Following the publication of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants’ pass rates for the first exams of 2021, Joe Pickard speaks to executive director – strategy and development Alan Hatfield about how Covid-19 has impacted students and their approach to learning
Despite the continued disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, ACCA examination sittings were carried out in the majority of locations worldwide. Over 92,000 students around the world entered almost 112,000 exams.
For the health and safety of students, ACCA implemented additional measures in line with relevant government advice. Once again, remote invigilation was implemented where local regulations did not permit in-centre exams, notably in the UK and Ireland, to enable students to continue their education despite the challenging conditions.
TA: Are these results typical of what you would normally expect?
Alan Hatfield: The results are in line with our expectations, reflective of the global population that prepare for the exams and are within the range we would normally expect as compared to historical average pass rates of recent years.
ACCA continues to add support for students, as well as strengthening its network of approved learning partners, which assists in improved results.
TA: How has remote invigilation affected the results?
AH: Remotely invigilated exams are designed to mirror as closely as possible the experience of sitting a computer-based exam sat in a centre. The remote exam system shares the same functionality as that used in test centres, the exams have been through the same robust quality assurance processes and are marked in the same way by the same marking teams.
In addition, ACCA undertakes detailed analysis of results to ensure that all students receive a fair and reliable exam result, regardless of the mode of delivery. Our analysis has shown that the introduction of remotely invigilated exams has not affected results.
TA: Will you continue remote invigilation in certain areas or for certain situations? Has it helped people who perhaps have previously struggled for different reasons to reach exam centres?
AH: At present, ACCA’s immediate focus is to ensure all students can safely continue their exam journey, whether their sittings are centre-based or conducted remotely. We are carefully reviewing whether remote testing is practicable beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
ACCA introduced remote invigilation to be able offer a contingency where we are unable to run centre-based exams. Remote invigilation was already part of our forward plans to explore; however, we’ve taken the decision to accelerate this innovation in light of Covid-19.
Remote invigilation allows us to offer flexibility in the event that centre exams cannot take place due to disruptions. We understand how frustrating it is for students if exams are cancelled, so while the pandemic has forced us to close many centres around the world, being able to offer remote invigilation will ensure students can continue to take their exams as planned.
Students will need to have the technology at home to support remotely invigilated exams, and we have developed a list of system requirements for students to allow an examination to be successfully carried out.
As a global organisation, changing how we run our exams is a big logistical project We have been running exams in centres for over 100 years, but we constantly change how we do that, so we are used to change.
In 1998 we introduced our first computer-based exams for our Applied Knowledge exams. These are objective test-type questions, testing knowledge and some applications, so we were able to make that switch early on. Then in 2016 we introduced computer-based exams for the next level which focuses on application, so these included spreadsheets and word processing, replicating the workplace. So we are used to change, but each change brings challenges, and of course the biggest challenge with this latest innovation has been the speed with which we are required to move to allow our students to sit exams during the pandemic.
We are working with our regulators around the world, who understand that Covid-19 is having a huge impact on businesses, and they understand our need to create opportunities for students to continue to take their exams, progressing to membership.
The number one priority for regulators and ACCA is to maintain rigour, integrity and security in the examination process, both in centres and remotely. We are confident we can achieve that through remote invigilation, partnering with leaders in the field.
TA: In regards to the webinars and podcasts with expert tutors that students have had access to, have these just been introduced since the start of the pandemic? Do you intend to continue providing these resources after Covid?
AH: ACCA has always provided learning support to complement the tuition courses offered to students by our approved learning partners. The webinars and podcasts referred to are examples of the support we produce, which also includes areas such as technical articles, video series, study guides and CBE practice platforms. We can confirm that we will continue to offer learning support in the future post Covid.
TA: How have students responded to the new ways of working and remote invigilation?
AH: We have found ACCA students have been very positive and are appreciative of the opportunity to continue their journey whilst centres may be closed. ACCA remains on hand to support students and answer further questions they may have regarding remote invigilation.