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CIPFA irons out its CBE teething problems

CIPFA has apologised to students who experienced difficulties with the institute’s online exam system

February 2017

In June 2016, CIPFA rolled out its ground-breaking assessment strategy, enabling CIPFA students to sit their exams anywhere in the world through computer-based exams and live online invigilation, complementing the institute’s new PQ syllabus.
During the roll-out a number of issues were revealed, with a minority of students reporting a difficult experience with the new online system.
As reported in PQ magazine, CIPFA took the feedback from this group of students on board directly, offering an apology to those individuals affected and implementing an action plan to remedy the issues.
Improvements included changes to communications, the availability of practice tests and enhancements to the technical platform. The second diet of these exams in September 2016 – albeit for a smaller number of retake students – was largely trouble free, and CIPFA’s next major exams in November did not in the main see a recurrence of the June issues.
However, in a recent exchange with CIPFA, the institute explained to PQ that two new significant problems emerged prior to, and during, the November exams. The organisation found that the main exam system used extensively by students for practice tests in the lead up to the main exams suffered from intermittent downtime. Ironically, CIPFA discovered this was primarily due to the system being moved to, ostensibly, a more reliable cloud service which then suffered a number of failures.
This led to some back-end technical issues around database synchronisation and system links, which adversely influenced the exam experience for some students.
CIPFA explained that for those affected the system was down for just under an hour, and that all students were able to conduct their tests once the system was back online.
CIPFA also stated that a more concerning issue, caused by the intermittent breaks in cross-system links, was related to intervals over a four-day period during which some students were unable to book their appointments with the online invigilation service.
Giles Orr, CIPFA’s Director of Learning Delivery and Partnership, told PQ: “Unfortunately these issues slowed down the development and implementation of ongoing service improvements, meaning that scheduled improvements, and fixes for some of the arising issues, could not be completed fully.”
He added: “Additionally, the online invigilators, while fully briefed on the significant changes made to the exams, provided inconsistent and sometimes incorrect information to students during the exams. This did lead to confusion, frustration and some additional stress for a number of students, which is a cause of great regret.”
In all, over 2,300 CIPFA exams were conducted during the period, with significant problems reported by fewer than 100 students.
CIPFA surveyed all students directly after the sitting in order to understand and assess the impact of the reported problems. On balance, CIPFA says, the November exams were technically more successful than the June sitting with fewer overall issues, although the two major problems experienced created a significant overall impact.
Rob Whiteman, CIPFA’s chief executive, has issued a full apology to all students. He also offered reassurance to those affected, stating that CIPFA will ensure that the issues experienced will not impact on the exam marks that were due out in January 2017.

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