Ethics and trust in the digital age

Some of you may have seen the headline ‘ACCA exams up for sale’ in last month’s PQ and read about four students being fined for misconduct.

It was disappointing to see students cheating for financial gain and we had to act, and I am sure all PQ readers will understand the need for us to do so.

ACCA, like other professional bodies and academic institutions, cannot tolerate such behaviour; we have a zero tolerance policy to cheating or unethical behaviour. Displaying ethical behaviour is not only important in your exams, it’s also a key competency you’ll need to display as a finance professional – as our professional insights report ‘Ethics and Trust in a Digital Age’ highlighted in 2017.

This report investigated the new challenges professional accountants face as technology plays a bigger role in our profession, saying: “The professional accountant of the future will need, in addition to technical capability, a rounded skill set that demonstrates key quotients for success in areas such as experience, intelligence, creativity, digital skills, emotional intelligence and vision. And at the heart of these lies the ethical quotient.”

It is why ethics and professionalism competencies are assessed in all of the ACCA exams, from Applied Knowledge all the way through to Strategic Professional and why the Ethics and Professional Skills module is a core component of the ACCA qualification.

While we expect students, as future members, to act ethically in exams from day one when they sign up to ACCA, we know as a professional body that we also have our own responsibilities – to ensure our exams are delivered safely and securely, particularly as we embed more technology into our assessments.

As we’ve moved our exams digitally we’ve reviewed our security processes to ensure we continue to deliver our exams with the same levels of security as we have always done. These processes may have changed, but the principles have not: all students must receive fair and balanced exams, and a valid and reliable result.

We don’t just do this alone. All of our test centres for the on demand exams are run by a network of trusted partners. This offers independent and rigorous invigilation that complies with our strict service level agreements. Strategic Professional CBEs, when first launched in March 2020 in the UK, Ireland and the Czech Republic will be delivered in the same way.

For our on demand exams, students receive unique exams with questions drawn from a huge question bank. While all students receive different combinations of questions we have a number of processes to ensure that all exams are balanced in terms of difficulty and syllabus coverage, and then results issued are valid and reliable. To keep the exams up-to-date, fresh and secure the question banks are regularly refreshed.

In our Applied Skills exams, students also get a different combination of questions drawn from question banks. While we know it could be tempting to try to guess what questions will come up in an exam, due to our processes the probability of guessing whether a question may come up in your specific exam is very low. There are so many combinations of questions that it is impossible to predict what will appear in your own exam.

We know that in instances where students have attempted to guess, or “been told” that a question will appear in their exam, their performance is more likely to be negatively impacted. These students will answer the question they think they’ve received rather than the actual question. Two very different things! In this situation, the necessity to behave ethically applies as much to the student looking to gain academically as it does to the students who are sharing the likely misleading information.

Foolish strategy

Cheating your way to an ACCA qualification is a foolish strategy that will only lead to failure. The best way to prepare for and know what will come up in exams is to study the full syllabus guide – this is a guaranteed way of knowing what will come up in the exam! Good preparation is the only way to succeed in ACCA exams.

Through the ACCA qualification we try to help students develop the skills they need to be successful professional accountants and ethics is one of these skills we are proud to support and encourage.

Thankfully, the vast majority of ACCA students already have the ethical qualities needed to succeed in our profession, possessing the personal integrity that will help build success, enabling them to secure the career they want. We know these students wear their ACCA badge with pride, showing the world the values we all share together.

• Judith Bennett, Director – Professional Qualifications at ACCA