Secure storage of exam materials

Written by: Jugjit Chima | Published:
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There are strict regulations around the receiving and storing of examination materials. Jugjit Chima looks at the requirements

Now that schools and colleges have made their entries for this summer’s exam series, they will begin to receive an increasing volume of confidential materials from the awarding bodies. These must be stored according to the strict requirements as laid out by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ).

The JCQ insists that examination materials must be stored securely at all times and that centres demonstrate that the appropriate security systems are in place.

The secure storage process begins once examination materials arrive in your school. The JCQ guidance, Instructions for Conducting Examinations 2016-17, requires centres to “...ensure that any envelopes/boxes containing confidential materials are signed for, with a log (ideally kept at reception) recording the delivery of confidential materials”. This log must include all awarding body deliveries and number of boxes received.

Upon receipt and logging of examinations materials, they must be checked immediately and placed in your secure storage facility.

If question paper packets cannot be checked immediately, they must be locked away in secure storage until an authorised member of staff is available to make the necessary checks.

When storing examination materials in your secure storage ensure that question paper packets are arranged in timetable order as this will reduce the possibility of opening a question packet at the wrong time.

If confidential materials such as live assignments or pre-release information are required to be opened or distributed in advance of the examination, centres must make sure that a system is used for recording when material is taken from or returned to secure storage.

There are two distinct areas to consider with regard to secure storage – the secure storage room and the secure storage unit – or the “locked box in a locked box” as it is commonly known.

Both of these areas are scrutinised by the JCQ inspector during their visits to exam centres.

The secure storage room must be for the sole use of examinations. It must contain examination-related material and nothing else.

This means that your secure storage room cannot house items or equipment such as an IT server, boiler, electrical units or any archive materials. The JCQ guidance, Conditions for Storing Confidential Exam Material 2016-17, states: “A large cupboard is acceptable provided someone can walk into it, close the door behind them and sort confidential exam material in private.”

The walls to your secure storage room must be of strong, solid construction and unless a wall is solid brick it must be reinforced with metal. A solid or reinforced door must also be evident with strong, secure, heavy duty hinges and a security lock, coded keypad lock, or electronic security lock.

If the secure storage room has windows which are easily accessible, bars must be fitted or the room alarmed.

Access to this room must be restricted to members of staff directly involved in the administration of examinations, with two to four key-holders (or two to three key-holders if you are engaged in Cambridge International Examinations).

There must be at least two keys, rather than one key with two or more members of staff who have access to it. Spare sets must be kept in a safe place – not where they can be accessed by members of staff who are not involved in exams administration.

If keys to the secure storage room are not kept on the key-holder’s person, they must be kept in a coded key safe which is only accessible to the designated key -holders.

The secure storage unit within the secure room must also adhere to strict requirements. Centres must ensure that they have a strong non-portable safe, non-portable security cabinet with multi-point locking system or a metal cabinet with full length external locking bar, bolted to the wall or floor. The guidance adds: “A multi-point locking system means a cabinet with thick heavy duty bolts in the door (not a slim internal bar).”

If centres use a filing cabinet this must be supported with a full length locking bar that runs the entire length of the centre of the cabinet. Centres wishing to use a small safe must ensure that this is fixed securely in place.

The guidance warns: “The small lockable boxes you often find in hotel rooms are not suitable.”

Where a centre has large numbers of question papers to store, the guidance suggests a “metal security screen, e.g. roll down shutter, directly in front of open shelving. The screen must be directly flush against the shelving, in effect creating a cabinet. It cannot be directly behind or in front of a door”.

The importance of secure storage of written question papers and any other confidential material must not be underestimated.

Such a focus on maintaining the integrity of each examination is one of the reasons why our examination system is respected across the world, which in turn ensures that the qualifications gained by our students are valued at home and abroad.

Instructions for Conducting Examinations 2016-17 details the instructions that apply to all confidential materials relating to the administration and delivery of exams and assessments. These include:

  • Centres must be able to demonstrate that the appropriate security systems are in place to prevent unauthorised access to the test/examination materials.
  • Centres must make appropriate arrangements to ensure that confidential materials are delivered only to those authorised by the head of centre.
  • Examination materials must be stored securely at all times.
  • Examination materials must only be accessed in accordance with the awarding body’s specific instructions.
  • Only persons authorised by the head of centre and the exams officer must be allowed access to the centre’s secure storage facility.
  • Centres must maintain the confidentiality of candidate responses and candidate details.
  • Centres must ensure that all timed assignments are stored securely both before and after examination sessions.
  • Jugjit Chima is one of the founders of The Exams Office, an online support tool for exams officers. Visit You can read Jugjit’s previous articles for SecEd via

Further information

  • Instructions for Conducting Examinations 2016-17, JCQ:
  • Conditions for Storing Confidential Exam Material 2016-17, JCQ:
  • The Exams Office has produced a free-to-download “Secure Storage Checklist” to help schools and colleges conduct a self-assessment of their secure storage:


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