Clarifications and outstanding questions on the PEB online exams

Many readers will have attended yesterday's CIPA seminar on the upcoming PEB exams. If you missed it, a recording of the webinar can be heard here. Vicki Salmon (chairman of the CIPA Education Committee) introduced the webinar. Mike Williams from the PEB Governance Board first provided some further details on how the exams will be conducted this year. Parminder Lally (CIPA counsel member) and Carolyn Palmer (Honorary Secretary of the Informals) then did an excellent job of putting candidates' questions to Mike Williams. Julia Gwilt (formerly of the PEB) provided the perspective from a trainer. There was much to be reassured by, but also a number of outstanding issues that we will hopefully receive clarification on soon.

The form of the exam

Mike Williams is relatively new to the PEB governance board, having joined in April of this year. Mr Williams first went through the arrangements that are being made for the remote exams. The exams will take place using automatic proctoring software provided by the external provider, Proctor Exam. Mr Williams suggested candidates take a look at the "demo for candidates" on YouTube - see here. The software will require a laptop webcam and a phone camera to monitor candidates whilst they take the exam. Candidates will have the opportunity to test the system themselves in September.

Julia Gwilt gave a perspective from a patent firm - with all the I.T and technical challenges this represents. Issues with printers remains one of the main concerns, given that many candidates have a work laptop that restricts what can be installed (e.g. driver software for printers). Candidates from larger firms will most likely receive more support in this regard than candidates from smaller firms or those who work in-house.

Answered questions

First, the exam will still be closed book. The possibility of changing the exam to open book was briefly considered, but was thought to be too big a step on top of the changes that will already be taking place this year. However, importantly, screen breaks will be provided: a 10 minute break for 4 hour exams, and 20 minutes for the 5 hour exam. The format of the breaks has not yet been determined. In view of the time pressure of the exam, it seems unlikely to this Kat that, given an extra 20 minutes, many candidates will not just struggle on without a break if given the chance.

Mr Williams assured candidates that a flaky internet connection will not result in an automatic fail. The issue will be flagged by the proctoring software and followed-up on. Furthermore, an emergency contact number will be provided in case of serious technical issues. Candidates will only be permitted to work from one monitor, but there will be no restrictions (so far as Mr Williams is aware), to the size or type of this monitor. Food and drink will be permitted, but drinks containers will need to be transparent.

Thankfully, the proctoring software will permit candidates to take toilet breaks. Candidates will have to "announce" to the system that they are going to visit the bathroom. 

Unfortunately, it seems that there will not be any flexibility with regards to the 31 August 2020 cut-off date for candidates to specify where they will take the exam. This may cause difficulties for candidates who are moving house, moving jobs, or are located in an area that becomes subject to local lock-down. However, Mr Williams assured candidates that a pragmatic approach will be taken in exceptional circumstances, such as a local lock-down.

Candidates with busy houses (children, partners, cats...) may also have difficulties, as any disturbances will be flagged by the software. Candidates were also warned off from taking the exam at work in glass offices.

Unanswered questions

Questions that remained unanswered include:
  • will the exam paper be searchable, and will candidates be able to copy and paste from the paper?
  • will the word template into which candidates enter their answers have the full word functionality, e.g. spell check?
  • how much time will there be before and after the exam to complete printing and scanning?
  • will a candidate's printer and scanner need to be in the same room as where the candidate sits?
How should candidates prepare?

Julia Gwilt, formerly of the PEB, commented that she is asking trainees to type their answers to practise papers - and that they were consequently a lot easier to mark. Finally, there was assurance that employees should not be treating any one who passes the exams this year any differently from previous years. It was noted that it was partly to prevent any negative effects of this kind that the exam was being kept as close to the usual format as possible, e.g. closed book (as well as to not pre-empt any recommendations from the Mercer Review). 

CIPA and PEB are still welcoming questions from candidates. The PEB is planning to launch some FAQs on the website by the end of this month.

IPKat will also bring you any further news on the EQE as soon as we have it.  

Useful links
Registration - Deadline 31 July 2020

Clarifications and outstanding questions on the PEB online exams Clarifications and outstanding questions on the PEB online exams Reviewed by Rose Hughes on Thursday, July 23, 2020 Rating: 5


  1. Mixed feelings about this. Exams are so hard that pretty much any change to them is unwelcome as you worry about being able to perform in changed circumstances. On the other hand, literally no-one looks forward to going to Walsall to sit the exams in what is typically a cold exam hall, with the worry that transport troubles might mean you missing the exam.

    It might seem weird to people, but if given the choice between sitting the exams at home and sitting them in Walsall I really wouldn't know which one to pick (but would probably have my mind made up for me by superiors unwilling to cover the cost of the trek to Walsall).

  2. My Partners and I had been looking at whether we could socially distance candidates in a large conference room with a Partner invigilating. Does anyone know whether this has been considered by PEB (or indeed now, the EPO)? The advantage of this is that it might remove some of the problems with poor or unrealiable internet access outside the big cities that we still have to put up with in the UK.

    1. I understood on the call yesterday that this would not be possible. The exam proctor software is apparently automatic, the start up involving a 360 degree room scan meant to make sure no other people were present - so any other people in the same room, or potentially glass walls, would be a problem.

    2. My understanding from the webinar yesterday was that PEB considered this. However, it suffers from the same issues as a normal exam (apart from the social distancing). That being, if a local lockdown in enforced the exam would have to be cancelled.

  3. Has there been any comment on who can qualify as "Designated Contact" if you choose to sit the exams at your firm's address?

    Does this person have to be CIPA qualified? Or is EPA qualified suitable for this purpose?

    Some candidates will be sitting the exams outside the UK, e.g. Singapore.

  4. The 2020 PEB Information for Candidates has been updated today.

    Looks like most candidates will no longer need a scanner, and it seems that the mobile phone camera is no longer required either.


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