29 January 2015

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Trainees forced to resit law exam after papers wiped

A group of trainee journalists have been told they will have to resit the law section of the NQJ exam – after their papers were lost as a result of a computer glitch.

Reporters were left in tears after the incident which took place as around 15 would-be seniors were sitting the National Qualification in Journalism exam at Harlow College last week.

HTFP understands that the candidates had come to the end of the exam when they were asked to save their papers to desktop and log out and then log back in again in order to activate spellchecker software.

However when they logged back in, they found their work had disappeared.

Some candidates who had saved their paper to documents rather than to desktop managed to retrieve them, but the rest were lost.

Candidates were told by the National Council for the Training of Journalists invigilator overseeing the exam that they would have to retake the exam if the papers could not be found.

One candidate who asked not to be named told HTFP: “I was gutted.  I had taken time off to prepare for the exam and I thought it had gone well.

“We were told that if they can’t retrieve the papers we would have to retake it with a different paper.”

Another who also asked to remain anonymous said:  “We are still waiting, four days after our law exam to see if we have to resit the papers.

“We have received repeated emails from the NCTJ blaming the fault on ‘IT issues’. This was not the case.

“We were given the wrong instructions by the invigilator with no one thinking to check that the spell check worked (on a journalism exam!) or that the saving process which we were instructed to carry out was also correct.

“We have all now been left in limbo as we await what they have to say and whether we all have to get back to revision. ”

The media law and practice exam is one of four sections of the NQJ that trainees have to pass in order to become senior reporters.

An NCTJ spokesman said: “This matter is being investigated.”

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    1. Ian Halstead, West Midlands

      Hopefully, the ‘left in tears’ line is simply the writer’s love of hyperbole.
      However, it does make you wince to see that journalists (even trainees) had to ‘activate spell-check software’ …

      Report this comment

    2. Golam Murtaza

      Nice for the NCTJ spokesman to offer an apology to the poor students affected in his response. Oh….actually, he hasn’t bothered.

      I hope the students at least got a face-to-face apology.

      Report this comment

    3. Denise Eaton

      Ian, as an editor I would expect my reporters to carry out a final spell-check using the software available before filing copy. It’s a useful tool and there’s no shame in good practise.

      Report this comment

    4. oldhack

      Wasn’t this a car crash just waiting to happen? The more so-called “new” technology is used in situations like this, the greater the risk of some snafu arising.
      Luddites like me are not always mistaken, you know!
      I share IH’s hope that the candidates were not actually “left in tears.” If they were tearful, they should perhaps be considering an alternative career.

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    5. Paul Linford

      Just on the point about candidates being left in tears, this was not hyperbole as one commenter suggested, one of the candidates affected actually tweeted the words ‘Rang my editor in tears’ after the incident. I would link to it, but she subsequently asked me to keep her name out of the story.

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    6. Suedehead

      Funny how typewriters, pens and paper never seem to crash…

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    7. Wrongheaded redhead

      I was at this exam and can attest that a lot of people were genuinely upset – it was an absolutely horrible thing to happen as the IT department were not at all helpful.
      I don’t know how those people sitting all four exams managed to carry on for the rest of the day after that.
      Personally, as it was a law exam, I believe rather than advising us to do a spellcheck the NCTJ invigilator should have accepted hard copies with spelling corrections in ink – rather than having people go through all this.
      Or even – shock horror – maybe put a note on scripts coming from this centre that the law exams might have the words “strict liability” spelt with an amusing number of “i”s and take that into consideration.
      However – at least the students have had an amazing mock exam experience and will more than likely all pass their next go as I imagine the NCTJ will take their distress into account.

      Report this comment

    8. a sulky sub

      oh. It’s good “practice” not good “practise”.

      Meanwhile, the poor devils. As if one law exam isn’t enough.

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    9. northernhack, lancashire

      The point has just been proved – used spellchecker and “practice” becomes “practise”.
      I avoid it at all costs, relying instead on my command of the English language, but then i’m a dinosaur. Knoworramean?

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    10. Confused

      Suedehead – I remember the same thing happening when we moved over from chalk and slates to quill pens and parchment.
      The student who filled the ink pots tripped and the lot went over the unmarked exam parchments.
      We had to sit the whole thing again and I remember one of the questions was about an Oxdowne man coveting his neighbour’s Ox! Some cracking headlines there.
      I could go on…(er don’t. Ed)

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    11. North-East journalist

      Sounds like things haven’t moved on a great deal from the days when I sat my NCE. We had to take our own computer and printer – and this was in the late 90s. Of course not everyone’s worked on the day or they had trouble setting up. That’s technology for you..

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    12. Denise Eaton

      @a sulky sub @northernhack: Oops! Point taken. That’s why we need good (English) spell checks – and decent subs!

