The JCQ awarding bodies try very hard to avoid timetable clashes but, with the size and complexity of the examination timetable, it’s impossible to avoid them entirely. As there haven’t been exams in a summer series since 2019, in this blog, I wanted to provide some additional support on identifying and managing clashes.
So, what is a timetable clash?
Timetable clashes are where a candidate is entered to take two or more exams at the same time on the same day. For full details, please see sections 7 and 8 of the JCQ Instructions for conducting examinations (ICE).
Identifying candidates with clashes
You first need to identify candidates with timetable clashes.
Give yourself enough time to identify clashes so you can make arrangements and provide your candidates with guidance.
For centres with a management information system (MIS), you can normally run a ‘clash report’. For other centres, you’ll need to carry out a manual check. Some awarding bodies provide clash reports to help you identify candidates with clashes taking their exams.
Encourage your candidates to check their individual statements of entry/exam timetables and let you know if they identify a clash – but don’t rely on this as your only way to identify clashes!
Clashes need to be resolved but as long as all the guidelines are followed and appropriate supervision arrangements are in place, most clashes can be managed without needing to contact the awarding body.
Remember – when you’re working out the total combined time of a candidate’s exams, you can include any approved extra time allowances and/or supervised rest breaks in your calculation.
Managing exams timetabled in the same session – JCQ ICE, sections 7.3 and 7.4
An exam day is split into two sessions – morning and afternoon. Where a candidate is taking two or more exams in a session within the same day and the total combined time is less than three hours, the exams must be taken consecutively within the timetabled session. You cannot vary the timetable and move an exam to either the earlier or later session.
You can decide the order the papers are taken within the session, and you may give candidates a supervised break of no more than 20 minutes between papers (which must be conducted within the examination room, under formal examination conditions).
If a candidate is taking two or more exams timetabled in the same session and the combined time is more than three hours, you can move one of the exams to a different session within the same day. You can decide which exam to move with the exception of AS and A Level Maths and Further Maths (see below). Permission from an awarding body isn’t required and you don’t need to complete any paperwork.
Managing three or more exams on the same day
Where a candidate is taking three or more exams timetabled on the same day and the total duration of those papers is more than six hours for AS and A Level exams or more than five and a half hours for GCSE exams, you can move an exam to the following morning, even if that happens to be a Saturday. Candidates are not allowed to take exams on an earlier day than that scheduled on the timetable.
Overnight supervision arrangements (JCQ ICE, section 8) are at the centre’s discretion. They should only be applied as a last resort once all other options to accommodate the exams on the timetabled day have been exhausted.
We often find when candidates understand the arrangements involved, they prefer to sit the exams all on the same day. If all exams are taken on the same day, you can apply for special consideration for the last exam the candidate sits. However, for the purposes of special consideration, you can’t include supervised rest breaks in the calculation of the total duration of the exams (see section 3.3 of A guide to the special consideration process).
If you do move an exam to the next day, you need to complete the JCQ Overnight Supervision form using the JCQ Centre Admin Portal (CAP) before the overnight supervision takes place. You also need to download the JCQ Overnight Supervision Declaration from CAP. This needs to be signed by the candidate, supervisor and the head of centre and then kept on file within your centre. You can access CAP through all of the awarding body secure websites.
Question paper security
If candidates take an exam in a different session (either on the same day or the following day), you must seal all question papers used in the earlier session in an envelope and return them to your secure storage facility until all candidates have taken the exam.
Where timetable variations aren’t allowed
In some cases, timetable variations aren’t allowed, for example, to accommodate a holiday or where there is a clash between papers of different awarding bodies or specifications in the same subject at the same qualification level.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s also an exception for AS and A Level Maths and Further Maths. Where a candidate has a timetable clash involving an AS Further Mathematics, AS Mathematics, A Level Further Mathematics, or A Level Mathematics, it is not permitted to move the examination to the morning session. See the JCQ Notice to Centres for more details.
For any other timetable variation query not covered here or in the JCQ ICE, please email the relevant awarding body for advice.
Managing clash candidates
When it comes to exam time, the security of the exam must always be maintained. It’s vital that ‘clash candidates’ are supervised by a member of centre staff or an invigilator following the JCQ ICE regulations.
Where an exam has been moved to a different session within the same day, you need to supervise the candidate between the two sessions. Supervision can take place outside the exam room (e.g. in a classroom) and although formal exam conditions are not needed, candidates must be supervised at all times. Candidates may revise using their own resources but they must not:
- Be in possession of a mobile phone or any other electronic communication or storage device
- Have access to the internet
- Have contact with any candidate who has already sat the examination they are due to take
- Be coached by a member of centre staff.
Although it happens rarely, there are occasions where clash supervision is breached, either deliberately by the candidate or if the centre fails to supervise them adequately. If this happens, it can impact the candidate involved, other candidates within the centre, and even the national cohort.
Examples of breaches of supervision, and the consequences, can be found in the JCQ Suspected Malpractice: Policies and Procedures 2021-2022 booklet. We’re also aware of candidates:
- Having their mobile phone or smart watch returned to them accidentally in their bag during clash supervision and then sending texts about the exam to other candidates.
- Leaving the exam room and going to lunch with friends because they forgot they were supposed to remain under supervision.
- Missing an exam because they didn’t know their clash arrangement had changed – they had withdrawn from one of the clash exams and the other reverted to its normal morning session slot.
Top tips for managing clashes
- Tell candidates how the clash will be resolved and what they need to do on the day. You may want/need to discuss their options, especially where overnight supervision is possible.
- Confirm arrangements in writing. This will minimise the risk of candidates misunderstanding the arrangements, misreading their exam timetable or failing to follow instructions about centre supervision.
- Organise your supervision rooms, together with a member of centre staff or invigilator to carry out the supervision:
- Make sure candidates being supervised won’t have contact with anyone who has already taken the exam they are yet to sit.
- Consider arrangements for toilet breaks, lunch, etc – the supervisor needs to be able to summon assistance without leaving the supervision room.
- Review the number of invigilators or members of centre staff you will need.
- Brief invigilators so they know which candidates have a clash and need supervision – to help them, you can indicate clash candidates on the seating plan.
- Make sure invigilators are ready and available to escort candidates from one exam room to another or to a supervision room.
- Remind candidates at the start and end of their first exam they will need to remain under centre supervision and must not leave the exam room unescorted.
- Make sure mobile phones, smart watches and other communication devices are not returned to candidates by mistake because they were left in bags/coats rather than handed in separately.
Finally, do make sure you’re familiar with the JCQ regulations and, if you have questions or aren’t sure how to resolve a clash, contact the relevant awarding body for support and guidance. They’re always on hand to help:
- AQA – TimetableVariations@aqa.org.uk
- CCEA – firstname.lastname@example.org
- OCR – Special Requirements Team: email@example.com
- Pearson – https://qualifications.pearson.com/en/contact-us/exam-officers.html
- WJEC/Eduqas – GCE@wjec.co.uk, GCSE@wjec.co.uk, Pathways@wjec.co.uk
This blog was first published in March 2022 and updated in April 2022 to clarify that supervised rest breaks cannot be used when calculating the total duration of the exams for a possible application for special consideration.
About the author
Alison is the OCR Customer Support Manager for the South East region. The OCR Customer Support Team provides support, training and guidance for centres administering OCR qualifications.
Alison joined OCR in 2007 and has worked in education since 1995 – as an Exams Manager in a college, a Centre Support Officer with the National Assessment Agency and an Exams Officer in a secondary school – so she knows how challenging and rewarding it can be working in an exams office.