Developing the Accountancy Profession

Every ‘Cloud’ Has a Silver Lining — ICAP’s Push for Online Examinations

Naeem Akhtar Sheikh | December 8, 2021

Every cloud has a silver lining—or perhaps we should say every ‘cloud transformation’ has a silver lining. The advent of Covid-19, which has cast a dark shadow around the world for last two years, actually acted as a catalyst and accelerated ICAP’s journey towards online testing and remote proctoring. What had been a lofty goal of the ICAP Council for at least a decade was suddenly ushered in with great urgency.

As the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded in early 2020, the Government of Pakistan shut down the entire country in March 2020 and consequently the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) had to cancel its examination set for the later part of March. As the time went on, ICAP also had to cancel the June 2020 exams. These were exceptional events in the history of ICAP— an exam cancelation had never happened before and was hard to process. The situation, understandably, raised concerns and confusion among our large community of students across Pakistan.

The Needs

ICAP management needed to act swiftly to assess the situation. We needed an extraordinary response to address multiple priorities and an out of box solution at a very rapid speed. Firstly, minimizing student disruption and enabling them to continue with their professional development was essential. The second challenge was to move towards a real time online e-assessment system – with an aim to better assess the skills needed in the modern accountancy workplace and to support students in achieving their qualifications. Third, it was crucial that students were tested on their knowledge and not their proficiency with technology; that they were comfortable with the process; and that they felt supported by ICAP—all within a very short timeframe. The ICAP Exam Team wanted to resume examinations by the end of 2020 to avoid further delays for students.

Finding the Right Partner

Locating a partner to digitalize the online examination process was the first task. ICAP Exam Team knew there were only a few weeks to source, implement, test and execute online examinations. One of the biggest challenges was the cost. Most of the remote proctoring solutions were very expensive and beyond the budget estimates. After a due diligence process, ICAP chose RM as its partner for this transformation — there were mutual benefits in this partnership. RM was seeking to expand into the South Asian market and ICAP was able to negotiate a reasonable deal with them. RM was also new to e-testing business and therefore, it combined its services offered to ICAP in collaboration with Proctor Exams, UK. This significantly helped the implementation to move forward.

It was truly an international and collaborative approach from both ICAP and RM, in understanding the potential of online testing and e-proctoring, and moving a risk-averse organization onto a new, robust platform and SaaS (Software as a Service) solution. The result was amazing: within a period of six months, ICAP transitioned from a historical legacy of an offline multiple-choice e-testing platform to the RM Assessment Master, a cloud-based e-testing solution that included the option of remote proctoring.

RM’s Assessment Master provides live proctoring, which involves real-time human monitoring of sessions via the student’s webcam and mobile phone. ICAP did face some challenges of higher incidence of unfair means due to remote proctoring, but was able to reduce this to an acceptable level with more vigilance and better technology innovation. The RM Assessment Master offers a complete end-to-end solution for ICAP. The system also has the ability to deal with unexpected technical difficulties which may arise during an exam session, such as temporary loss of power or internet connectivity that may affect either the student or human proctor. This allowed ICAP to offer students the flexibility to complete high-stakes examinations either at home or in a test center.

Top Marks

The ICAP Exam Team worked closely with stakeholders, communicating regularly with them and in turn, ensuring students were made aware of changes and ICAP’s continual assessment of the situation. To ensure that students would be familiar with the new format, practice tests were created by ICAP in RM Assessment Master accessible via the ICAP website. All this was supported by RM remotely from the RM experts based both in the United Kingdom and Australia, and hosting in a secure cloud environment in Germany.

ICAP has received positive feedback from students who have taken the exam thus far:

I am very satisfied with the Online AFC exams conducted by ICAP. They provided excellent service to us through this new system. My exams were attempted smoothly and successfully.” 

The end result is also a win for ICAP, as we can now offer exams not only all across Pakistan but globally as well. Previously international students were restricted to three other centers around the world- two in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and one in the United Arab Emirates. Online testing has opened new opportunities for ICAP to extend its reach worldwide and now its students residing anywhere in the world can take exams remotely.

Furthermore, ICAP has advanced its e-marking system and it is now fully integrated with the e-assessment and the results are directly uploaded on the web. This has led to in increased efficiency of the entire process, reduced errors, and saving precious time and money. The success of this initiative is contributed to the full ownership and support by the governance body alongside a dedicated commitment from the President and Board and, most importantly, the timely decision of creating a complete, holistic and integrated solution with the right partners in the market.

More from the PAO Development & Advisory Group on Digitalization

There are huge opportunities for PAOs to advance their own organization’s success and our global professional community. Our journeys are unique, yet our experiences not uncommon. IFAC’s PAO Digital Readiness Assessment Tool is providing a platform for future synergies and transparency among PAOs as they start exploring technology solutions, new certifications, and training. Patience and tenacity are necessary, but digitalization will unlock new power for PAOs. The IFAC PAO Development & Advisory Group encourages all IFAC members to leverage and complete the free Tool and is available to connect with PAOs on this topic!

Explore IFAC’s regularly updated PAO Digital Transformation Series webpage , which houses helpful resources, articles and videos on Digital Transformation.

Continue the Conversation on Online Examinations

Do you have additional challenges, solutions, or opportunities related to online examinations? Do you have policies, procedures, guidance, et cetera that might be useful to PAOs? Are you willing to assist a PAO on the journey to online examinations? If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” please contact us at education@ifac.org  as we plan to continue to share your knowledge in the Accountancy Education eNews (subscribe today!) and link to your good practices in the IFAC Accountancy Education E-Tool.

 

Naeem Akhtar Sheikh

Naeem Akhtar Sheikh, FCA, is a practicing Chartered Accountant and a Senior Partner in UHY Hassan Naeem & CO. Chartered Accountants and a current member of IFAC Professional Accountancy Organization (PAO) Development & Advisory Group. He was also a member of the 2012 joint committee proposing the way forward for the Pakistan Audit Oversight Board. Mr. Sheikh specializes in taxation and carries with him more than two decades of experience. He has been a member of Pakistan’s Task Force on restructuring the Federal Board of Revenue of Pakistan. From 2014-2015, Mr. Sheikh was President of ICAP and in 2016 was the President of the South Asian Federation of Accountants. In addition, he headed many ICAP committees, including Investigation, Education, and Taxation. He is also the current Chairman of the ICAP Professional Standard and Technical Advisory Committee. See more by Naeem Akhtar Sheikh

 

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