What is high-stakes testing? Why are there rules and processes for administering high-stakes exams? What are the key considerations when administering these exams in test centres across multiple locations?
These are all excellent questions that need clear answers for credentialing organizations, regulators, proctors, and candidates. It is especially important that exam administration information and security protocols are readily available to all candidates taking any credentialing examination.
When we refer to a high-stakes exam, it means that the exam outcome will confirm that the established standard of competence for practice has been met. By passing their credentialing exam, candidates have demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for practice in a determined field. At Yardstick Assessment Strategies (YAS), we specialize in delivering these types of exams for future nurses, psychotherapists, dietitians, certified financial planners, engineers, and many more professions.
The vast majority of exams administered though YAS are delivered by computer, in geographically dispersed test centres, often hosting candidates in many locations for the same exam administration. We use strictly defined processes and procedures to ensure secure and standardized exam administration, and to protect exam integrity. Set either by the credentialing organization or YAS’s own policies (fully aligned with National College Testing Association standards), these processes confirm candidate identity, prevent cheating, and protect exam content.
Detailed policies and procedures for exam administration are essential to guarantee consistency and security. It’s also critical that everyone involved in the exam, from internal stakeholders such as testing organization personnel, proctors, and the credentialing organization, to the exam candidates themselves, receive documentation outlining these policies.
Proctors are responsible for running the exam delivery session. Proctoring tasks include (but are not limited to):
Proctors ensure that all candidates are tested fairly, and that the exam environment is adequate.
Considering the important role of proctors, it is imperative that they are properly selected and trained for each exam they supervise. To guarantee a standardized exam experience, every proctor gets the same training manual and proctor guide specific to the examination being delivered, and is expected to follow the same best practices for exam administration.
As part of their responsibilities, proctors supervising a high-stakes exam will undertake a strict identification process and inspection for accessing the exam room, to confirm candidates’ identity and verify that no unauthorized material is brought in.
Common requirements related to the candidate admission to the exam room include:
Although this is necessary to protect the integrity of the exam process and content, it’s also incredibly important that candidates are told the identification requirements, authorized material, and restrictions on clothing and personal items well ahead of time. This way, they can prepare in advance, pick appropriate clothing, and, if necessary, request special accommodations.
When it comes to religious headwear and other special accommodations, specific requirements for notification and approval vary by credentialing organizations. Some credentialing organizations will specify that religious headwear must be communicated and documented prior to the exam day, while other organizations will not specify that advance notification is required. Regardless, proctors are trained and expected to deliver fair and secure access to the exam room to all candidates. Consequently, clothing or headwear may be inspected (e.g., rolling sleeves, turning pockets, inspection of hood) following pre-established protocols (e.g., not touching the candidate). In such instance, YAS’s policy for the testing centres we partner with indicates that such inspection should be done in a considerate, respectful, and fair manner. Furthermore, they must explain the reason for the inspection, and provide privacy and other accommodations as applicable.
At YAS, we build trusting relationships with our test centre network. We ensure proctors are trained and get the required documentation prior to each administration, and our own in-house exam administration team is available to answer questions before, as we as on exam delivery day. We check in with each testing centre after delivery to determine if there were issues and confirm all security protocols were followed correctly.
If there is ever a discrepancy between the official processes and procedures and the actual exam administration, whether noted by our own administration team or reported by a candidate, we investigate every incident to determine exactly what happened, who was involved or affected, and whether it affected the integrity of the exam. Only then do we determine next steps, which may include reviewing our training materials or assisting a testing centre with updating their own processes and training.
There are many factors to consider and policies to adhere to when delivering a high-stakes credentialing examination and YAS, through its network of test centres, is committed to ensuring standardized, secure, and fair delivery of all examinations.