View from the bridge: the JIEB examination
Peter Windatt and Alan Katz give an insight into what it takes to pass the JIEB.
Passing the JIEB examination is a very significant event in the career of anyone who, since the late 1980s, has wished to become a licensed insolvency practitioner. Many congratulations to those who have passed. This is not an easy examination, typically taken by candidates in their 30s who do not have recent experience of taking examinations and who, at that stage in their life, may also have substantial work and family commitments. Passing is a real achievement.
The board's expectations of candidates to achieve a pass are set out in the notes to candidates and syllabus, which we will not repeat here. However, we would emphasise the overall standard – to assess whether candidates have sufficient knowledge of insolvency law and practice to enable them to carry out the functions of an insolvency practitioner with an emphasis on practical application as well as knowledge of insolvency law and other relevant law and regulations.
Clearing the hurdle
In determining the pass standard, we are mindful that examination conditions do not equate with normal work conditions where practitioners may consult with colleagues, take advice or take more time to research and resolve an issue. We are also aware that the marginal candidate may be just sufficient rather than good or excellent, so we do not exclude candidates who may make adequate rather than high flying IPs. That said, because a pass clears a hurdle en route to securing a licence, we also have the weighty responsibility of not allowing through those who do not have sufficient knowledge and, importantly, the ability to apply their knowledge to practical situations. Essentially, at the margin, we are trying to assess whether it will be safe to allow a candidate through. What this means for candidates and their firms, is that they should ensure that their practical experience and pre-examination training takes them well clear of marginal territory – in other words to aim high having gained some practical experience and had good tuition across the syllabus. Obviously it is much safer for candidates, and makes easier the process of deciding which side of the line you fall, if you are not right on the margin.
Although the published pass marks are scaled* to 45 per cent, the underlying or 'raw' pass marks can and do vary between years, as does the pass rate. There is no fixed pass mark because it is not possible to set examinations that will be pass-worthy at exactly the same mark each year. There is no fixed pass rate because the clear policy of the board is to grant a pass to as many or as few candidates as merit a pass in each year. Pass mark setting is therefore ultimately a matter of judgment based on extensive review and moderation (re-marking) of scripts around a range of provisional pass marks. That said, the examining team aim to set the papers and marking plans such that the pass mark will be in the 40 to 50 per cent range – in other words reasonably close to the scaled pass mark.
Explaining differences in the pass rates between years is more difficult; these have ranged, as a percentage, in recent years between the 40s and the 70s. Historically they have been in the teens. Pass rates will depend on factors including the overall quality of the examination cohort including their relevant training and experience. What is striking, however, is that some sub-groups of the cohort – individual firms or recognised professional bodies (RPBs) – report consistently very high pass rates. This provides additional overall comfort to the board and the examination team each year that the setting and marking processes are reasonable and that the examinations are eminently passable by those who are adequately prepared and trained.
That said, we are not complacent and are constantly looking to improve our processes and procedures. Steps that we have taken in recent years to enhance the fairness of the process, and to help distinguish the marginal candidates, include all compulsory and equal mark questions (so that everyone is taking the same examination); adoption of a learning outcomes (practical and results oriented) syllabus; single question marking (to help eliminate inconsistencies); holistic marks (to provide two different assessments that can be considered separately and together); consultation and analysis of results with internal and external educational consultants; more extensive and consultative moderation procedures and oversight of the marking (a process that will be facilitated by the intended introduction of scanning scripts for electronic marking and oversight, over the course of the next two years). There has also been increased and more substantive contact between the board, examining team, insolvency firms and training providers, which is intended to improve understanding of the process and of the results themselves. The board welcomes any input from students and firms on how the process can be improved.
Peter Windatt is the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants' (ACCA) representative board member on the JIEB and the current chairman. He is the first chairman of the board to have qualified as an IP, sitting the JIE in 1992. Alan Katz is a Research Fellow in Insolvency at Lancaster University and is retired from general insolvency practice.