Exam Guidelines - the Irish Academy of Public Relations UK

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Exam Guidelines


What is an examination?

An examination is a test of a candidate’s understanding of a body of knowledge, or skill in applying it to a real-life situation. It can be either written or oral or sometimes be comprised of both. Each method has advantages and disadvantages, depending on what is being tested, and at what level.

Written papers have the following disadvantages:

Exam questions, even when they relate to actual case histories, are not always a realistic representation of the way problems arise or are solved in business

Many candidates find it an ordeal to have to sit still and write for up to three hours at a time

Some candidates are not skilled in communicating their knowledge under examination conditions

Why do candidates fail?

  1. Most failures happen because candidates have insufficient knowledge of the Syllabus, and are not ready to take the examination. There is only one solution: study, study and study more! Read the recommended texts and as much supplemental information as you possibly can.
  2. The second most common cause of failure is through candidates not reading the questions properly. Examiners can award marks only for an answer related to the question as asked. Irrelevant material, or answers to questions which have not in fact been posed, simply qualify for no marks at all.
  3. The third most common cause of failure is in communication: candidates who probably knew enough about the subject (and what was needed to answer the questions) but failed to deliver this knowledge to the examiner in the right way.
  4. The fourth most common cause of failure is time-planning, where the candidate knew the answers, but spent too long on one or two favourite questions, leaving insufficient time to gain basic marks on the others.


1.Understand the questions before you start to answer.

First of all, read the whole paper thoroughly, twice or even three times. Especially read the instructions at the beginning which tell you what to do.

If you do not understand a question, or to what part of the Syllabus it relates, or if you have never studied that topic, do not attempt to answer that question. Even if such a question looks easy, you cannot in an examination room improvise the facts or the theory of any subject you have not studied. Instead, choose a question about which you have a greater knowledge.

Do not criticise the questions. If a question looks silly, that is a sign that you may not understand it. Re-read, and if you are still baffled – play safe and avoid it!

2.Answer the right number of questions

If you are asked to answer four questions, it is pointless to answer five. If you attempt five questions, the last one will be a waste of time because Examiners are instructed to mark only the first four answers on the script, not the best four.

If a question is compulsory, it means just that. If you do not attempt it you cannot achieve a pass mark on that paper.

3.Plan your time carefully.

Decide on a time-plan before the event. You will have 120 minutes (two hours) in which to complete most papers.

You need to allow 15 minutes at the beginning to read the paper and choose the questions, and 15 minutes at the end to re-read your answers, check that you have done everything asked and make those last-minute corrections. In between, give yourself a specific number of minutes for each answer. When you reach the end of the allocated time for an answer, move on to the next, making a note to come back to any points that you still have to cover.

By all means start with the question you find easiest. This will build your confidence, and leave you more time to battle with the most difficult one.

If you find you are running out of time and have a lot of good points still to add, write them in note form -–the examiner will give you some marks for them.

4.Lay your answers out professionally.


Answer as one professional addressing another. Always start each question on a new page, and leave some blank space at the end of the previous one, so you have somewhere to put any additional points which strike you later!

Label each answer clearly. Write the question number at the top of the first and each following page (e.g. Question 3 continued), so the examiner will not get confused if you did not answer questions in numerical order, or added an extra page at the end of a book.

Whole unbroken pages of handwriting put the examiner off (especially if yours is hard to read). Divide your text into short paragraphs with one or two blank lines between each (which also gives you somewhere to add afterthoughts).

Write plain English, using simple sentences and short words wherever possible. Watch your grammar, punctuation and spelling!

5.Plan your answers

It is sometimes a help to jot down on a separate sheet some rough headings for your own guidance. This sheet should form part of your submission.

6. Help the Examiner

An examination is not a war between examiners and candidates! You are really on the same side, and your examiner would like to give you as many marks as possible. The examiner’s job is to look for items to give marks to, and to award them for each relevant and correct point.

Examiners are given the authority to add one or two discretionary marks to papers which give the appearance of competence, and to take one or two off the illegible disasters. So, practise writing legibly under examination conditions.


