The next generation of barristers have complained that they were forced to urinate in bottles and buckets during their professional ethics exam this week.
The students were told they would fail their two hour 45 minute Bar Professional Training Course assessment if they left their desk to go to the loo, or if they did not maintain eye contact with their online invigilator.
And so the nation's future barristers, having drunk copious amounts of water to stay hydrated on one of the hottest days of the year, found themselves weeing in containers while staring at a stranger on their laptop.
Bar student Tian Juin See told RollOnFriday that when he asked to be excused about an hour into the exam, the online proctor refused.
"I tried to hold it, but a little while later I asked again and he said no", said Tian.
"It became rather unbearable and it was having an effect on my concentration", he said. Despite "literally begging" the proctor, Tian was told that "policy doesn't allow the use of toilets during exams. I told him that if I'm not allowed, I'm going to have to pee in the bottle, but he still wouldn't let me use the toilet".
"Finally, I couldn't hold it anymore", said Tian. "so I dumped out the water in my bottle all over my carpet", though he couldn't see where he was pouring it as the proctor said he was not allowed to turn away from the camera, "and attempted to take a piss into my bottle, blindly, while trying not to move around too much or look away from my screen".
"When I was done I raised the now yellow bottle to the webcam as if to say: 'Are you happy now?'"
Storm in a pee cup.
Others were pushed to similarly humiliating extremes. Sophie Lamb, who is studying at BPP University in Leeds, said she had to maintain eye contact with her webcam while urinating, after she was unable to get booked at a test centre. "I took a bucket in and wore a long maxi dress so that I could squat down with my face still on camera", she said. "The sacrifices we make for our careers".
BPTC student Pete Kennedy said, "shorts and 5L bottle for me. Think I stealthed it."
Students also reported the online exam crashing and failing to load, leaving them to seek help fruitlessly from Pearson VUE, the education company which provided the online assessment.
For some, the experience was infuriating. Charlotte McNally, a Cambridge Law grad, said she checked in to begin the exam at 9am and was presented with a blank screen. When she messaged Pearson VUE for assistance, a chat robot told her she would be contacted "in 3-5 business days". The exam was subsequently rescheduled.
Jamie Jones, studying the BPTC in Leeds, said she "physically cried" during her ethics exam after a technical fault meant she had to restart. "I was faced with a choice of whether to continue with my exam despite having lost all of my work AND 40 minutes of time, or end the exam with no guarantee of a restart (thanks to the advice of a very rude, unhelpful and unsympathetic proctor".
Calling it an "absolute shambles", Jones "decided to carry on but then the the system failed again anyway". Now she will have to resit her exam in December.
In a statement, the Bar Standards Board said that it "has worked hard to ensure that students are able to sit the centralised BPTC assessments this year, which were originally due to take place in April, but which have been delayed as a result of COVID-19" (translation: blame the virus).
"Pearson VUE is responsible for delivering the examinations", it said (translation: blame Pearson VUE) and "we understand that the great majority of students’ exams which have taken place were completed successfully" (translation: blame the minority who got wet carpets).
The BSB said that "inevitably with any online based exam", some students experienced technical issues that prevented them from accessing their exams, but that Pearson VUE would "try" to reschedule those students' exams "subject to availability". Students who were able to access the exam but then experienced technical difficulties would be allowed to take it again, said the BSB, but not until December, and not if their glitched effort was good enough to secure them a pass.
Refusing to take responsibility for WastewaterGate, the BSB said that students who took the online exam "using Pearson VUE’s online remote proctoring system" (please, please blame Pearson VUE) were provided with "straightforward guidance which makes clear that, to protect the integrity of the exams" they "are not allowed to leave the room during the exam".
On Thursday, Amanda Pinto QC, Chair of the Bar Council, stepped in to tell the Bar Standards Board that she was "very concerned", and that the Bar Council’s Education and Training Committee had written to it in early July "to express concerns and to request that the BSB consider a short comfort break during the lengthy exams".
"It is disappointing that this was not progressed", she wrote, adding that the Bar Council "also cannot understand why students in test centres are not permitted water on their desks, especially bearing in mind the hot weather".
Pinto QC said it was "difficult to understand" why students who suffered technical difficulties during their exam had to defer their exams until December, rather than a date later in the week. "This enforced deferral will mean that many will not know whether they have passed their exams before they start pupillage, inevitably adding to their stress. We believe those students deserve an explanation", she said.