In July 2022 IP Inclusive responded to the European Patent Office (EPO) consultation on a proposed new European Qualifying Examination (EQE) framework: see here. The response period was subsequently extended and in late August the mental wellbeing charity Jonathan’s Voice submitted its own response relating specifically to the impact of the proposals on candidates’ mental health.
Jonathan’s Voice works closely with the patent profession, including its trainees, and as such is well placed to speak about how the EQEs can affect early-career patent attorneys.
The response is reproduced below. Like ours, it was copied to both the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) and the Institute of Professional Representatives before the European Patent Office (epi).
Background information about the proposal and consultation can be found here.
Jonathan’s Voice response to EQE exams proposal 30 August 2022
Impact on mental health
- Candidates with pre-existing diagnosed mental health conditions: similar recommendations will apply here as for any other disability. Being able to do the paper online in the candidate’s own space will suit many who have conditions such as an anxiety disorder. Clear information about how and where to apply for reasonable adjustments needs to be readily available.
- The impact of exams on candidates’ mental health in general: although some people thrive on exams, on the whole they are stressful for many. Professional exams particularly so, as candidates will be continuing with their demanding everyday work alongside preparing for these important exams and for many, at this stage in their lives, managing other relationships including having young children. The stakes are very high which can exacerbate the pressure.
- Juggling revision and preparation time with other work and family demands can be exhausting, especially over a period of time and lead to prolonged stress with its potential impact on both mental and physical health.
- The exam itself and the immediate lead up to it can generate a lot of anxiety, especially as it can feel like this is the only opportunity the candidate has to demonstrate an especially complex sets of skills, knowledge and competencies. This anxiety in itself can lead some people to under-perform and not do themselves justice. Failure can be demoralising (and expensive) leading to a further build-up of elements that can lead to mental ill-health, including anxiety and depression.
- Change, transition and uncertainly can exacerbate this anxiety and stress.
- Exams are always stressful but for now we have no other assessment tool. I feel that the way this system has been arranged and explained seems as fair, logical and as empowering as possible.
- Clarity about timings would help alleviate uncertainty about when and how these changes will take place. Uncertainty can often generate or exacerbate anxiety, especially around change.
- Are MCQs etc the best and fairest way to test someone’s knowledge? Especially, in areas where there is complexity and nuance. However, they can be advantageous for people who don’t like writing text so a balanced approach is helpful.
- As so much depends on being on top form on the day, a suggestion would be to include information about the importance of pacing yourself during revision, tips around managing the IT on the day and grounding, calming or relaxation techniques that can be done beforehand. This will formally acknowledge that it is a challenging process for many and give candidates some tools to help perform at their best.
- If the exams occur during particular religious festivals, this can disadvantage some students who are fasting, causing additional pressure.