Pace your revision, allowing enough spare days to permit both extra time for difficult topics and relaxation time to let your short-term memory clear. Try not to work right up to the last minute, as this tends to clog your memory with whatever you crammed in most recently.

On the day, give yourself all the help you can. Make sure you know exactly where the Examination Hall is and how to get there, check your watch against the radio and start out early so that you arrive relaxed and in plenty of time. Wear comfortable clothes. Carry a spare pen, or three!

Always think before you start to write, and never give way to feelings of panic when you sit down in front of a blank answer-book. Most people get ‘butterflies in the stomach’ on important occasions, including those who seem to sail through them with nonchalance. The experts will tell you that the secret of survival is in thorough preparation, study and rehearsal ahead of time and then channelling the adrenaline generated by the situation into speeding-up your thoughts.

Why not learn to think of overcoming ‘examination fear’ as a part of the test of your ability as a professional communicator?


It is important to be aware of the exact meaning of terminology used by examiners:

Briefly:            Be short, concise

Compare:         Look for similarities and differences – maybe reach a

conclusion about which is preferable.

Criticise:          Give and support your judgement

Define:            Quote and write the precise meaning of a word or phrase.

Describe:         Give a detailed or graphic account of.

Discuss:           Examine, by arguing, giving reasons for and against.

Highlight implications.

Evaluate:         Make an appraisal

Illustrate:         Give examples

Outline:           Provide main features or principles.

Relate:             Show how issues connect and to what extent they are alike

or affect each other

State:               Present in a clear form

Trace:               Describe development or history of a topic from some point

of origin

Summarise: Give a concise account – if using examples do so sparingly.

Most of the hints given in this booklet may seem obvious, but so many papers each year prove that not all candidates abide by them. Make sure you give the examiners all the help you can to award all the marks you deserve.


All assignments and projects must by typed, with 1.5 line spacing and presented in a professional manner. Students of public relations, event management and journalism, in particular, are expected to apply good journalistic writing standards to their submissions.

Students should adhere to the recommended length – longer assignments will not be awarded extra marks and may be penalised.

Students are responsible for ensuring that their assignments are submitted in the correct format, to the specified address, by the appointed time, on the specific date mentioned in their briefing document.

Late submissions will not be accepted.

Always keep a copy for your own records.

(Some of this material is based on an article by G.S. Bain (1985); guidelines issued by the Public Relations Institute of Ireland 1999; American Psychological Association (APA) conventions, summarised in Sternberg (1993, chapter 6); and Dublin City University - Nuala Byrne, “Citing and referencing – A Guide for Students”, Xia Li & Nancy B. Crane: Electronic style: a guide to citing electronic information, 2nd. ed., Mecklermedia, 1995; and the draft of ISO standard 690-2: Information and documentation : Bibliographic references : Electronic documents or parts thereof).


Written work and practical preparation is an integral part of some course modules, and students may be required to complete a number of assignments during their course of study. All assignments are individual submissions and must be clearly signed for as the student’s own work. Marks for written work form part of the assessment contributing to the overall mark which a student will be awarded.

To be awarded an Academy Certificate, Advanced Certificate, Diploma or Higher Diploma (H. Dip) students are required to have submitted specified course work and assignments in every module and to have obtained at least a pass mark in all modules.

Students will receive a transcript of results from the Academy giving the grade achieved for the subjects in which they have been examined. This transcript will be posted directly to each online student, on completion of their course of study, to the address submitted at registration. Students attending taught course should note that their transcripts are posted directly to their college. Under no circumstances may a student collect results or expect results to be issued by phone, fax or e-mail.

A student who achieves 39% or less in any one subject is deemed to have failed that particular subject. Any student who fails a subject is permitted to re-sit that subject during supplemental examinations at which the maximum mark for grading purposes will be 40%.



The term ‘examination’ in these regulations should be construed to include reference, as appropriate, to written and oral examinations, assessment of coursework, project work, examination of theses, dissertations and similar work and such other forms of assessment of candidates’ performances as may have been approved or prescribed by the Academy in relation to any course of study or instruction, and cognate expressions should be construed accordingly.


Every student should carry visual identification (e.g. passport, driving licence) and must show that identification if requested by the examination invigilator.


Only those students who have fully paid their fees will be permitted to sit their examinations.


