Offering Practice Tests Helps Candidates Pass
While the main focus for certification and credentialing program managers is generally on the exams and the program requirements, they still must turn an occasional eye toward test preparation to ensure their candidates know how to get ready to pass the exams. By working with practice test vendors, or by finding software and developing practice tests in-house, certification programs provide an excellent means for candidates to test their knowledge on a dry run before attempting the real thing.
Tests like the bar exam or the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam are universally known for being tough to pass the first time out. Test prep materials and classes also are very expensive and time-consuming. “The initial pass rate for the CPA exam is very, very low, like 14 percent. So 85 percent fail the first time they try it. These young, budding CPAs need all the edge they can get to get through it,” said Henrik Sandell, chief operating officer, Acadient. “I would say anything that helps people reduce the total time taken to get through the hurdle of passing the exam is beneficial. If you have to take the exam a second time, you have to go through a lot of the work to get ready for it all over again, and if you can get that extra edge, 10 percent or whatever it is that gets you over the hurdle, then that helps a lot.”
Practice tests can help certification candidates focus on the areas where their study needs are greatest because they tell them exactly where their weak spots are and allow them to concentrate study to bring that area up to par, said Sandell. “We try to build confidence or what we call real confidence, which is a combination of being familiar with the exam, the type of questions being used on the exam and then providing content and tips about each specific question itself,” said Ben Carcio, general manager of Boston Institute of Finance. “Part of the purpose of our application is to drill diagnostic testing so people can expose their weaknesses.”
Acadient has a customized exam builder that delivers questions through an easy-to-use Web-based application people can subscribe to for however long they need it. Content is not taken from offline materials and put online. It is specially created by experts and includes audio and PowerPoint slides to act as a complement to books and classroom training or as a standalone front-line product. The practice tests are launched from an engine that can pull in many different types of data and convey it back to users to help them identify their weak points. The data is then rolled up to an aggregate so users can gauge themselves against others as well as shift the focus of the practice exam based on topic.
“Every time a person takes a practice examination, they’re inserting things like whether they got the answer right or wrong and the time it took them to do it. All that gets rolled up into our database,” Carcio said. “Each question is tagged by topic. It can be tagged by difficulty level so we can start to do diagnostics on user activities and convey that information. If there’s 10 topics and someone’s taking a practice test with a sampling of those topics you can actually see the areas in which you’re weak, and you can compare those against the aggregate or the percentile rank of everyone else.”
Currently, Acadient only produces practice tests for the financial services and securities licensing industries, but it plans to launch into other industries such as SAT testing. “It’s a platform that can be used in any market,” Carcio said. “We’re really just a formula. Although each exam is slightly different, the approach to building real confidence is similar, especially online. So with some alteration we could move it into any type of standardized testing industry.”