Frequently Asked Questions About Licensing Exams

 Licensure and academic exams

CLEAR Exam Review (Summer 1996)
Norman Hertz

Question: In what ways do licensing examinations differ from academic (achievement) and employment examinations?

Answer: First, examinations are designed with regard to their purpose. Licensing examinations are designed to assess candidates' competence after they have completed their education or training and obtained experience. Furthermore, licensing examinations should be designed to assess higher level skills; that is, examinations should not only assess candidates' knowledge, but also whether they are able to apply that knowledge to solve problems or handle situations that they may face in actual practice.

In contrast, academic examinations are designed to measure students' knowledge of material presented in the classroom. The focus of the examination is usually relatively narrow and covers only the material learned in the class--much narrower than the scope of licensing examinations.

Employment examinations are broader in scope than academic examinations but narrower than licensing examinations. Employment examinations are designed to predict whether a test taker who scores high on an examination will perform well on the job. If is important to make the distinction here that licensing examinations should not be used as a substitute for employment examinations.

The focus of licensing examinations is not to predict success as an employment examination might, but to assure the public that the person who is licensed is qualified to practice without harming the public. By design, licensing examinations do not measure skills critical to business success such as knowledge of office procedures or management practices.

For the qualified candidate who has obtained the education and quality experience, the licensing examination should not be an insurmountable hurdle. The licensing examination is designed to assess candidates' ability to apply the competencies that they gained from their education and experience. Since the examination is applied rather than theoretically based, the licensing examination is much different from a final examination in a college course.

The consequences of an improperly developed licensing examination are much greater than those of an academic or employment examination. If the licensing examination is designed so that unqualified candidates pass the examination, the public may be harmed. The costs associated with an improperly developed academic examination may be that the student received a lower grade than was deserved, and for an improperly developed employment examination, there may be a delay in employment. However, improperly developed licensing examinations may result in a candidate's inability to work in his or her desired occupation or profession.

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2002 Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation