Achieving professional exam success in a Covid-19 worldThursday, 24th September 2020
Libby Naylor, a newly qualified surveyor at property advisor Matthews & Goodman, reflects on the challenges faced by young professionals in balancing the need to take their professional qualifications while meeting the restrictions imposed by Covid-19
When we entered lockdown, I was two months away from sitting the biggest exam of my life, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) Assessment of Professional Competence (APC).
I went from daily support from my mentors and peers, to Working From Home (WFH), at my kitchen table with no immediate access to people I could discuss the Five Ethical Standards, Surveying Safely or the ‘Red Book’ with.
However, I passed, became a Chartered Surveyor and what follows is my experience of undertaking my APC via Skype.
Revising from Home … Furlough or study leave.
The good news is that although furloughed, I was allowed to train (and therefore revise) which enabled me to sit my APC exam.
So, I decided to create a routine as I would if I was working. I revised every morning and afternoon and arranged a revision meeting almost every day. I found speaking to people the most effective way to learn.
My revision regime included:
- Q&A Zoom calls with colleagues
- APC ‘pub quizzes’ with peers
- Speaking notes aloud
- Mock interviews via Skype.
I know I was very lucky to have accommodating colleagues who helped me enormously – not just in terms of advice, but also being available for Zoom calls. When you are not in an office environment, surrounded by qualified surveyors, it really helps to have easy access to experienced professionals who are experts in their field. You also learn from your mistakes; if I didn’t understand something or got an answer wrong, I knew this was a topic I needed to focus on.
I was advised by the RICS that all exams would take place on the same dates as originally scheduled – except it would be via Skype. The arrangement had a number of benefits, for example no need to travel to an exam venue; no worrying about timings or sitting in a holding pen for the longest fifteen minutes of your life!
Two days before the exam, the RICS arranged for candidates to join a Skype test session to make sure our equipment was working. This was very useful for me as I had not used Skype for professional purposes before. We were also informed that if there were any technical glitches on the day, we would have fifteen minutes to resolve our connection. If the issue persisted, the Chairman would postpone the assessment to the next convenient date.
Despite the introduction of an on-line assessment, the format was exactly the same as pre-pandemic days:
- Ten-minute waiting room – having logged on (to Skype) ten minutes early, we were held in a virtual waiting room, whilst the assessors prepared themselves … ‘try to stay calm and breathe’
- Technical check – conducted by an RICS coordinator confirmed the audio-visual elements were working for all parties
- Introduction – The Chairman introduced everyone and asked a ‘warm up’ question – nothing too onerous just asking what I was working on, or what a normal day at work looked like
- Case study – my ten-minute presentation
- Case Study Questions – two assessors questioned me, to get under the skin of my case study
- Other competencies – questions on my other competencies (I understand assessors usually focus on competencies which are relevant to their own specialisms)
- Ethics – questions from the Chairman
- Return to a question – the Chairman offered me the opportunity to return to any questions I felt I could have answered more satisfactorily.
My Top Tips on Assessment Day
The RICS has stated that all forthcoming assessments will be held via Skype, so here are a few insights from someone who has just gone through it:
- Lighting – make sure lighting is in front of you, not behind
- Camera & sound – make sure they are only an arm’s length away – to ensure assessors can see and hear you clearly
- Dress code – as you would in a face-to-face meeting, look smart. Avoid stripes and bold patterns, they can distort on camera
- Vision – look at the camera instead of the screen, it makes you look like you have eye contact
- Breathe – before each answer to help collect your thoughts
- Water bottle – an hour of talking will require some water (taking a sip also gives you a little extra thinking time)
- A note pad – as you can go back to answers if you are unsure, keep a note of questions you might want to return to
- Smile – it makes you more approachable and breaks the ice.
It was an interesting experience and I am so glad I passed – all the hours and hard work from both myself and colleagues paid off.
If you are about to endure an on-line assessment, I wish you well. I hope this blog helps to prepare you for your assessment.