exams that turns rational human beings into rabbits in headlights? So, I used the in-built chat feature to talk to an agent. After two to three minutes of high-level questions, the operator confirmed that the best thing to do was to once again call the technical helpdesk.

Around the scheduled exam start time I got through to the help desk who greeted me and asked what the problem was. I explained what had happened and the advice I had received from the chat representative, but then something strange happened… the support representative greeted me and asked what the problem was! I said that it was basically as I’d just explained it, and the line went dead. All a little weird. No idea what happened, but at least PSI will have the recording of the call.

So, I called the helpdesk again. This time a very helpful member of staff used Anydesk again to uninstall the secure browser and reinstall it, and we seemed to be working again. He closed Anydesk and we were able to get back to starting the exam. It had all been a little stressful, but at least we could start the launch process now.

Logging in to the exam

It was now seventeen minutes after the scheduled exam start time. At this point it’s worth mentioning another learn. It would have been easy to start to get stressed here, thinking that I was ‘late’ for the exam and that this would reduce my allowed exam time. For me at least that didn’t happen. Everyone was very reassuring that when my exam started I would still get my allotted 60 minutes. And that turned out to be the case.

With that reassurance in mind I managed to log in, and see the message ‘Please wait whilst the proctor releases your exam’. Then a warning message popped on to the screen: ‘Use of the following applications during your exam session are prohibited: Anydesk windows photo viewer’. Hang on, that was the software that the technical support representative had used, and I was sure that they had closed the session and finished the call! This came up quite a few times. It was a little worrying and distracting but didn’t seem to cause any actual issues.

Twenty minutes after the scheduled exam start time, the proctor carried out their final validation steps before the exam. You have to hand it to the proctors: those guys are reassuringly thorough. There was a section that made me smile when the proctor asked me to get a clear glass of water to hold between my webcam and my ID docs, but it seemed to act like a magnifier and let them see what they needed. I was also asked to throw a cover over the desk next to mine. Thank goodness for an at-hand beach towel!

Sitting the exam

32 minutes after the scheduled slot it was time to start the exam. Now I could at last answer the questions, making sure I followed all of the BTS exam tips, such as: look at a question, decide if you can answer it quickly, and if not; pick an answer, flag it and move on so you can review it later.

Then, approximately 35 minutes after the actual start of the exam, a big message saying ‘Exam Paused’ appeared on the screen. This was followed by something about me having requested a break or there being ‘technical problems’, but with the instruction to call technical support.

I called them again and I think they did another set of reinstalls with an updated version of the PSI browser (I could be wrong) using Anydesk. I could then get back to the exam. Here is another learn; the system appears to be clever enough to know when these pauses happen, and adds the time to the exam, so you still get the allocated exam time.

For the rest of the exam, all systems worked as they should. That said, I’m not sure I did! All of the advice we give to people on exam technique was starting to fall by the wayside. Even though the system gave me the full time, I lost focus during the stops and starts. I let the experience slow me down, and the chance of having no-pressure review time had gone. At one point I remember staring at a question for too long, baffled by the options. Only in hindsight did it occur to me that it included PETS and CLTs! I got to the last question, put in my gut-reaction answers and the time ran out. There was no time to review or flag anything

All in all it was a pretty eventful R03 exam!  I got the hoped-for (expected?) pass, but this will not be a sitting where I could reflect on the experience and learn very much.

So, why did we decide to share this with you? Entertaining anecdote? Word of warning? Cathartic off-load? Perhaps a little of all three.

In reality, we are sharing this experience with you, just as we share other R0 hints and tips, so that you know what sort of issues can come up (hopefully they won’t) and you are prepared for them. Computer systems have a habit of not behaving exactly as we or the provider would want them to, but knowing what could happen in advance might just take some of the pressure off when gremlins put in an appearance.

What can you do to prevent this happening to you? Nothing, but you can be prepared for the small possibility that it could. Log in early, have the helpdesk number to hand, be prepared for some odd requests from the proctor during the security check, and most of all, try to keep your cool.

As you may expect, we have shared this experience with the CII exams team. Logging experiences like this is one of the ways the system can be improved. Without providing feedback, we can’t expect systems and processes to change.

To their credit, the CII have treated our feedback seriously. They have told us:

‘Thank you for your email, which I have forwarded to the team who are investigating your complaint. They are currently liaising with the team at PSI to understand the technical issue you experienced, and how to reduce the impact for future candidates. Thank you for taking the time share your feedback, which helps us improve our services.’

If you experience a sitting like this one and you think it might have affected your performance, log the issues and raise them immediately after the exam. You may have a case for the CII to apply their reasonable adjustments and special consideration guidelines.

About Bespoke Training Solutions
Bespoke Training Solutions (BTS) have been supporting regulated exams for 17 years, specialising in R0 support with outstanding candidate tracked results and feedback. Resources include digital and printed study guides, group and 1:1 training, e-Learning modules and a mobile app of practice exam questions. Visit www.bespoketrainingsolutions.com to learn more on how BTS can help you on your regulated journey.

Professional Paraplanner