You are here

Protecting our Exam Integrity

The IFoA has a duty to regulate the actuarial profession in the public interest. We do this by promoting the value of actuarial science, driving excellence in the profession and in being the voice of actuaries.

An essential part of driving excellence in the profession is supporting our students to achieve our respected and sought after premium qualifications. Therefore, we reserve the right to protect the integrity and reputation of our examinations by ensuring that candidates are not gaining an unfair advantage.

When we moved our examinations online and into an open book format in April 2020, we increased the scrutiny of candidates’ examination papers in order to uphold the integrity of our examinations. We introduced specialist software, used by 98% of UK Universities, that identifies potential plagiarism and collusion between candidates.

However, we investigated potential breaches of our Assessment regulations before we moved our examinations online.

We investigate potential breaches of our Assessment regulations in the following ways:

  • Reports from our exam Markers or Examiners.
  • Report from exam center invigilators (before we moved exams online).
  • Whistleblowers.
  • Identify candidates colluding via email, WhatsApp’s or social media platforms.
  • Specialist plagiarism and collusion identification software.

To reassure candidates we are being fair and transparent, we will  explain how the IFoA is using Turnitin® software to protect the integrity of our examinations and what happens when we begin a formal investigation.

Turnitin®

Many you will be familiar with Turnitin® from your time in Further or Higher Education. Turnitin® is a sector-leading piece of software that identifies potential plagiarism and collusion activity between exam candidates, using a publication database of thousands of publications, journals and academic writing, and over a billion archived web pages.

First steps

The first step involves uploading candidates' scripts into Turnitin® between five to ten days after your exam date. Turnitin® then produces a similarity report on each script we upload into the software. This similarity report shows the percentage of a script that matches an external source or another candidate's submission. If the candidate’s script matches another source over a particular percentage, then the IFoA executive will begin a desk based script investigation. Around 1,200 candidate scripts are identified as needing review in each examination session.

We understand that having your script referred for review can be an anxious time, but we would like to reassure you that just because your script has been flagged for investigation for potential plagiarism or collusion activity by Turnitin®, it does not mean that you have breached our Assessment Regulations. The review/investigation process is designed to ensure that a human being is making an evaluation of any potential plagiarism or collusion as opposed to just the outputs from the Turnitin® report. Each script is evaluated to filter any similarities that are expected within candidates’ scripts, or for acceptable levels of similarities to source material. 

Script investigation

A trained member of the IFoA executive will evaluate each script flagged for investigation. Identifying plagiarism and collusion is an essential element of assuring the integrity of our examinations and maintaining the respected reputation of IFoA qualifications, as well as ensuring some candidates do not gain an unfair advantage over others.

Investigating potential plagiarism

So that IFoA does not penalize candidates who are correctly using source material within their script, when the IFoA executive are investigating potential plagiarism, we will consider the following:

  1. Is this an acceptable use of material from IFoA Core Reading, tuition provider material, or recommended reading for that subject, which the IFoA would expect to see in an exam script?
  2. What is the extent of material within the exam script that Turnitin® has identified?
  3. Did any of the material identified contain correct referencing?
  4. If the material is referenced correctly, does it make up the majority of a candidates answer without anything of their own words?

For example, we accept that there will be similarities to the IFoA’s Core Reading or other tuition providers’ material for certain definition or list-based questions. Answers of this type will not need to be referenced and will, in most cases, not be a cause of concern. However, the IFoA expects, even for definition based questions, that you should answer questions in your own words and avoid verbatim copy and paste from source material. Therefore, taking the criteria listed above into account, many scripts initially identified as having potential plagiarism will be dismissed without any formal action.

However, the IFoA executive may identify an answer that is not a candidate’s own work, which we deem to potentially unacceptable. Within a candidate’s script, we might identify entire question answers or whole parts of question answers taken directly from a source material. We may also identify multiple incidents of direct copy and paste that makes up the majority of a candidate’s answer, even if it is correctly referenced. If the IFoA executive concludes there is potential evidence of plagiarism that falls outside of what the IFoA deem to be an acceptable volume of source material, a formal investigation with the exam candidate will then take place.

Investigating potential candidate collusion

We also use Turnitin® to identify similarities between candidates’ scripts. In almost all of our exam papers, we expect to find some degree of similarity between candidates answering the same questions in similar ways and account for this in our investigation of candidate scripts. We recognize that two candidates providing a similar correct answer is not exam collusion and candidates should not be concerned. When investigating a script for potential collusion, the IFoA executive will firstly consider the extent of any identified similarities within a script; small matches to a large number of candidates is not an indication of collusion.  Factors including; a large volume of similarities, uniqueness and unique incorrect answers are taken into account as the IFoA executive determine the possibility of similarities indicating potential collusion.

All cases of potential collusion have been identified by the IFoA executive will then go through an additional review by the Chief Examiner or a nominee. Our examiners are subject experts and will help determine the likelihood of whether any similarities identified are substantial or unique in nature.

Once the Chief examiner or nominee have completed the review of the Turnitin® report, they may determine there is nothing of concern and no further action will be taken. If the Chief Examiner or nominee concludes there is potential evidence of collusion, a formal investigation with the exam candidate will then take place.

Investigation into a potential breach of the Assessment Regulations

If the IFoA executive considers that there is sufficient evidence that a candidate has potentially breached IFoA Assessment Regulations, we will write to the candidate, in a letter that is sent via email, to inform them that they are under investigation for a possible breach of Assessment Regulations.

We will include the following information in the letter:

  1. Why the IFoA is launching an investigation.
  2. Which question answers in the candidate's exam paper have been identified as potential plagiarism or collusion.
  3. We will invite the candidate to provide any information they feel relevant to the investigation and let them know when they need to provide it. Where potential plagiarism has been identified, from September 2021 the candidate will receive a copy of the Turnitin® report to support them when preparing a response.
  4. An estimated timeline for when the investigation will be concluded.

Any candidate under investigation has the right to provide any evidence they deem suitable and ask for further clarification on the alleged breaches of the Assessment Regulations.

The IFoA will provide a deadline to each candidate to respond and provide any evidence they feel relevant. This is often around two weeks from candidate receiving their initial letter.  The IFoA will aim to inform candidates they are under investigation prior to the release of the examination results, and conclude the formal investigation in advance of examination bookings opening for the next session.

Why does the investigation take as long as it does?

We appreciate that being under investigation for a potential breach of the Assessment Regulations is a stressful experience for candidates and they will want to know the outcome as soon as possible. We work hard to balance concluding an investigation in as short a time as possible for the candidate, while ensuring the investigation is fair and thorough. We aim to conclude investigations and notify candidates of the outcome before the publication of the session’s exam results. However, we often investigate over 1,200 scripts each exam session, which takes a considerable amount of time, which means, unfortunately, occasionally we are unable to inform candidates of the outcome of an investigation before the release of exam results.

Consideration by the Board of Examiners

After the deadline has passed for the candidate to respond, all evidence is then prepared for consideration and determination by the Board of Examiners.

As set out in the Assessment Regulations, a subcommittee of the Board of Examiners will be established. This subcommittee is known as the Investigation Panel. The panel will review every case referred to them by the IFoA executive alongside any response or evidence provided by the candidate. The Investigation Panel will examine all the evidence, then conclude whether a breach of IFoA Assessment Regulations has occurred.

If the panel determines the candidate has not breached IFoA Assessment regulations, the candidate will have their assessment mark confirmed and a finding of no inappropriate conduct confirmed.

If the panel concludes that a candidate has breached IFoA assessment regulations, they can make the following determinations depending on the severity of individual case:  

  1. The candidate will have their assessment mark confirmed and receive a formal warning.
  2. The candidate will receive a zero mark for that assessment.
  3. The candidate will be disqualified from that attempt.
  4. The candidate will be disqualified from sitting further assessment for a finite and reasoned period of time. Depending on the severity of the breach, it may be for the following periods:
    • 6 months
    • 12 months
    • 18 months
    • 24 months
  5. The circumstances will be referred for investigation under the IFoA formal disciplinary procedures. In this situation, the candidate will be disqualified from sitting further assessments until any professional disciplinary investigation is concluded.
  6. Any other proportionate measures deemed appropriate, for example, having to retake the Stage 1 Professionalism course, or being ineligible to apply for any exemptions for any exams sat and passed with other awarding bodies during the same disqualification period.

Once the Investigation Panel has reviewed each case, they will come to a conclusion and make a determination of which outcomes list above should apply. We will contact candidates with formal notification with a letter, sent via email, detailing of the conclusion of the investigation, including any outcomes applied. Candidates will also be provided with information on how to appeal the decision, if appropriate.

We understand how important it is to candidates, employers and the public, that we operate a rigorous process for ensuring the integrity of our examinations. We want to reassure you that we take considered, appropriate action to protect the integrity and reputation of our exams and qualification and ensure no individual gains an unfair advantage over other candidates sitting our exams. 

Feedback

The IFoA always want to hear about how we can improve on the information and guidance we provide to candidates. If you have any suggestions for how the IFoA can improve the guidance of reference, plagiarism and citations, please email AssessmentRegulations@actuaries.org.uk