Code of Conduct for Examination Board Members


Appointment to an examination board of the Royal College carries significant responsibilities. Correct examiner conduct prior to, during and subsequent to the examination is essential to the integrity of the process. Because the majority of board members also have direct involvement in the education of residency trainees, there are opportunities for real or perceived conflicts of interest to occur.

Given the great importance of the Royal College Examination to any candidate’s career and employment, it is imperative that the fairness and integrity of the Examination process be beyond reproach. Frequently, special reviews (appeals) of the examination process occur as a result of real or perceived inequities in the preparation or treatment of candidates. Such reviews are stressful and time consuming for all involved.

The Code of Conduct for Examination Board Members has been written as a reminder to the board members about key aspects of examiner conduct. Circumstances in which an examination board member may encounter a conflict of interest are identified, accompanied by relevant Royal College policy.

The Code of Conduct is broken down into two main categories addressing the training and preparation of candidates in Part I, and the preparation and conduct of the examination in Part II.

  1. Training And Preparation of Candidates

    It is expected and accepted that the majority of examination board members will be directly involved in the training of residents in their respective specialty. The potential for real or perceived conflict of interest is significant.

    While many examination boards maintain regional representation, not all candidates have access to this local expertise. It is important that board members do not unfairly advantage local candidates with information regarding the format or content of the examination not readily available or known to all candidates. The College provides all prospective candidates with a standardized information package, approved by each examination board chair, detailing the examination process. This describes the general examination format, numbers or types of questions and the general breadth of knowledge examined. Such information is also available on the Royal College web site and in candidates’ examination handbooks. Board members should ensure their own familiarity with this information.

    1. Clinical or didactic teaching

      It is expected that, during their tenure, examination board members will be involved in resident teaching within their own faculty while also serving as examination board members. Inevitably, teaching opportunities will arise which involve subject matter known by a board member to involve current or banked examination material. In these circumstances it is inappropriate to either unduly emphasize or deemphasize that material. It is particularly important that the individual board member make no comment, explicit or otherwise, which might be construed by trainees to reflect the importance of such material to the examination.

      Frequently, trainees may question the relative importance or required level of knowledge of a particular subject with respect to the Royal College examinations. Board members must only address such issues in the context of importance for the practice of the specialty, not with respect to examination preparation. Otherwise, such queries must be referred to a colleague not directly involved in the examination.

    2. Preparation of candidates for the examination using practice examinations

      Current examination board members should not ordinarily participate in the design or administration of practice examinations (written or oral) for the specific purpose of candidate preparation.

      It is always preferable that examiners not participate in the preparation of candidates for the examinations. In the case of very small training programs, it is conceivable that insufficient preceptors may be present locally to administer practice examinations to their candidates. In such circumstances, it may be considered appropriate for a board member to take part; however the board member must not participate, in any way, in the writing, development or selection of practice questions / scenarios. In these situations all of the examination material must be provided by a colleague who is not an examiner. This practice would reduce the real or perceived advantage of having an examiner participating in examination training. Participation of this nature must only occur once specific written approval has been obtained from the Associate Director of Assessment of the Royal College. The request for approval must specify a declaration of potential conflict of interest as well as a justification.

      *Examiners must refrain from participation in these activities for a minimum of two years after leaving the board.

    3. Preparatory courses directed to the examination process

      Preparatory programs designed to enhance candidate preparedness for Royal College Examinations are becoming more common. Frequently, these programs are not accessible to all candidates preparing for a specific examination and may be construed as providing unfair advantage to attendees. Regardless of the sponsoring agency and presence / absence of a profit motive, participation in such a program represents a clear conflict of interest with membership on an examination board.

      Examination board members must not participate in the preparation or presentation of course material for any program conducted for the purpose of candidate preparation for the College Examination. In circumstances where the goal of such a program is less clearly stated, the board member must, at a minimum, resolve the potential conflict of interest in discussion with the Director of Education.

  2. Preparation and Conduct of Examinations

    1. Preparation of examination materials

      Examination board members must respect and guard the confidentiality of proposed, known or banked examination content. Although this is self evident with respect to examination candidates, discussion of materials with colleagues not appointed to the examination board must also be avoided.

