The promotion of computer-based certification programs can drive test volume for the associations market, and this article covers the benefits of computer-based tests (CBT) as a mechanism for delivering certification exams to both members and non-members. As a part of Prometric's yearlong examination of certification testing strategies we look at the role of performance-based testing (measuring the ability to demonstrate specific skills and/or to perform a series of assigned tasks) in the CBT model.

Using testing to assess skills and aptitudes is not a new concept. Job performance exams almost always measure practical skills and abilities, and it's not uncommon for HR departments to rely upon pre-employment testing as a way to screen job applicants for employment and placement. Several emerging market trends, however, are casting light on the need to incorporate performance based elements into existing exams:

  • In an increasingly competitive global job market, where jobs are outsourced, often across boundaries, professionals sometimes misrepresent themselves on resumes and in job interviews, falsifying or exaggerating their skills and abilities to gain a competitive edge.
  • The high degree of variability that exists in the quality of our education system exposes shortcomings and vulnerabilities for certifying bodies and the general public. Associations, which often serve as a link between the worlds of training and assessment, shoulder a lot of responsibility.

Facing these issues, it's little wonder that associations acting as certification test sponsors seek guidance in their exam content, especially with computerized models. Associations and any other credentialing body issuing certifications need the consistency, security and automation of a CBT model to increase exam reach, defensibility and integrity. And while utilizing only knowledge based exam elements is certainly an effective way to measure skill, performance based test components might yield a truer measure of ability.

When implementing a performance-based assessment via CBT, associations need to keep in mind:

  • Price – In terms of both development and technical cost, performance-based items are far more expensive than their knowledge-based counterparts.
  • Efficiency – While a single multiple-choice item might contribute to several test objectives, performance-based activities are typically much more narrowly defined, leading to inefficiencies from an item bank perspective.
  • Integrity – Performance-based items tend to be more memorable than traditional item types – raising item exposure and performance drift concerns and decreasing the integrity of the exam.

Do these concerns mean that performance-based testing is impractical? Not at all.

The answer lies in taking a holistic view of the assessment's goals. In other words, find a middle ground. The solution for many associations is hybrid testing, leveraging performance-based scenarios, innovative technologies and traditional objective test content to provide a comprehensive gauge of a candidate's true knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). Not only does this approach preserve and prolong an association's existing item bank investment, it also substantially reduces the cost and effort associated with performance measurement by not requiring the association to redevelop an entire item bank.

Performance-based testing is not solely the responsibility of the employer. The addition of skills assessment into an association's existing computer based testing model can be a welcome addition to any certification/credentialing program, as long as an even balance in content is kept to ensure cost efficiencies, exam integrity and consistency.


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