So, the EQEs are over for another year. We wrote about the technical issues experienced in Paper D last week. This post aims to look over the examination as a whole and highlight areas where there’s room to improve.
The points below will, IPcopy understands, chime with many candidates, though perhaps not the EPO Press Release team who put out this glowing tribute to “going digital”. If anyone is looking for a Reality Distortion Field Generator that goes up to 11 then at least we know where there’s one we might be able to borrow….
Nearly 4000 candidates and 24 hours of exams over 5 days is a large project to deliver and the EPO should be congratulated in getting the exams off the ground this year. IPcopy wonders however if a perception that the online version might lead to cheating in turn resulted in some of the sub-optimal outcomes noted below.
No real provision of screen/rest breaks. Since it was not possible to print the client letter the majority of reading and answering was done on screen. This led to eye strain.
This paper seems to have been more complex than recent past papers. Factoring in the added difficulties associated with not being able to print all the documents increased the difficulty of the paper further. Documents could not be viewed side by side as easily as a paper-based exam would allow. There was no highlighting ability and copying from the PDF required the formatting to be edited.
After the issues with the “German only” Paper D experience, Paper B seemed to be the main source of gripes with the e-EQE this year. If nothing else IPcopy would hope that the EPO seriously considers collecting honest feedback from candidates and then acting upon it in time for next year. Expanding the printing function to allow all documents to be printed might reduce the environmental credentials of the EQE a little bit but would surely go someway towards alleviating a lot of the above issues.
This paper also suffered from a number of typographical errors (incorrectly marked up amendments, missing reference numerals) just to add insult to injury.
A split was introduced into Paper C but the paper itself doesn’t seem to have been adapted to take account of the split. With all prior art being supplied at the start of the exam it was unclear which features might be important for later claims. In a paper exam it would have been possible to go back and amend attacks but this wasn’t possible with the split paper.
The knock on effects of the technical issues in D1 meant that there wasn’t adequate rest time or screen break time. This is likely to have impacted performance throughout Paper D.
The limitations of the chat function seemed to have been more evident in Paper D than elsewhere. Long waits for assistance, timeouts of the chat function itself and incorrectly provided information were all reported.
Time limited complaint period – In the midst of the exams IPcopy humbly suggests that the last thing a candidate wants is to have to divert time to writing up a complaint. Clearly there needs to be a cut off but surely this could be in the week following the exams?
Smooth Running? – The need to be able to take the exam at home or in an office has naturally resulted in the move to the online platform. Although the EPO suggest that the new system allows candidates to digitally search documents thereby “saving them time” it seems that the lockdown browser itself is slow and non-obvious to use. Switching between tabs is slow, certain screen layouts seem to prevent easily moving between pages of a document (resulting in the need to scroll down to an arrow to move between pages) and there’s a limit on the number of tabs that can be kept open.
It seems the system was also quite sensitive to certain actions (e.g. certain keyboard combinations, internet connection stability).
Testing, testing, testing – it is true that three Mock papers were held in preparation for the e-EQE. It’s also true that the last of these was just a few days before the exams started. This feels too close to the main event to be testing the system. The communication of the technical requirements of the exam could also be improved (release webinar recordings more quickly! And disseminate information relating to the technical requirements/constraints of the system more clearly).
“Diaper up” – We noted before that some people were considering removing keys from their keyboards to avoid being thrown out from the exam platform (for selecting a forbidden key combination). IPcopy also understands that some candidates suggested wearing adult nappies in order to avoid having to deal with short bathroom breaks. We sincerely hope this suggestion was made in jest but multiple people have highlighted that bathroom breaks were short and, in the case of the Paper D morning sessions, weren’t available for over 2 hours.
Security warning – the WISEflow software required admin access to the user’s computer. Such levels of access immediately puts the software at odds with the IT policies of many firms (which then leads to the need to source compliant equipment personally). However, to what degree has the EPO considered the platform as a vector for malicious actors to gain access to candidates PCs?
The above are a selection of some of the issues IPcopy has come across. As we noted above, getting the exam online and up and running was no mean feat but the tone of the EPO communication which was published on 8 March 2021 glosses over the issues that moving online has created. We would hope that the successes and limitations of the e-EQE are properly reviewed over the next year and that the exam experience next year is improved.
IPcopy 12 March 2021
For me there were a few issues.
Paper D was a shock and did take me over 20 minutes to get started, the split into short sections was generally ok but did not allow me to take extra time on the more difficult questions. The extra time was communicated late in the exam which made time management difficult. A shorter lunch break was rushed but did not really cause a problem.
Paper C was a bit artificial in the method used to split the paper and I spent a little time making sure there were no additional marks related to the split. Entering the second half of paper C my browser locked up and it took a phone call to the support desk and using a different computer to get me started, again 20 minutes late.
Our IT department identified a vulnerability in the FlowLock browser so we had a long debate before we were allowed to install it under tightly controlled conditions.
Overall, I think some IT issues were to be expected and I am very grateful that the examinations were able to go ahead after the cancellation last year. There are lessons to learn but I think the opportunity to reduce travel stress and venue costs are positive benefits.