Examinations: Ensure you avoid malpractice


Exams expert Jugjit Chima offers 10 key pieces of advice to ensure that schools avoid malpractice when it comes to examinations.

One of the reasons why UK qualifications are respected throughout the world is due to the consistency, rigour and integrity associated with our examination system.

This is achieved not only through the quality of assessments, but also through the rules and regulations as set by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) and the major awarding bodies.

The prevention of malpractice has long been a focus for JCQ. It defines malpractice as “any act, default or practice which is a breach of the regulations or which compromises, attempts to compromise or may compromise the process of assessment, the integrity of any qualification or the validity of a result or certificate, and/or damages the authority, reputation or credibility of any awarding body or centre or any officer, employee or agent of any awarding body or centre”. For more details, see Suspected Malpractice in Examinations and Assessments – Policies and Procedures (link below).

The rules and regulations as set out in JCQ and awarding body documentation related to malpractice should be welcomed and supported by schools and colleges, as it is this rigour which provides consistency for schools, creates a suitable environment to help students achieve their potential, and helps to earn worldwide respect for our examination and assessment system. So, how can schools and colleges help to prevent malpractice?

First, it is important to note that malpractice does not just relate to the actions of students. A significant number of instances of malpractice relate to school or college staff. Many cases of staff malpractice are unintentional, yet they still compromise the process of assessment and the integrity of any qualification.

Second, the responsibility for ensuring that malpractice is avoided and/or addressed lies with the head of centre and the senior leadership team within the school or college.

The 10 tips detailed below to avoid malpractice are not a comprehensive list, but provide a good starting point for any headteacher or leadership team to ensure that they are on the path to preventing malpractice in their institution.

Five tips for staff

  • Provide clear information for staff – many instances of malpractice related to the actions of school or college staff relate to a failure in keeping everyone informed. For example, are all staff aware of exam times, the process to request exam times to be altered, how “clash” candidates should be supervised or what constitutes unauthorised access to exam material prior to the exam?

  • Identify the role of heads of departments. The senior leadership team must inform heads of departments that the management of exams rests with the exams officers. Heads of department must have permission from the leadership team to be present in the exam room. Their presence – to identify candidates or address any disruptive behaviour – may be needed but must be agreed beforehand. No teacher should enter an exam room to “have a look at the exam paper” or stage pre-exam coaching sessions in the exam room. Ensure that your exams officer is not undermined.

  • Only assist candidates where permitted. Teachers must be clear over how they are “assisting candidates” in relation to controlled assessments and coursework. Access to prohibited materials must be enforced and candidates with access arrangements must not be assisted beyond that permitted by the regulations.

  • Ensure that each exam room is suitably prepared – a JCQ inspection will be undertaken normally on an annual basis and one of the main focuses will be the suitability of the exam room. The senior leadership team can support their exams officer by providing the resources to recruit and train invigilators. Ensure and check that all exam rooms conform to JCQ regulations (with all relevant notices posted outside rooms) and that a member of the leadership team is on hand to identify students if needed and support when dealing with disruptive behaviour before and during exams.

  • Deal with candidate malpractice in the correct and appropriate manner – if students engage in any of the behaviour or actions detailed below then this needs to be dealt with in the appropriate manner. The leadership team must ensure that they are clear over what JCQ and the awarding bodies expect when dealing with such instances. Schools and colleges must be aware of the processes related to dealing with malpractice and how to investigate instances accordingly. This also includes issues such as addressing candidates who arrive late, or very late, for exams.

Five tips relating to candidates

  • Use internal exams to familiarise students with exam conditions – students should be fully aware by the time they experience external assessments that a breach of the instructions or advice of an invigilator constitutes malpractice, as does a failure to abide by the conditions of supervision designed to maintain the security of the examinations or assessments. Employ JCQ rules and regulations in end-of-year or mock exams so students are familiar with what is expected of them during external exams.

  • Highlight the regulations around controlled assessments and coursework – although it is near impossible to monitor every aspect of the internal assessments, students should be clear over the consequences of collusion, copying or allowing their work to be copied. Before focusing upon the content, students should know the rules around “task taking”. JCQ provides clear information for candidates via a series of documents covering controlled assessments and coursework, as well as written exams, on-screen tests and the use of social media. It is the responsibility of schools and colleges to make candidates aware of these regulations.

  • Use assemblies to reiterate exam rules. Throughout all academic years, highlight the consequences of bad behaviour in the exam room with examples of awarding body sanctions (such as a mobile phone, on their person, ringing in an exam, and the impact that this may have on all other exams). Assemblies can also be used to introduce invigilators to students. This may help to raise the profile and status of these vitally important members of staff. 

  • Write to parents/carers prior to external exams, detailing rules, regulations and expectations. Be clear on the process for arriving late, disruptive behaviour or failing to adhere to the requests of invigilators. Ask parents/carers and students to sign an agreement which confirms an understanding of what is expected of them, and then support your exams officer by dealing with instances when these rules are flouted. It should not be the responsibility of your exams officer to deal with parents/carers or students who disagree with JCQ rules and regulations.

  • Be visible on exam days – a member of the senior leadership team should be present outside the exam room to assist with the calm entry of students into the exam room. Exams officers and invigilators have a range of tasks to undertake at the start of an exam, so to have a senior leader on hand to deal with any student-related issues can be of great assistance and help create a calm(er) atmosphere prior to the exam.


None of the above is revolutionary. These 10 points are the basis for creating the right atmosphere for exams and assessments. It is this dedication from all members of staff – including exams officers and invigilators – to eliminate malpractice which ensures that schools and colleges are playing their part in creating a world-leading assessment system in this country where consistency, rigour and integrity are the norm and not the exception.

  • Jugjit Chima is one of the founders of The Exams Office, an online support tool for exams officers and data managers. Visit www.theexamsoffice.org


Further information

Suspected Malpractice in Examinations and Assessments – Policies and Procedures (JCQ): http://bit.ly/1pkSBLL

JCQ’s information for candidates documentation: http://bit.ly/1wx1eDS


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