The Chartered Accountancy exams, which are deemed to be one of the toughest in the country, are conducted by the ICAI twice every year, in May and November, respectively. The massive popularity of the examination is evident in the fact that each level of this bi-annual exam witnesses applications in tens of thousands.
The cataclysmic COVID-19 pandemic, however, has disrupted all walks of life this year. Due to the surging coronavirus cases, the exams which were supposed to be held in May were deferred multiple times and have finally been merged with the November exams. The exams are now scheduled to be held between November 21 and December 14, 2020.
While the announcement of dates comes as a relief to some students, many others are demanding postponement of the exams. The students have taken to Twitter to display their concerns and register their dissent through the hashtag #icaiexams, #PostponeCAexams, etc. Let us look at some of the students' concerns and how the ICAI has tried to assuage them.
The students' first and foremost concern is regarding the condition at the examination centers and how social distancing will be maintained there. Students are also worried over the inadequate number of centers and centers being located in far off places.
The ICAI has released a detailed guideline stating the precautions that are to be observed by the candidates and the examination center. Assuring students that it is well-prepared to accommodate all candidates, ICAI has said that it has increased its centers from 505 planned for the May 2020 exam to 915 for November. It has also opened centers in 200 new cities to ensure accessibility so that candidates do not have to travel long distances. It has also made provisions for standby buffer centers in case of emergency to accommodate candidates in an unforeseen situation.
Despite these measures, students are unhappy as some have been allotted centers very far from their homes. For such students, the cost of travel and accommodation will increase, especially as the exam spans over multiple dates.
Further, the guidelines mention that the centers will be deep-sanitized; hand sanitizers will be made available at the entry point, and in the exam hall; temperature checks of all students and staff members will be done before they enter the hall. To ensure that social distancing is observed, the centers will be divided into various wings. Each wing will act as a standalone center, and there will be a separate entry to each wing, as and where possible. You can read the detailed guidelines here.
Students have also raised concerns over their centers falling in containment zones. Additionally, in a writ petition filed before the Supreme Court concerning the exam, there was a demand for isolation rooms in case a candidate shows COVID symptoms. It was also demanded that the e-admit cards be treated as e-passes to ensure better mobility of candidates.
In its response to the apex court over the writ petition, the ICAI has said that none of the designated centers fall in containment zones, and none of them functioned as covid-care facilities at any point. Regarding the demand for isolation rooms, ICAI has denied the feasibility of the same. Responding to concerns over mobility, ICAI has said that it will try to persuade the MHA to treat e-admit cards as e-passes.
Some students have demanded that the exams be conducted online in home-based mode, as is being done for the CMA exam conducted by ICMAI, and the CSEET by the ICSI. They have also asked ICAI to increase the duration of the exam.
It has said that conducting online exams won't be possible as the paper is descriptive in nature. ICAI has also said that extra time can't be given to students as the CA exams are a professional exam, and the questions papers are set as per the time required to answer them.
Due to the increase in coronavirus cases, students' chances of being infected are high. A recurring concern has been expressed over the future of students suffering from COVID and those already in the containment zone, as non-postponement of the exam would mean a delay in such students' career goals by six months.
To address the above issue, ICAI has provided the students with an 'Opt-Out' scheme for those candidates -
- Who are currently COVID positive or show symptoms at any time up to the conclusion of the exams
- Those candidates who are staying with their families, and if a family member is/turns COVID positive
- Who are in the containment zone
ICAI has given such students the option to 'opt out' and appear in the November 2020 exam cycle-II, which will be held in January/February 2021. It is to be noted that a student's decision to opt-out will be considered final and won't be reversed. You can read the details of the Opt Out scheme here.
While the Opt-Out scheme is in a positive direction, yet a few concerns remain. Students have highlighted the lack of adequate information regarding the scheme. Questions have been raised over the exact dates of the November 2020 exam cycle-II and if they will be merged with May 2021 one if the situation worsens. Many are doubtful if the ICAI will conduct the November-II exams at all.
There is another aspect of the Opt-Out facility that students have a problem with. The scheme states that if a student opts out of the exam midway in a particular group, then the papers they have cleared in that group won't be counted, and the student will have to give all the papers of the group in the next attempt.
How effective do you think these measures of ICAI are? Will you be opting in or out of the November exam? Do you have any other concerns regarding the upcoming CA Exams? Let us know in the comments section below.