Admission to the exam hall will be no earlier than 10 minutes prior to the commencement time of the exam. Students should present themselves in an orderly manner, and should not enter the examination room until requested to do so. No loitering in hallways is allowed after permission has been given to enter the examination hall.


Examinations will be for the period stipulated on the exam paper, normally 2–3 hours.

2. Conduct during examinations.


Smoking in the examination hall is not permitted.


No notes, books or other written or printed material, unauthorised material or unauthorised source of reference may be brought by students to their examination desks. Coats, bags etc., must be left at a designated place in or near the examination hall. Retention of any unauthorised source of reference may be taken as constituting evidence of intent to evade regulations, and candidates who do so may be disqualified.

The use of any radio or telephonic receiving or transmission apparatus (including mobile phones), mechanical, or electronic aids of any kind is strictly forbidden except where expressly permitted.


The use of dictionaries is permitted in examinations but only those dictionaries provided by the invigilator. Students may not use their own dictionaries. It should be noted that an English/English dictionary, ONLY, will be provided. Students should seek specific permission from their college, and, if granted, submit their own Foreign Language/English dictionaries for inspection and approval by the college and their invigilator.

Only standard calculators are permitted, and these may only be used in a Financial Examination. Calculators with electronic memory banks holding text or other formulae calculations are not permitted. Candidates will not normally be permitted to borrow materials from another candidate.


Examination papers may be turned over only when the chief invigilator permits it. Under no circumstances may a candidate commence writing until the chief invigilator permits it. Failure to comply will result in an automatic 5% loss of marking penalty in that subject.



Candidates should read carefully and comply with the instructions printed on each examination paper. They should also devote special attention to any instructions on the answer books; which are the only materials to be used when answering questions except when handouts are included with the examination.


Candidates are required to write clearly their student name, the subject under examination (as printed on the examination paper) and the college at which they are studying, on each answer book. Students are actively discouraged from addressing the subject examiner directly in their answer books.


While an examination is in progress access to the toilet will be by the express permission of an invigilator. In each case the student may be accompanied by an invigilator, or a nominated attendant.


No candidate will be admitted to the examination room more than thirty minutes after the start of the examination. Extra time is not normally allowed.


If after reading the examination paper, a candidate wishes to quit or temporarily leave the examination hall, he or she will not be allowed do so until one hour after the start of the examination. Candidates wishing to temporarily leave the examination hall may not do so unless accompanied by a nominated attendant. In any event, no person may leave the examination room without the invigilator’s permission. To avoid possible disruption, no candidate may leave within the last 15 minutes of the examination.


A candidate must not, under any pretext, speak to or have any communication with any other candidate within the precincts of the examination hall while an examination is in progress. Such communication may be regarded as a breach of the examination regulations. If candidates need to ask questions they should raise their hand and one of the invigilators will attend to them. Spare paper, etc., is to be obtained only from the invigilator.


Cheating is defined as the use or attempted use of unauthorised material, unauthorised collaboration or attempted collaboration, copying or attempted copying. A student who is believed to be cheating or attempting to cheat will be informed immediately that he/she has been suspected of cheating; have name and relevant details taken; answer book marked and be allowed to finish the examination. After confirmation of the candidate’s identity, the answer book and unauthorised materials shall be retained by the invigilator who shall make a written report to the Academy. This report, together with the unauthorised material, the candidate’s identity number and seating plan of the examination hall (where appropriate) shall be forwarded to the Academy for consideration by the relevant authority.


Cheating is a serious offence and where detected will result in disciplinary action. Candidates found in breach of any of the aforementioned regulations or any other regulations of the Academy, governing the conduct of examinations, may be liable to disciplinary action which may include disqualification from the course.


Plagiarism refers to copying the ideas and work of another and representing it as your own. This is unacceptable and is prohibited in all academic institutions. It may result in a fail grade and other disciplinary action.



Invigilators will give time check calls at 30, 15 and 5 minutes prior to the end of the examination.


Students must cease writing when instructed. Failure to do so will result in an automatic 5% loss of marking penalty.


It is the responsibility of each student to ensure that his/her completed examination script contains correct student details, subject title, college and year, and is handed to and recorded by an invigilator.


