Last week Boris put England into a second lockdown, shutting us indoors once again. Going to Primark and swapping clubbing for bottomless brunches have sadly been snatched away from us.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, my NCTJ exams have still been going ahead. For anybody who doesn’t know who and what the NCTJ are, they’re a charity committed to the training of journalists. Within my journalism degree, I also take another course where I sit external exams to gain another but separate diploma in journalism.I had three exams scheduled this week, all of which I had to sit remotely.
First off, the idea of writing an exam from home sounds quite inviting. You’re comfortable, in a familiar place, you can make noise and you won’t have to worry about an invigilator so surely it’s open book? Unfortunately, for me, it’s not been made that easy.
The NCTJ, over the summer, worked out a way for their students to continue their tests in similar conditions to a real exam room. All the NCTJ exams are done on a computer via the internet, even before Covid struck. So, firstly, my remote tests all start with a stable internet connection –– something not everyone has. Luckily, our uni house managed to bag a business router somehow and we’ve not had to worry about our WiFi. Although, if I were to take these exams back at home with our temperamental internet, I just wouldn’t be able to.
I also had to download a Google Chrome extension that acts like a lockdown browser, just like the one they use at uni ordinarily. This basically stops me from opening any tabs to cheat etc.
This extension also tackles the problem of hundreds of students having absentee invigilators. It screen records my desktop, films me from my webcam and records sound from my laptop’s mic, stopping me from looking at notes or having other people in the room telling me the answers. The software also picks up on repeated behaviour like looking in a certain place repeatedly etc, flags it up and then it gets investigated by real people to determine whether I was cheating or not.
If you run into any sort of problem, you have real invigilators you can ring up and they log and sort through it with you. Of course, out of everyone, I ran into a problem as soon as I tried to start the exam. My mic wouldn’t connect even though it was working all okay on my laptop. I was allowed to abandon that exam and now I’ve got to reschedule it for some point next month. Fortunately, my other two were issue free!
The whole thing is incredibly overwhelming to begin with but once you’re doing the exam (if you’ve not got any problems) it’s not too bad. However, it is quite frustrating when you know exactly where your notes are in your room with that specific answer but can’t get up and grab them or look at them. Oh and not to mention that you can’t get up and go for a wee. Unlike an exam in person where you are ‘monitored’, once you’re away from your webcam you could be doing anything. By the end of a nearly two hour exam with a bladder the size of a pea, I was bursting.
Its so strange to think this become a new normal. I most definitely can say I prefer a ‘traditional’ exam rather than these online ones. There’s too much to think and worry about regarding having the right facilities and equipment at home to do exams.
That being said, I do appreciate the fact I’ve been able to continue to work towards my NCTJ diploma regardless of Covid restrictions. Fingers crossed I don’t run into any technical issues with my future exams!