Technical issues plague final accounting exam; Edmonton student says situation ‘incompetently’ handled

Tarek Ahmed said the three-day accounting final exam in September 2019 was plagued with technical issues and delays.
Tarek Ahmed said the three-day accounting final exam in September 2019 was plagued with technical issues and delays. Global News

An Edmonton businessman is speaking out over the frustration he and several other accounting students faced while taking their final exam.

Tarek Ahmed, CFO of Edmonton’s BRNT Ltd., said the three-day final exam for students across Canada was plagued by technical issues and hours-long delays. He’s now left wondering how he will be scored and if his results will even be valid.

“To see this body that’s supposed to govern this profession, so incompetently handle this situation and have very little regard for the humanity of the people in there, I would just say I was ashamed and I was frustrated… I would describe it as a painful experience.”

The final exam for accounting students to become professional certified is typically offered once per year and takes place over three days, capping off 30 months of in-field experience and years of formal education.

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Students bring laptops and are asked to sign on to a secure network, where the test and reference materials are available.

“Then you’re kind of locked in and you’re not able to use any resources outside of what they supply for you,” Ahmed explained.

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Three days of technical issues, delays lead to ‘high level of frustration’

The problems started on Day 1 of the test, Sept. 11. Students arrived at the Edmonton Expo Centre for the 9 a.m. start only to see that time come and go.

“We were told there were technical issues … At the end of it, it was about two hours in… the software worked for me and I was able to write my exam.”

The second day of testing was also scheduled for 9 a.m., but again, there were technical issues. Ahmed said students were unable to log on or access the reference materials for about five and a half hours.

“There was a high level of frustration, obviously. Blood-sugar levels aren’t exactly ideal. Quite a bit of mental stress you went through consciously thinking, ‘OK, we’re going to be writing at 10, 11, 12, whatever time.'”

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Finally, Ahmed said they were told to write the exam outside of the secure software, without the supplied reference materials.

“They finally say, ‘OK you guys can start and if someone doesn’t want to start, you can leave and you can write next year.’ They give us approximately five to 10 minutes to make our decision. At this point, they start the exam and we write without any reference material.”

What was meant to be a five-hour test turned into a nearly 12-hour day, Ahmed said, adding he finished writing Part 2 of the exam at 8:15 p.m.

On Day 3, Ahmed said students were notified in advance that the test would be delayed by three hours. But when they showed up at noon, there were more technical difficulties.

“Once again the software did not work and the reference material did not work. This time they just decided, ‘Let’s not delay anything. Just write.’ So we wrote outside of the secure software so we were able to access other materials. We were kind of given the honour code on that one.”

Ahmed said students later received an email from Chartered Professional Accountants Canada addressing the technical issues.

CPA Canada admits to ‘technical challenges’

In a statement, CPA Canada’s director of corporate communications said approximately 9,000 students from across the country were registered to write the exam, about 1,000 of whom were in Alberta.

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Tobin Lambie acknowledged the “technical challenges” and delays during the exam, but did not say how many students were affected.

“We apologize to all students who were affected, as we know how much work goes into preparing for this important examination,” Lambie said.

“While we made every attempt to rectify the situation as it was happening, we were not able to address every issue. We are continuing to work closely with our colleagues in the profession and our service providers to identify the extent of the impact and to determine next steps.”

Ahmed said he expects to receive his test results in November.

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