Why is there a misconduct policy?
MRCP(UK) does not exist solely to develop doctors; helping and protecting patients is another of its core functions. MRCP(UK) fulfils this function by ensuring that people do not claim to hold qualifications they do not have, that no candidates gain an unfair advantage when taking the examinations and that intellectual property (i.e. questions in written examinations and scenarios in PACES) is protected.
Examinations are an integral part of a doctor’s professional development. Candidates are expected to maintain the same high standards of professional behaviour in their interactions with MRCP(UK) as they would demonstrate in all other aspects of their work. The expected standards are set out in the MRCP(UK) Examination Regulations, Candidate Code of Conduct and Misconduct Regulations. A useful guide can also be found in the document Good Medical Practice, produced by the UK General Medical Council (GMC), particularly paragraphs 65-66:
“65. You must make sure that your conduct justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession.
66. You must always be honest about your experience, qualifications and current role”
Candidates should be aware that any deviation from accepted professional standards will be treated with the utmost seriousness and could have significant consequences for their future careers.
What constitutes misconduct?
The Candidate Code of Conduct sets out the types of behaviour considered to constitute misconduct by MRCP(UK):
- Attempts to gain an unfair advantage in the examination (academic misconduct);
- Abuse, threats or other unprofessional behaviour directed at MRCP(UK) staff, invigilators, patients, other candidates and examiners;
- Falsely claiming to hold MRCP(UK) qualifications.
Misconduct is not limited to behaviour in the exam hall; it also covers all interactions with MRCP(UK) staff before and after the exams, and claims to hold qualifications.
How does MRCP(UK) prevent misconduct?
A number of procedures are in place to prevent misconduct:
- Administrators are trained to manage difficult conversations and to recognise forms of harassment from candidates;
- Enhanced invigilation is used in exam; invigilators are assigned specific zones within centres and closely monitor candidate behaviour. They are trained to identify potential signs of misconduct;
- Instructions from invigilators; these are designed to assist candidates, for example by ensuring that they do not run out of time when transferring answers onto the marksheets;
- Providing clear advice to candidates about what can be taken into exam centre: for example, candidates are reminded several times in centres that they are not allowed to keep phones on their person or to wear ‘smart’ watches during exams;
- Reminding PACES candidates that they should inform MRCP(UK) where they have worked or taken courses to avoid them being allocated to these centres where possible, and that they must not visit their assigned centre before the exam;
- Candidates are also asked to report any suspicious behaviour during exam.
- MRCP(UK) uses an Anomaly Monitoring System (see paragraph 9.1 of MRCP(UK) Examination Regulations) to detect unusual patterns of responses, where answers provided by different candidates are more similar than would be expected by chance alone (for example an unusually high number of exactly the same answers). Such incidents are known as ‘anomalous pairs’ and are investigated using statistical analysis.
- Invigilators and Chairs of Examiners complete reports on exams, which contain details of any suspected instances of misconduct.
Investigating allegations of misconduct
Allegations of misconduct during exams are reported to the MRCP(UK) Policy Team. They investigate any allegations in accordance with the procedure outlined MRCP(UK) Misconduct Regulations. All relevant information relating to the exam is reviewed to decide whether to proceed with the investigation. This information might include marksheets, question papers, seating plans, invigilators’ reports, keystroke data and occasionally CCTV for SCEs.
Candidates will be informed in writing of the allegations against them. If they admit the allegations, their case will be considered by the examining board chair, who will make a recommendation about penalties based on the evidence. If the allegation is denied by the candidate, the case will be referred to a misconduct hearing panel. Further information can be found in the MRCP(UK) misconduct regulations.
MRCP(UK) has a duty to refer all cases of misconduct to the relevant regulatory authorities, even when the candidate has admitted misconduct. We are also required to inform the regulator of all serious breaches of regulations. Providing such information helps the regulator to build a full picture of any concerns about the behaviour of the doctor in question.
These case studies are based on real examples investigated by MRCP(UK).
If the anomaly monitoring software identifies a pair of candidates with a suspicious pattern of answers, what happens if one candidate is entirely innocent and is being copied from?
MRCP(UK) collects as much evidence as possible to assist their investigation, including marksheets, question papers, seating plans, and comments from invigilators. This will usually indicate whether one candidate has been copying or if two candidates have been colluding. We will only proceed with investigation and hearings if corroborating evidence is available. In cases where the evidence does not provide any further corroboration, the two candidates will be informed that they have been identified in an anomalous pair. Both candidates will be seated separately from other candidates at any future attempts at the exam. This helps to ensure that nobody can copy from candidates in this situation and that they are not incorrectly implicated.
What should I do if I believe a candidate sitting near me is attempting to cheat?
If you are sitting any MRCP(UK) examination and become concerned about the behaviour of any other candidate, you should draw this to the attention of invigilators as soon as possible. If you do not wish to disrupt your own exam, or are concerned about openly speaking to the invigilators during the exam, please speak to them during breaks or at the end of the paper, or contact MRCP(UK) Central Office after the exam.