All rough work, including used and unused paper or answer books, must be handed to the invigilator.


A candidate may not seek the return of an answer script once it has been handed to the invigilator.


In the case of any unforeseen event during an examination, the decision of the chief invigilator is announced, and is final.

3. Residual examinations.


Any student who is prevented for a genuine, certified reason from sitting any examination may also sit it (as a first sitting) at the next scheduled examination. Students who are unable to sit an examination must notify the Academy, in writing, of the reasons for their absence. Illness or injury (confirmed by medical certificate) or death of a close relative is an acceptable reason for absence. This notification must be received by the Academy within a week after the examination.


The Academy uses its discretion in granting permission to sit residual examination(s). Students who fail to sit an examination for an insufficient reason may be allowed to take the next scheduled examination in that subject, but the maximum mark that will be ascribed to them for grading purposes will be 40%. Further repeated sittings are allowed only in exceptional circumstances. Normally, a student will be permitted to attempt no more than three sittings (in total) in any one subject. These further attempts shall be at the next available sitting(s). A student who does not avail of one of these attempts is deemed to have exhausted one such attempt, except where exceptional circumstances prevent the student from attempting the exam e.g. illness, family bereavement.


No student is permitted to sit more than four examinations (or a combination of examinations and projects) at any sitting.


Where courses are structured as two qualifications, students are required to successfully complete the Advanced Certificate element first, before they are allowed to sit examinations for the Diploma element.

4. Submitting assignments/projects


It is expected that all project work will be written in a professional manner (see notes on essay and project submission). Misspellings, faulty punctuation and bad grammar will be penalised. Hand-written projects or assignments will not be accepted.


Genuine reasons for the non-submission or late submission of projects or assignments will be entertained on the same basis as genuine absences from examinations. Details must be notified to the college. The college, in the case of assignments and projects only, will notify the Academy. In the case of examinations, students must notify the Academy directly.



Extensions will not normally be granted.


It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that projects and assignments are submitted before the given deadline.

5. Results


The Academy shall constitute an examination board as required. An examination board shall normally consist of the two extern examiners and the Director of the Academy.


The function of the examination board is to determine what shall be the result and level of performance recorded in respect of each candidate for the ensemble of mandatory tests etc., comprising the examination. This determination shall be made in accordance with the approved marking schemes and the regulations for the course and examination. The existence of any extenuating circumstances which may have had a bearing on a candidate’s results and which have been notified in writing by the candidate to the Academy, may be brought to the attention of the board. Extenuating circumstances of which an examination board member may be aware may also be taken into consideration.


The chairperson of the examination board shall be responsible for the proper regulation of the proceedings of the meeting.


The chairperson of the examination board shall inform the board of any reported instance of infringement of examination regulations by a candidate.


The decisions of the examination board shall normally be formulated by consensus. Where an examination board is divided, the decision shall be by majority decision of those present, entitled to vote and voting.


The results as determined by the examination board are final.


The proceedings and deliberations of examination boards are strictly confidential.

6.Fees & contact addresses


On registration each student member notifies the Academy of his/her postal address, email and telephone contact number. During term, it is the responsibility of the student to give immediate notification in writing of any change of permanent or postal address to the Academy. All correspondence will be sent to the address given on the registration form.


Students notifying the Academy of any issue or circumstance may do so by email, but only from the email address provided on registration.


All fees must be paid in advance. Any student who has failed to complete payment of fees will not be entitled to receive any results, until payment is received in full.



The Academy expects students to attend a minimum 70% of all lectures for each module of the course being undertaken. Attendance will be monitored by each college and unsatisfactory attendance records may disqualify the student from sitting an examination or submitting assignments or projects.



The Academy, at its discretion, allows limited exemptions from some examinations taken in pursuit of a Diploma.



Disciplinary procedures: One or more of the following disciplinary procedures may be invoked by the Director or Examination Board or Examination Appeals Board – whichever is the relevant authority – in dealing with a perceived breach of the foregoing regulations, rules and guidelines:

(a)    Prohibit a student from sitting any examination

(b)   Require a student to attend additional or other lectures or courses or undertake additional academic work

(c)    Suspend a student for such period as is deemed reasonable and appropriate

(d)   Disqualify a student

(e)    Expel a student (subsequent readmission improbable but not inconceivable).

