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Stop that cheat! Why successful qualifications need both confidence and technology

Confidence is key to exam programmes. Management of risk and protecting the public from

unlicensed or imperfectly trained learners is critical for employers, awarding organisations, regulators and other stakeholders. Once the public loses confidence in an exam, its currency is worthless.

What are the challenges? Faced with the task of delivering a one-shot licensure exam that is only renewed after a period of years (or worse, not at all), there is often little incentive for the exam board to know anything about these learners (apart from where the exam fee is coming from).

The BBC report on the security industry shines a light once again on weak practice, imperfect governance and the shrugged-shoulders attitude towards malpractice within many licensure exam programmes. Few exam boards and awarding organisations quantify the risks attached to the trainer acting as an invigilator, multiple rapid re-testing of learners to achieve an exam pass, or having singular versions of live exam papers to attain a qualification/ achieve licensure.

Where does the problem originate? While different cultures actively encourage the tutor/ educator to ‘coach’ the learners to pass the test (often involving multiple tests taken, often on the same day to ensure a pass), UK culture is often directed by what happens in the school exam hall. For General Qualifications (GCSEs, A Levels, Highers, Nationals), the school’s own teachers are supplemented with outside contractors.

How does this affect licensure? For licensure, the spectrum is extremely wide: a whole industry has emerged of neutral venues and professional invigilators for programmes that can provide sufficient candidate volume spread through the year.

This quasi-industrial process operates with yield management similar to an airline – a test seat with a desk/ computer terminal is available for a set time-period. However, other programmes without the volume (or more pertinently, the test fee/ revenue to pay for the service) make do with the testing being performed where the training takes place.

In many specialist sectors, this is not only desirable (e.g. exams being performed with technical equipment) but also unavoidable if there is pressure for the learner to be declared ‘licensed to work’ as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the risks of collusion, malpractice and plain cheating are real – a false exam

result means an unlicensed, renegade practitioner in the field who has broken the trust and

confidence of the programme. What if you knew that the electrician visiting your home had to take the same licensure test seven times in one day to achieve a pass? Public confidence in services such as the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) should be replicated for licensure programmes.

How does assessment technology help? Proven technology exists today that ensures:

  • the integrity of the exam session

  • learners are protected

  • opportunities for malpractice are limited and mitigated efficiently

Pre-screening with formative tests and identity data can ensure that the right candidate turns up on the right day for the test. Writing sufficient numbers of items with structured sections means that each candidate can receive a different ‘paper’, but which is equivalent to the qualification or licensure.

No more ‘looking at the person next to you’ for the answers, especially if the randomised test is delivered on-screen. Also, greater training and professionalization of the invigilator/ exam officer role would help recognition of how important professional exams are in keeping us all safe, and protecting the learners.


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