      Examination board members are expected to practice with due diligence when developing examination materials and ensure that these are current, accurate and of the highest possible quality. Examination board members who have completed their tenure must also respect the confidentiality of the examination materials and process.

    2. Competing interest

      Potential competing interest between candidates and examiners must be avoided wherever possible. These competing interests may be considered to have varying degrees of significance and must always be considered in the context of examination format and the resources of the examination board. Competing interest may include but are not limited to:

      • Direct involvement in the training of a candidate
      • Contact with a candidate during a previous examination
      • Knowledge of a candidate’s performance on previous examinations
      • Previous professional or social interaction with a candidate

      The Royal College strives to eliminate any such competing interest whenever possible but it is the responsibility of the examination board member to identify real or potential competing interest with respect to candidates. It is the responsibility of the board member to communicate these concerns to the board chair as soon as they are recognized. The board chair is responsible for considering the nature and significance of the competing interest and determining what if any action is appropriate and may consult the Director of Education if needed.

    3. Treatment of candidates during the examination

      Examination board members must ensure that candidates are treated in a fair and equitable manner at all stages of the examination process. This includes all aspect of conduct such as the explanation of examination processes, administration of questions and the assignment of marks.

      During direct interactions such as oral examinations or OSCE scenarios, discussion or comments should be restricted to those predetermined and standardized for the examination.

      Examiners must maintain a respectful and professional attitude towards all candidates. All candidates must be treated in the same manner regardless of gender, racial origin, nationality, residency program or location / type of specialty practice. It is considered particularly inappropriate to discuss candidate performance, performance on prior examinations, location / type of training or intended future training/employment. All personal interactions between examiners and candidates should be avoided during the examination process.

      Examination board members are directed to read specific Royal College policies and procedures related to examination administration and candidate/examiner interactions.

    4. Deliberations of the examination board

      Detailed information regarding the appropriate processes to be followed during examination board deliberations are made available to all board members by the College at the time of their appointment and are reinforced annually. Examination board members are responsible for understanding and following these directives. Specifically:

      • The deliberations of the board will be conducted by candidate number and NOT BY NAME to protect confidentiality and eliminate any perceived or real bias. If FITERs are read every effort should be made to ensure that no identifying characteristics are revealed.
      • Examination board members must refrain from the board discussion of any candidates with whom they have an identified conflict of interest as outlined in II B.
      • The deliberations and actions of the board are considered confidential and must not be discussed outside the confines of the board. Results of board deliberations that are to be made public or otherwise disseminated will be released only at the discretion of the Royal College. Discussion of general or specific candidate performance (of either a positive or negative nature) must not take place outside the context of the board’s deliberations. Discussion or dissemination of examination content, psychometrics or answer keys must not occur outside the context of the board’s deliberations.
      • The board Chair is responsible for providing the feedback reports of unsuccessful candidates only to the College. The Chair’s report on examinations may include general comments regarding the overall performance of candidates for program directors. All information to candidates or program directors will be disseminated by the Royal College.
      • It is considered highly inappropriate for board members to provide any specific or general information / feedback (either positive or negative) regarding the performance of an individual candidate either to the candidate personally, to the candidate’s training program or to any third party during or after the examination period.
    5. Disclosure of Pass Rate Information

      When the exam results are finalized, the chair and vice chair of the exam board in consultation with a responsible member of the College staff, will determine what information about pass rates will be made available to the board members, taking into consideration the likelihood that any particular candidate's status will be revealed based on the pattern of pass/failures on the exam as well as the number of candidates that were tested. Depending on the circumstances, and consistent with the need to protect the candidates’ confidentiality, the chair may decide to reveal all of the information available on pass rates with a breakdown by category or only limited information such as the overall pass rates.

      Examination board members are expected to maintain the confidentiality of information related to pass rates divulged at an examination (Overall pass rate information is posted on the Royal College web site, based on a three year average).

Revised April 2013
Approved by the Assessment Committee – April 2013