The exam set by the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (Saica) on December 1 to assess aspirant chartered accountants – termed the assessment of professional competence (APC) exam – was a complete shambles.
The Saica board then decided that all candidates had to rewrite the exam, on an as yet undecided date.
The board has now done an about-turn, and in a newsletter to members on Thursday (December 23) announced that successful candidates may elect not to rewrite.
Saica had mandated that candidates were to use the laptops provided by Saica.
This resulted in candidates experiencing incomprehensible anguish.
Candidates had spent many months preparing themselves, only to be confronted with laptops that did not work at all, laptops that took a couple of hours to fix, laptops that crashed, problems with internet access, inadequate technical support, problems in downloading the software, and problems in getting the software to upload the exam.
Where laptops did not work, candidates were forced to write the exam manually. Candidates were prepared for an eight-hour exam, and ended up enduring 14 hours of hell.
It was a disaster.
Saica has referred to the problems encountered on the exam day as “technical challenges” and a “myriad of difficulties”.
Responsibility and accountability
In a newsletter to members dated December 7, Saica announced that:
- A forensic investigation will be conducted to “address procurement and service provider contract management matters, assessment process improvement, risk-related matters, and provide timeous feedback to the Board”.
- Responsible parties will be suspended so as not to interfere in the investigation.
- Disciplinary action will be considered against culpable parties.
- An independent online survey will be conducted with APC candidates to ensure that all examination challenges experienced by candidates are completely identified and addressed.
The Saica board conducted an independent online survey to ensure that examination challenges encountered by the APC candidates would be identified and reasonably addressed.
The way forward
In the newsletter to members dated December 23, Saica gave notice that:
- The December 1 APC is currently being marked, and all candidates will be informed of their individual result once the marking is completed. Unsuccessful candidates will have to rewrite.
- Successful candidates will be allowed to rewrite, to provide them with the opportunity of improving their final score or to “improve their competence level from ‘Competent’ to ‘Highly Competent’”. It is doubtful if many successful candidates will be willing to go through this again for the sake of a better score.
- Candidates who rewrite will be accorded the higher of the competency levels achieved in the two exams.
- To rewrite, candidates must complete a formal registration process and complete all relevant documents pertaining to Saica’s examination rules, and no examination fee will be charged.
- The date of the rewrite has not been determined, but the “timing of the rewrite from the time of release of examination results will not be excessive and will consider the stakeholders’ business and training cycle”; religious holidays will also be considered.
- Saica will also take into account practical considerations “with respect to the lead time between scripts marking and rewrite timing”.
- Saica cautions that “these special arrangements for the 2021 APC candidates are not intended to set a precedent for the future, but are extraordinary measures taken by Saica to address the significant technical challenges faced by candidates on 1 December 2021”.
Saica issued a media statement on December 23 announcing that:
- Saica will revert to a hybrid model of e-writing as utilised in previous APC sittings. This means that candidates will be able to use their own or firm-provided laptops to write the APC. Saica will, however, hire laptops for those candidates who do not have access to laptops as done previously.
- Saica confirms that comprehensive risk mitigating measures have been put in place to ensure that the events that took place on December 1 are not repeated. This includes measures around improved connectivity and appropriate technical support being in place on the day of the rewrite.