5 potential barriers to licensure testing – and how to avoid them


5 potential barriers to licensure testing – and how to avoid them

Alon Schwartz


The decision whether to grant or deny someone a license in their chosen profession is important. It impacts public safety, the test taker – and the reputation of your licensing program. At the same time, test taker expectations are changing. They want licensure exams that offer the convenience and choice they are accustomed to in other areas of life.

Beyond a lack of convenience, inflexible testing has the potential to create barriers to licensure. Of course, exam security must ensure any licensed individual reaches the required standards. But inflexible exams can make it unnecessarily difficult or even impossible for some people to get a license. This blog explores five potential barriers to licensure testing, along with technologies and tools to avoid them.

1. Changing industry needs

New technology and innovations regularly enter almost every profession. And the value of any occupational license depends on its ability to respond to changing needs. Test takers and the public expect industry changes to be reflected in the education and training required to obtain a license, including how learning outcomes are assessed.

Regular scrutiny of your exam content will make sure you stay relevant to your industry and your test takers. For example, the California Department of Real Estate (DRE) undertake a rigorous process of exam validation every 5-7 years. In early 2021, PSI provided item review, gap analysis and item writing for DRE exams. The project involved the review of 4,367 items to ensure they are current and appropriately testing for entry level into the profession.

2. Inflexible exam delivery

Secure testing has changed. Technological developments and shifting test taker expectations have led to a growth in exam delivery options. These options present an opportunity for licensure programs to remove barriers for test takers while maintaining the exam integrity and security needed to protect public safety.

When it comes to physical test centers, offer flexible exam times on evenings and weekends to fit around the working day. Good test taker communications and accessibility and accommodations are also important. For example, an ADA accessible room and a clear booking process to request accommodations in advance of a licensure exam.

Secure remote exams with online proctoring give you the assurance of security – and your test takers the flexibility to take an exam at home or in the office, at a time that suits them. An increasing number of licensing programs now offer multi-modal testing, giving test takers the flexibility to choose the testing modality that works best for them.

3. Lack of accessibility

Options that increase accessibility do not mean your exams are less rigorous, just fairer and delivered on a level playing field. Your test takers should not have to overcome unnecessary obstacles that prevent them from demonstrating their knowledge when they sit for a licensure exam.

For example, being able to take an exam in their first language levels the playing field for test takers. Not only does it improve the readability of the exam content, but it also reduces the likelihood a test taker will run out of the time they need to finish and pass their exam. Another tool that removes barriers for those with vision impairment or low vision is a delivery platform that is compatible with a screen reader and gives the option to increase or decrease the size of exam content on screen.

4. Limiting flexibility of movement

The need to secure a new license when relocating to a different State can be a potential barrier for many license holders. We encounter individuals with years or even decades of experience who are required to fulfil additional and often unnecessary education, training and testing. In response, there is an ongoing move in some sectors towards reciprocity agreements between States or national licensing programs.

One example of a national initiative is the PSI National Barber & Cosmetology Program. The Government, State Boards and wider industry increasingly recognize that we need a more national approach to licensure in the profession. In response to growing demand, the PSI team has created a series of standardized theoretical and practical exams. Exam content is fair, valid, reliable and applicable to a national audience.

5. Restricting career flexibility and progression

Individuals entering employment no longer expect a job – or even a career – for life. People often change professions multiple times, particularly as new careers emerge in response to change. Portfolio careers are also more common, with some individuals holding a license and practicing in multiple occupations.

When 1 in 4 occupations in the U.S. require a license, it is highly likely a change of career will require a license. Inflexible licensing limits opportunities for individuals wanting to either progress in their chosen career or move to a new career. Making your licensure exams more convenient, flexible and accessible for test takers is a great way to support those wanting to move into or progress in your profession.

Flexibility for your organization

Flexible testing doesn’t only benefit your test takers. It also benefits your licensure programs, your organization and the profession you represent. The wide range of testing solutions on offer allows you to find the right option for your program, depending on your security and test taker experience needs. With PSI, this flexibility is coupled with the assurance your exams are always fully secure, regardless of modality.

i Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022.