In no case where one or other of the above sanctions is imposed will a refund of course fees be entertained.

The above respectively and singularly shall be referred to as “Disciplinary action”


Before any such action is taken, however, the following procedures shall be followed:

(a) The student will be informed of his / her perceived offence, and the disciplinary action proposed. The student may then make oral or written representation and (if he or she so desires) be accompanied by a person at any interview held for oral representation. The Academy or any authorised person or body duly appointed for such purpose - in the first instance the Examination Board - shall then review the representations and the proposed disciplinary action, and advise the student in writing of its decision. This decision to be given where possible within ten working days after the making of such representation.

(b) Should the student wish to appeal such decision, notice of appeal must be given in writing to the Academy, setting out the reasons for the appeal, within ten working days after receipt of such notice of the decision. The appeal will be considered by a specially convened Disciplinary Board, which shall exclude any person involved in the making of the decision, and to take place as soon as possible. The disciplinary action will not be implemented pending the outcome of the appeal. Should the student wish to support his/her written appeal by appearing in person before the Disciplinary Board – accompanied, if so desired, by a person to support the case being made – this will be acceptable. The final and conclusive decision of the Disciplinary Board will be conveyed in writing to the student if possible, within ten days of the deliberations of that Board.

Each student participating on an Academy Course is a student member of the Academy and must abide by the Rules, Regulations and Guidelines of the Academy.



REVIEW means the reconsideration in detail of all or part of the existing examination material where feasible by the Examination Review Board. A review will automatically include a recheck. A re-check involves the mechanical addition of marks awarded.


The applicant must explain in writing the basis for the Review. Compassionate considerations will be taken into account.


A written request for a Review must be received by the Academy not later than fourteen (14) working days after the date on which the exam results are posted by the Academy. Where the Academy is of the opinion that such is appropriate, the Academy may retrospectively exempt a student from the application of this rule.

This review must be accompanied by the relevant fee, which shall be refunded if the review is successful. Late Reviews will be considered only in exceptional circumstances.


Before a Review procedure is initiated, a detailed submission must be received from the student. The submission must identify the element or elements of the examination in relation to which the Review is being sought. It must also specify the grounds on which the Review is sought and must contain all information which the candidate requires to have taken into account in the Review.


An application for a Review will only be considered if it is based on one or more of the following grounds:

(a)    The examination regulations of the Academy have not been properly implemented.

(b)   Compassionate circumstances exist which relate to the candidate’s examination situation.

(c)    Circumstances exist which may not have been specifically communicated at the times.

Reviews on grounds of simple dissatisfaction with the particular mark obtained will not be entertained.


Examination Reviews lodged with the Academy shall be referred promptly to the Examination Review Board.


The Examination Review Board shall consist of the Director of the Academy (or her nominee); and two of the following - internal examiners, subject examiners or other nominees of the Academy with examining experience which is not connected with the specific course under Review.


The function of the Examination Review Board is to adjudicate on a Review against the examination results of the Examination Board, having regard to one or more of the specific grounds of Review as set out above.


The decisions of the Examination Review Board in respect of Review shall normally be formulated by consensus. Where the Board is divided, the outcome shall be decided by a majority decision. In the event of an equality of votes the chairperson of the Board will exercise the casting vote.


The Examination Review Board shall meet as necessary and shall hear the Review presented to it for that occasion and make determination thereon. All necessary information shall be processed through the Academy and presented in writing to the Board for each hearing.

While the Examination Review Board may at its discretion consult other parties the only parties to a Review are the Academy and the appellant concerned. The Examination Review Board shall consider all proffered evidence relevant to the Review.

No change can be made retrospectively in examination regulations for the particular examination involved in the Review.


The decision of the Examination Review Board shall be final. The student shall be notified in writing as soon as possible after the Review Board meeting. In the event that the Review is successful then the Examination Review Board shall make a recommendation which shall be binding on the Academy.

(Material in this section is based on the regulations published by the Public Relations Institute of Ireland 2003)