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Time for a re-think

  • 13/11/2001
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The examination process needs a thorough overhaul in order to meet the requirements of the busy and professional candidate

Over the past few issues of Mortgage Solutions, we have discussed the issue of testing and the relative fairness, validity and reliability of different methodologies. But what about the way in which examinations are run?

Most large scale tests (whether of the nature which we have become used to in the financial services world, GCSEs, or indeed university examinations), are administered in the same way today as they were 20, 30 or even 40 years ago.

The examinations are still, in the main, run for large groups, in single sittings on a few dates per year. They make little use of new technology and are based on a psychological model that probably owes more to the behaviour patterns of the first half of the last century than to the cognitive science of today.

It is understandable that schools and universities have to arrange things around the academic year. However, we should question whether it is strictly necessary for professional examinations to be organised in a way which so transparently suits the needs of the examining bodies, at the expense of the candidates.

In this day and age, when those sitting exams are holding down jobs and studying for professional examinations, surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility that the speed with which they decide to study, the time at which they choose to be examined and the timing with which they are given the result, should be determined by the candidate.

Thinking the unthinkable

Imagine if you can, how the transport industry would look today if no one had looked beyond improving horse-drawn vehicles. Similarly with testing, those bodies who are charged with running examinations need to look beyond the improvement of what they are doing now and perhaps begin to think the unthinkable.

Already, in the US some examination candidates can expect a different experience to that which is available in the UK. The advent of computer-adaptive models means that a computer can select questions based in part on previous answers and tailor the test to individual skill levels.

At your convenience

It is the norm for examining bodies to adopt the methodologies available from the Institute of Financial Services (ifs) through Prometric test centres in the UK, where individuals register by phone or email, pay by credit card, test by appointment in relatively small, comfortable centres and receive scores before they leave.

Test candidates should expect the same standards from exam bodies as they do from other service providers, such as:

• Products which do what they are sup-posed to.

• Are competitively priced.

• Are available when the candidates want them.

• Can provide immediate feedback and good all round customer service.

In the next 10 years or so, the volumes of examinations administered in this way will increase dramatically. The driving theory test and some of the examinations taken by the Construction Industry Training Board are already there.

The demand for performance and accountability is spreading to all parts of the financial services world and in turn, the rigour with which tests are run in order to determine the competence of those operating within the industry, is increasing both in terms of standards and scope.

Grasping opportunities

As candidates realise that the testing environment to which they are subjected only exists because the testing organisations have not sufficiently grasped the opportunities available to them through the advances in technology, they will begin to put more and more pressure on for change.

The basic infrastructure, whether via the internet, or through test centres, such as the Prometric ones used by the ifs, is now in place.

This technology should be embraced and the paradigm which has been our accepted testing methodology for too long needs to be thoroughly overhauled to improve productivity, enhance customer service and accommodate diversity.

Peter Bennett is managing director of Questionbank Management

• For more information about the ifs and the qualifications offered, please call the Customer and Student Services department on 01227 818 609, or email quoting reference number: SS026R.


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