How to avoid GCSE exam malpractice

What can you do to make sure you don’t become another exam malpractice statistic? Louisa Fyans, head of AQA’s exams integrity and inspection team, explains

Pupils in an exam

While exam season is a few months away,  it's worth starting to remind yourself of issues of exam malpractice that can risk compromising the security or integrity of an exam.

Thankfully, such situations are rare, but being aware of the incidents that can occur – and how to avoid them – is important because they all come with the risk of serious sanctions.

Sanctions vary depending on elements, such as the risk caused by the incident, the impact on an exam and the number of people involved.

1. Exams officer/invigilator malpractice

This is often an oversight or mistake, such as opening the wrong pack of papers.

If noticed before any papers are handed out, the sanction is likely to be lower – we realise mistakes can happen. However, if the paper has already been given out, this is much more serious.

If an exam paper is compromised by an individual’s actions, either through distributing the wrong paper or not keeping papers secure, there are repercussions for that individual and possibly the school, with the most severe centre sanction being a ban from entering any AQA exams for up to five years.

Tips:

  • Make sure you keep exam papers secure until the day of the exam and only open them 90 minutes before the start time.
  • Keep all papers in the secure storage area until an hour before the exam.
  • Don't leave any papers unattended before the exam.
  • Check the details on the packet to make sure you're definitely opening the right one. Don't forget to do the "second pair of eyes" check before opening a pack of papers.
  • If you do open the wrong pack, don't panic. Reseal it, put it back in secure storage and tell the exam board.

2. Teacher malpractice

Deliberate teacher malpractice – such as leaking content from a paper or aiding students with their non-examined assessment – is exceptionally rare but can happen.

As well as the teacher being sanctioned, students’ results can also be affected. The sanctions for a teacher may be very serious, to the point where they’re not allowed to have any involvement with AQA exams.

Pointing to something or whispering a word during a language speaking exam to prompt a student would also be classed as improper assistance and may result in a sanction for the teacher. 

Tips:

  • Familiarise yourself with the rules around "non-examined assessment" and exam preparation.
  • Be careful when offering advice or assistance to students and make sure that you are keeping within the rules.

3. Student malpractice

By far the most common malpractice among students is taking mobile phones into exams. Students found with a phone during an exam will lose all their marks for that paper and could even be disqualified from that entire qualification.

Sharing confidential exam materials online or in group chats is another issue we occasionally encounter, which can have serious consequences. If someone does this, that one individual has compromised that exam for everyone in that group.

Even if it’s an unsolicited message, all those candidates have received material that could give them an unfair advantage so there are repercussions for them, too, as we have to protect the integrity of the exam. In the most serious cases of sharing confidential materials, a student can be disqualified from an entire qualification or even from all AQA exams.

One final point for students is about leaving the exam room. When sitting an exam, students aren’t allowed to leave the exam room until after the first hour of the official start time has passed. Any student deliberately leaving the room before the permitted time may be disqualified from that exam.

Tips:

  • Leave your phone at home or hand it in when you arrive at school. Whatever you do, don't take it into the exam room.
  • Be aware of social media or chat groups. Even unwanted information can affect your results.
  • If someone sends you a message containing material supposedly from an exam paper, report it immediately to a teacher, exams, officer or exam board. Don't share it with anyone else.
  • Never leave the exam room before you're allowed to.

Final thoughts

Ideally, there wouldn’t be any malpractice to investigate.

Taking action isn’t about punishing students, teachers or schools, but we have to ensure that exams are fair for all and that no one has an unfair advantage.

Louisa Fyans is head of AQA’s exams integrity and inspection team. Hear more about exam malpractice from Louisa and the team on AQA’s Inside Exams podcast

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