Registrars ‘could cheat’ in at-home online exams

4 minute read

The RACGP is trying to reassure trainees about the new format and how closely it will be supervised.

The new RACGP exam format is causing anxiety among GP trainees, with some saying they fear being falsely accused of cheating, or that their peers may cheat.

For the first time next month trainees will sit the Applied Knowledge Test and Key Feature Problem exams online from their own homes, practices, or an appropriate place of their choosing.

In March, the RACGP board made the decision to postpone the July KFP and AKT due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But months later, with stage 4 restrictions still in place across metropolitan Melbourne, a decision was made to have all candidates sit the exams remotely across the country.

Examinees have been told they require a high-speed internet connection, a working webcam and microphone.

This set-up will enable an exam supervisor to watch and listen to a group of six candidates as they sit the exam and monitor for signs of cheating.

Before sitting the exam, candidates will also be required to show the supervisor the four walls of the room they are sitting in, and their desk space (clear of any materials and notes), using the webcam.

The exam has to be taken in a tidy room where the walls are uncluttered, clear of any writing, and where the lighting is “daylight” bright.

But one doctor told The Medical Republic he was concerned about the potential for cheating when the supervisor was only seeing the room through a single-directional camera.

“If some candidates cheat and others don’t, there will be no justice to the prepared candidates who fail because the cheating candidates are able to achieve a borderline pass over the genuine candidates,” he said.

“All candidates are usually well prepared, so they usually just need a small confirmation or hint to get an answer.”

Another concern was that candidates could be being wrongly accused of cheating because of a peculiar posture or eye movements while taking their exam.

But Dr Genevieve Yates, the RACGP’s general manager of educational services, said that using real-life proctors, rather than AI, would make it a more seamless exam experience for the candidate.

“For example, if the proctor thinks a candidate is doing something funny with their eyes, they will just pause that student’s exam time and ask them to either explain what they are doing, or show another video sweep of the room,” she said.

Dr Yates also said there was a possibility for cheating in every exam format, whether taken at a testing centre, or from home.

“We are absolutely relying on having a strong academic misconduct policy where we will have a zero tolerance to proven cheating,” she said.

“That also stands for breaching confidentiality, such as if you are screen sharing, screen capturing, selling off exam questions to exam providers.

“But if you’re doing the right thing, you’ll be fine,” she said.

Dr Yates also said the online exam format had been recently tested when it was used for the entrance exams for general practice training.

During those tests, one candidate was found to be on the phone, but the proctor was quickly and easily able to confirm that the call was only to the college’s technical support line.

Another concern for registrars is communication from the RACGP that the college will not be responsible for any exam arrangements and cannot assist candidates to identify a suitable location to sit the upcoming exams.

And the mechanics of siting the exam, which costs $2300, will be entirely the responsibility of the candidates.

“Candidates have paid full fees for these exams but the RACGP has made the location, computer and technology all the responsibility of the candidates,” one registrar told The Medical Republic.

In previous years, the RACGP has been responsible for organising both an appropriate testing centre and the technology needed to complete the exam without technical issues.

Dr Sama Balasubramanian, president of the General Practice Registrars Australia (GPRA) said while registrars were understandably anxious about the upcoming exams, there was a high level of confidence in the new format.

“The stresses and anxieties are very natural because we are really are in a culmination of academic and professional pursuits on top of pandemic and work-related stress,” he said.

The RACGP said all candidates enrolled in the upcoming exams were both welcome and strongly encouraged to attend the free online exam experience, taking place this weekend, which would allow them to check equipment, learn the examination platform and take practice questions.

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