Originally published in Certification Magazine 11/2000.
Test takers have rights. Test takers have responsibilities, too. These points are made very clear in a pamphlet from the Joint Committee on Testing Practices. (JCTP is a coalition of several national associations interested in improving testing practices). The pamphlet outlines 10 rights and 10 responsibilities of test-takers. Anyone involved with producing, delivering, or taking tests should obtain a complete copy of the pamphlet, as this article's purpose is to discuss just a few of those points in regards to certification exams.
The Rights of Test Takers
There are a couple are particularly important test-taker rights I want to discuss:
Be Tested with Measures That Meet Professional Standards
The third point in the JCTP pamphlet on the rights and responsibilities of test takers states, "As a test-taker, you have the right to be tested with measures that meet professional standards and that are appropriate, given the manner in which the test results will be used."
This means that test-takers have a right to pay for and take a well-built test where the results are used properly. The “professional standards” referred to in point three of the pamphlet can be found in several easy-to-access publications and textbooks (like this one) or provided by test-development consulting services (like these).
Present Concerns About the Testing Process or Results
The tenth point in the pamphlet states that "As a test-taker, you have the right to present concerns about the testing process or your results and receive information about procedures that will be used to address such concerns."
In order to accommodate this right, certifying organizations must establish a method for handling test concerns. They must also inform certification candidates about that method.
I know what you’re thinking. Test publishers would probably rather spend limited resources creating a “well-built test” than provide to certification candidates an easy way to complain. Understandable, but a responsible certification program must provide an easy way to address these concerns.
Despite the most careful efforts, errors occur in tests and during the delivery of tests. Test takers notice these mistakes, and if they feel their score can be adversely affected, they should be able to report it and find out what can be done. Policies and procedures for dealing with these issues are easy to draft and publish to candidates (who will appreciate the customer-oriented professionalism and see added value in their certification). Addressing examinee concerns is not as difficult as it might first appear. I’ve personally dealt with hundreds of test complaints and learned that test-takers accept reasonable solutions and answers.
The Responsibilities of Test Takers
There are a couple are particularly important test-taker responsibilities from the JCTP pamphlet I want to discuss as well:
Follow Test Instructions and Represent Yourself Honestly
The sixth point in the pamphlet states that "As a test-taker, you have the responsibility to follow the test instructions you are given and represent yourself honestly during the testing."
Personally, I may have split this one into two separate responsibilities: 1) follow the test instructions and 2) represent yourself honestly. To the first point, many mistakes are made by candidates during exams that result in lower scores. Often, this occurs because some test-takers do not follow instructions or do not understand how the questions are presented and how the test is scored. Test-takers should make a greater effort to understand the format of the test beforehand, to practice with similar question types, and to comprehend how the scoring and pass/fail decisions are made. This information, and perhaps even the practice tests, should be readily available on an organization’s website.
The second half of this point deals with the candidate’s honesty before, during, and after a test. In particular, test-takers must not cheat during a test or share information about the test with colleagues or friends. Examinees must understand that such behavior weakens the certification program and reduces the value of their own credential.
As you can see, JCTP's guidelines and expectations for the Rights and Responsibilities of Test Takers contains valuable information for all organizations and individuals that participate in the testing process. It has no copyright, and JCTP encourages wide dissemination. Therefore, test publishers and delivery providers can freely reprint these rights and responsibilities to their examinees (e.g., with their test security communication strategies, through handouts, in pre-testing information packets, or through other communication methods) to ensure every test taker is aware of them.
Because these rights and responsibilities also speak to requirements of the test publisher and test-delivery provider, they should also be communicated to testing and credentialing organizations. If the rights of the test-takers are constantly being considered, testing practices will improve. If test-takers will behave responsibly to tests that are being produced to industry professional standards, then they and the testing organizations will benefit together.