Recommendations and Requirements for Candidates

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The main purpose of a certification exam is to verify a certain level of comprehension in a given subject on the part of the test-taker. As such, it is important to notify potential certification candidates what is expected of them in terms of the experience and expertise prior to their participation in order to prevent them from wasting their time, energy and resources – or yours – by belly-flopping on the credential you’re offering. One of the best ways ensure these certification hopefuls have a positive, meaningful credentialing experience is by providing a clear set of prerequisites or recommendations they have to meet before taking the exam.


“When you take a certification exam, and you really don’t meet the prerequisites, you’re not going to pass it. If you do meet the prerequisites, you’re likely to pass it,” said Jonathan Thatcher, director of certification business integration at CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association. CompTIA offers some of the most reputable and popular credentials in the information technology field, including A+, Network+ and Security+.


CompTIA has no explicit requirements for its prospective certification candidates, but does offer them guidelines as to what levels of experience and knowledge are considered necessary to pass the exam. “They could be as simple as a couple hundred hours of practical experience on a computer, or they could be much more specific, depending on the certification,” said Neill Hopkins, CompTIA’s vice president of skills development. He added that these recommendations were devised by subject-matter experts supplied by CompTIA’s “cornerstone members,” which include Microsoft, Cisco, IBM and other IT firms and organizations. These same advisory groups developed the certification learning materials and exam content as well.


“While CompTIA doesn’t have formal prerequisites that are mandated, the prerequisites are there nonetheless,” Thatcher said. “Our prerequisites, per se, are soft ones. Usually, it’s about experience, and that’s to ensure likelihood of success on the exam. If you meet these qualifications, prerequisites or recommendations, you’re meeting the target of the exam. The prerequisites listed are very much a part of the psychometric process, and formal review and measurement processes, that are a part of all CompTIA exams—the questions, answers, scoring and all of that.”


“It’s a pretty thorough process because we have to be legally defensible,” Hopkins added.


Although CompTIA credentials do not have explicit prerequisites as such, because of its status as a trade association existing for the benefit of its members, the organization’s certifications often are listed as prerequisites to other vendor-specific IT certifications, Hopkins and Thatcher said. “We are basically reacting to what our members really need,” Hopkins said.


The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), a credentialing body affiliated with – but independent of – the Emergency Nurses Association, offers the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) certification, which verifies basic knowledge of national standards of care and emergency nursing. The organization also administers the Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN), which tests knowledge of national standards for emergency nursing care and flight nursing (rotor- or fixed-wing). Each of these certifications has requirements and recommendations, said Tancy Stanbery, BCEN certification officer.


“The only required prerequisite for each certification is that the candidate must have an unrestricted license or nursing certificate that is equivalent to a registered nurse in the United States or its territories,” she said, and added that BCEN did not require participants to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. “Our exams are based on U.S. standards and practices, and they’re only available in English. We basically ask for them to have an RN. If they’re international nurses, then we want something that’s equivalent to an RN.”


Stanbery also said that BCEN suggests candidates have a couple of years of related experience behind them before undertaking either credential. “We recommend at least two years of experience in emergency nursing or flight nursing, depending on which credential they’re pursuing,” she said. “We believe it takes about one year for emergency nurses to become competent in the emergency room, and then another year to refine their skills in the tasks that they perform. We’ve held pretty steadfast to the two-year (recommendation), but we certainly don’t police that.”


“We’re finding that this is even more important now with more and more new nurses coming into the emergency department,” Stanbery said of candidates’ experience level. “It used to be part of a kind of career ladder, where nurses progressed to after spending so many years as a floor nurse or a staff nurse. But now it seems that because of the shortage of nurses, a lot of the emergency departments are getting nurses right out of nursing school.”


To accommodate the knowledge and skill levels of the incoming certification candidates, BCEN frequently selects exam developers with similar backgrounds. “We ensure that our exam construction review committee members are made up of various levels of expertise,” Stanbery said. “We want some of the newer nurses with two to fours years of experience. Of course, they have to have the CEN or CFRN. When you’re writing these test questions and deciding the test specifications, you really want to target those content outlines and those test specifications at an emergency nurse with about two years of experience. We have some exam construction review committee members that have 15 years of experience in emergency nursing, but sometimes we have to rein them in and ensure that our content areas are at (the level of) two years of experience in emergency nursing.”


Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Certification Magazine. He can be reached at

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