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Eat, Sleep, Revise – Studying and Taking Patent Exams in Lockdown

By Beth Brown, Marketing Executive

The patent attorney qualification exams are notoriously difficult, but this time candidates were presented with even more of a challenge due to the ongoing pandemic.

This year the exams were run a little differently due to COVID and, like most things at the moment, those sitting them faced a lot of uncertainty about how exactly they would work and what they would need to do. Erin O’Connor, who sat the foundations exams, comments “Initially, it was uncertain whether the exams would go ahead, especially given the cancellation of the EQE’s at the start of lockdown.”

Once it was confirmed that the exams would go ahead, new concerns started to plague those preparing to sit them. An issue that is affecting many of us while working from home is slow and/or unreliable internet. This caused concern for the exam sitters as this year’s exams took place online and invigilation was over Zoom. Having never tried this online format before, no one was sure quite how, or if, this was going to work. People were worried about what might happen if issues arose such as your internet cutting out when uploading your answer, resulting in a late submission. It was highly stressful.

Monique Henson, now a qualified UK patent attorney following the results publication, explains how the exams ran in this new format; “First you logged into Zoom to join the invigilation room. Once the exam began you could download the exam paper and answer sheet, you then had to do the exam on your laptop whilst on the Zoom call. Finally, when finished you had to upload the answer document to the designated website.”

It’s normal for people sitting any exam to go into ‘exam hibernation’ where they disappear into a world of study and exam sitting, only emerging when they have finally taken that last exam. At HLK, we had some trainees sitting the UK Foundation exams, which are 5 exams taking place over 4 days. Other trainees sat the UK Finals, which are 4 exams taking place over 4 days. This meant that exam takers not only had the COVID lockdown to contend with but were further isolated due to the large amount of time they had to spend taking exams in such a short timeframe. To add to the lockdown and exam fatigue, this year’s exams were longer so that sitters had time to print the question papers and take breaks. This was necessary (and helpful as Monique comments) but meant that the days were very long; one exam was a massive 5h45 minutes!

Prior to the exam, revision was also affected by the pandemic. Monique comments that revision felt much more isolating than usual.  Normally, trainees see each other in the office and are able to discuss how revision is going, share worries and generally confer about exam preparation life. This time there was none of that. This meant that many of their worries and stresses were kept bottled up, with trainees commenting that they didn’t want to share these thoughts with each other as they usually would in case this caused their peers any additional stress. The pandemic also meant the usual activities used to wind down from studying and take a break were mostly off the cards. As such, breaks from revision didn’t really feel like breaks at all and the monotony of working, revising, sleeping and eating set in. For those in shared accommodation it meant spending the majority of their time in their bedroom, whether they were working, revising or sleeping.

It all sounds like a bit of nightmare, doesn’t it! Looking back now that the exams are over Erin says “I am incredibly relieved that the exams managed to go ahead and, despite the additional stress and uncertainty, I was lucky that my exam week passed relatively smoothly with few technical glitches (although I do know of others that were less fortunate).  I would happily sit future exams online but think more clarity on format, equipment and the procedure for technical issues would be helpful further in advance of exam week.”

14 of HLK’s colleagues faced exams in these particularly trying times, achieving 27 passes for the UK foundation exams and 14 passes for the UK finals between them. We were also pleased to see two colleagues emerging from the exams as UK patent attorneys. Massive congratulations go to our colleague Monique Henson who achieved the Michael Jones prize for attaining the top mark in the FD3 (amendment) exam, and the Gill prize for the highest aggregate score in the UK finals. A huge well done to them all!

Haseltine Lake Kempner would like to congratulate everyone who sat attorney qualification exams in these particularly difficult circumstances, just getting through them is an enormous achievement!