Sitting your exams in an exam centre and want to know what this is like under current and potentially ongoing restrictions? Luiza Todd, director, Bespoke Training Solutions reports on her own experience.
The R06 financial planning practice exam is the only one of the six exams required for the CII Regulated Diploma in Financial Planning that is not multi-choice/response. The questions in this exam are written or typed answers to questions that are based on two case studies. The case studies are released a few weeks before the exam date: not the questions of course, otherwise we would all be passing first time! Candidates have a choice of either sitting the exam remotely or going to an exam centre.
What is the exam centre experience like?
As BTS directors, we sit the R0 exams annually to keep both our knowledge and candidate support materials as up-to-date and exam relevant as possible. I decided to have another go (practise makes perfect) at the R06 exam in October 2020. There had been many technical issues with the July R06 remote exam sitting, so an exam centre seemed like the most sensible approach. Living in North Yorkshire, Newcastle was my closest venue, so I duly booked my exam sitting for the 12 October at 1pm. As I have a terrible natural sense of direction, I set off in good time which proved to be a good move as it took me a while to find the exam centre.
I went up to the exam centre rooms which had two PSI/CII invigilators organising proceedings. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic all precautions were being taken, such as checking my temperature, social distancing and the like. Candidates were checked in responsibly and safely and taken into the exam room one by one. We were reassured that all computers and desk areas had been cleaned and we were set up ready to go. Therefore, we all started our exam at the same time. Currently, all R06 exams whether sat at home remotely or in an exam centre involve typing answers into the screen, saving them and then moving on.
Now, I am known as not being the best with modern technology and sure enough straight away I had a problem, albeit one that made me chuckle a lot. My caps lock appeared to be stuck, as everything I typed as answers LOOKED LIKE I WAS SHOUTING. Two keyboards down and 10 minutes later I was in the same position, so the invigilator and I accepted defeat, and I kept on shouting my answers.
So, what about the exam system itself?
The system’s typing functionality isn’t great. This is no Microsoft Word, so the use of bullet point, grids, and tables and many of the tools BTS recommend in setting out exam question answers just don’t work with this system. Instead of bullet points I had to use dashes, instead of columns in a table I had to improvise and type two sets of words side by side.
As a candidate trying to do your best in an exam that you have studied hard for, which is usually your last step in attaining a level 4 qualification, you are going to be nervous and such a lack of functionality does not help.
All answers must be saved as you go along, and you can see where you are in terms of questions numbers at the bottom of your screen. This also means that you can go back and edit an answer after you have saved it, or you can answer the questions ‘out of order’ if that works best for you. Some candidates like to ‘park’ a question that they are not sure of and come back to it later, particularly as answering the later questions might spark an idea the helps with the parked question.
It is easy to miss a question. I almost omitted to answer a 10-mark question as I had been distracted by my SHOUTING keyboard issues. As far as I could tell, the system will not prompt you if you miss answering any questions.
Two hours and 20 minutes into the exam as I was about to start checking my answers, my entire screen went blank. It took 30 minutes and a long phone call to the PSI helpdesk to retrieve my answers.
This was not about passing or failing for me, so I was relatively calm. But I am certain most candidates would have felt very differently in this position.
I was thankful for the two invigilators and that I was not at home on my own. One stayed on the phone whilst the other tried the various remedies that were being suggested until my exam and answers were retrieved.
To this day I have no idea if all my answers were transmitted; that’s probably one of the scariest things of this brave new world. How can we be sure all our answers end up with the CII examiner? Thankfully I passed my R06 exam (would have been a tad embarrassed otherwise as I coach it four times a year).
Am I a fan of the remote exam centre and typed answers system? Yes and no (now that’s a trainer answer).
Yes, as it means we have greater flexibility and access to exams and in a centre there are people on hand should things go wrong.
No, because systems can and do fail and that piles on the pressure.
At least writing your answers the old-fashioned way the worst technical issue that could occur was that your pen could run out…