Questions About Testing in Certification and Licensure Settings

What is a certification test, and what is a licensure test?

Both Certification Tests and Licensure Tests are referred to as Credentialing examinations since they permit individuals who have demonstrated the required knowledge and/or skills deemed sufficient to practice competently and obtain the status of a credential or some form of recognition.

What is a certification test?

Certification tests are typically offered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or agencies on a voluntary basis to individuals seeking recognition in their field of practice or industry. These NGOs may organize as either non-profit or for-profit agencies, although not-for-profit NGOs are most common.  Upon successful demonstration of credential-worthy knowledge or performance in an examination the permission to use a title or a set of initials is granted by the agency. Some certification tests require applicant examinees to obtain a license first prior to applying to take the certification examination, but not all certification programs have this prerequisite.

What is a licensure test?

Licensure tests are typically offered by governmental organizations for the purpose of regulating a specific profession or occupation. The purpose of licensure is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the consumer public – not the profession. With few exceptions, only licensed individuals may practice in a regulated occupation or profession once a minimal degree of competency for public health, safety and welfare has been demonstrated.

Can the same test be a licensure test and a certification test?

Yes.  To make matters confusing, some regulatory jurisdictions refer to their occupational and professional examinations as certification examinations while other jurisdictions refer to, in some cases, the same examination as a licensure examination because it restricts the use of a title in that jurisdiction. This means that unless a person is certified in that jurisdiction, the title may not be used, e.g., psychologist.  However in common parlance licensure examinations are used for regulatory purposes at the level of minimal competence and certification examinations are used for professional recognition in a somewhat more proficient level of competence.

What is a passing score?

A passing score is the lowest score in a test that is considered minimal required evidence of credential-worthy performance for obtaining the credential.  It is the lowest acceptable score required to pass a credentialing examination.

How is a passing score established?

Passing scores are established through formal procedures called standard setting exercises or cut score studies.  The methods used may vary from one examination program to the next.  However all methods rely on human judgment by fiduciaries of the credential in establishing the actual passing point.

What is meant by eligibility?

Credentialing examination programs typically require prerequisite levels of education and/or experience prior to gaining entrance to the examination.  These education and/or experience prerequisites form the basis of granting eligibility, or permission, to take the examination.  

Can I use a test developed for credentialing as a test for employment?

No.  Credentialing examinations are developed to ascertain that examinees can demonstrate a minimum level of knowledge and/or skill for competent performance in an occupation or profession at a specified level.  For a licensure testing program, that level most often is minimal competence; for a certification program that level may be a minimal or a proficient level of competence depending on the specifics of the credentialing program.  Employment tests are typically used to rank order applicants for job selection purposes.  Those two uses are quite different and the designs of the tests are quite different.

Credentialing tests are designed to measure minimal knowledge or skill requirements.  A score far above the passing score does not mean the candidate is an expert nor does it mean the person will be a good employee adding to the profits of the organization; high credentialing scores signify the individual is more likely to be worthy of the credential, than someone just at the passing score.  Note that credentialing tests contain none, if any, questions or tasks that are designed to measure high performance for business necessity as employment tests.  

Higher scores on credentialing tests are most often not reported so that such misuse is prohibited.