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    13. cleland thom

      This is harsh on the candidates.Very typical, I’m afraid, of college IT systems!

      But surely anyone who’s ready to be a senior journalist would use basic precautions by saving an extra copy of their work?

      I had candidates at Harlow, and they weren’t affected: they did a back-up in a separate location. Common sense.

      Old fogeys like me lose our work because we think we’re still using a typewriter. But surely there’s not much excuse for the ‘digital native’ generation?

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    14. Candidate

      @cleland thom. All of the candidates were told to save their work to the desktop and not in my documents, so I think it is unfair to knock those who simply followed instruction from the invigilator.

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    15. cleland thom

      @Candidate: Yeah, but anyone with any sense would take precautions … it’s just like going out on a job without a spare pen. Or maybe you don’t?

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    16. Candidate

      @cleland thom I would take extra pens because there’s a good chance one would run out. I wouldn’t expect a desktop to completely reset itself just by logging off. You must have a lot of space on your computer drive to save your work in two separate locations each time

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    17. cleland thom

      @candidate: IT systems fail as regularly as pens run out. It’s what they do.

      Maybe you haven’t heard of memory sticks?

      People who are ready to be senior journalists – with all the data / IT issues involved – should surely take obvious precautions without even thinking about it.

      If you have to drive to a resit, make sure you put petrol in your car …

      Report this comment

    18. Unimpressed

      @cleland thom: The candidates have enough pressure on them anyway (even before having to do an unnecessary resit) without people who weren’t even in the exam criticising them.

      Report this comment

    19. cleland thom

      @Unimpressed …

      Constructive criticism might help them, and future candidates, avoid making the same mistake … because something like this WILL happen again one day. IT always fails.

      An exam like the NQJ needs brilliant preparation. No, I wasn’t in the exam – I’ve got mine already! But I’ve been preparing candidates for the past 11 years.

      My candidates have won four national NCE / NQJ awards in the past five years.

      And their pass % rates have been higher than the national pass rate in every NCE / NQJ since 2005.

      So maybe criticism is something to learn from if it helps you do better?

      And rather than moan about a resit – see it positively … use it for your advantage … you’ve had an extra mock under exam conditions, and an extra week to prepare.

      Report this comment

    20. Something to say, East Anglia

      @cleland thom
      If the people taking the exams are given instructions such as being told to double space their work, start each question on a new page, not open the paper until told to… Then why would they question the instruction to save to the desktop? When taking exams typically you do not question the instructions but just to do as you are told.

      The people who had saved elsewhere and managed to retrieve their work had saved it elsewhere before the instruction was given to save to the desktop – which they then reverted to using. Thankfully for them however, the document had also saved in my documents. So for some this was just luck.

      I personally do not think the issue of sitting another exam is the problem, I think the issue here is having to sit two other exams on the day without being told what was going to happen.

      As for the people who raised concerns about the use of spell check – writing at speed for one hour and 20 minutes I think justifies its use. In fact, I personally like the suggestion of using pen and paper for this particular exam – but hey, that’s just me.

      Whatever your stance on this, let’s try and show a bit of sympathy and positivity for the people doing their resits tomorrow, rather than try and place the blame on them for not making a copy of their work. It was an exam after all and not a real day at the office.

      Best of luck for tomorrow trainees and hopefully you’ll be celebrating passing your seniors soon!

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    21. Casual Observer

      @Cleland Thom:

      I take some of your points about IT systems but I think the point that Candidate is making that you’re missing or choosing to ignore is that the unfortunate candidates did not MAKE a mistake. They were not ill-prepared, they did not magically encourage their work to disappear, they followed simple and clear instructions from the exam invigilator and saved their work to desktop.

      You could in fact say that it was a mistake (albeit a happier one) that the luckier candidates mis-saved their work elsewhere. They were not following instruction. From what I’ve been informed, it may even have been an IT accident as everyone knows the default saving method Ctrl+S usually saves to a My Documents location.

      It seems therefore unfair to put even the suggestion of blame on these poor candidates as the fault absolutely does not lie with them. You would have to be an IT professional to know that saving to desktop doesn’t work in a situation such as this. The invigilator chose not to check this with IT before advising.

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    22. 1808 State, The bleak frontier

      The law exam? Wouldn’t be as miffed at having to do that one again as I would the newswriting one.

      An utter bitch of a thing, that; the Krypton Factor or journalism exams. Never have I taken an exam that was as tighly-marked as that one.

      Quite rightly so, though.

      These students’ situation sucks, no doubt, but their only option is to take it on the chin.

      Besides, it’s only right that they get used to disappointment early – it’ll help when they see their first payslips and they realise they’d probably be better off as a binman.

      Report this comment

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