We are seeing significant change in many of the certification programs we work with, and across the sector more broadly. In tandem with the ongoing trend towards microlearning, there is an increased demand for more stackable and micro-credentials. And with industry changes and technological advancements, there comes a desire for more specialized and new certification programs.
We’ve worked with multiple clients to create new certification programs to meet both needs. Including a suite of new stackable credentials for IT governance professional association, ISACA. And a brand-new certification program for the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN).
Creating a new certification program is a great way to support your existing – and potential – customers. As well as a proven tactic to grow your market and your organization. But we understand that it can be hard to know where to start. This blog takes you through the key steps to create a new certification program, drawing from our recent success working with BCEN.
Is there demand for a new certification program?
Before making the important decision to create a new certification program, you need to establish whether there is a market for it. What do your existing and potential test takers want and need? Is there a gap in the market you could fill?
There are multiple tools you can use to gather insights to inform decision making. A survey of existing test takers, for example, and a market review of what your competitors are doing. Getting input from team members who have contact with your test takers is also a good idea. That could include your training team, SMEs or client services team.
In the case of BCEN, until recently there was no specialized certification for burn nurses. They were approached by the American Burn Association (ABA) about the possibility of creating one. And when burn nursing was recognized as a specialty by the American Nurses Association in 2020, BCEN partnered with ABA to conduct a feasibility study for a new certification.
The feasibility study showed that a new burn nurse certification would support the BCEN mission and vision, as well as fitting well into their portfolio of existing certifications. The study also showed that this new certification presented an opportunity for the organization to grow.
What do you need to test on?
Doing the research will provide clarity on the objectives of your new certification from the outset – what the benefits are for your test takers and other stakeholders, and how the certification will contribute to your industry. With these objectives in mind, the next step is to establish the body of knowledge you need to test on – your test specification or test content outline.
Best practice processes at this stage involve multiple Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to conduct a job analysis. A survey of SMEs working in your industry will build an accurate content outline of the tasks and knowledge required to perform a role to the necessary standard. For BCEN, this involved identifying the tasks a burn nurse must perform in their specialty area, and what they need to know to perform these tasks.
Develop your test items and forms
The next step is to use your test content outline to develop test items and test forms, again involving your SMEs throughout the process. For BCEN, this involved a group of over 25 SMEs writing items for the new certification test.
Recruiting a diverse group of SMEs that are representative of your target population’s demographic is fundamental to creating a valid and reliable test. This should include a range of experience, education, geographic location, gender, race and ethnicity. The fact BCEN had no shortage of volunteers willing to get involved demonstrated the excitement in the burn community for this new certification.
Before they started work, BCEN SMEs attended a training workshop on good item writing, supported by the PSI psychometrician team. Also in line with best practice, a separate group of SMEs reviewed and finalized the draft items, then a different group of SMEs helped set the passing standard for the test. Burn nurse experts were involved every step of the way.
Test your test!
When the new certification test items and forms are ready it’s time for beta-testing. This helps identify any potential flaws in your test content, for example the difficulty level of items, as well as any technical issues with your test delivery platform. Use the feedback to make any adjustments or actions before full implementation.
For the new BCEN certification, beta testing is taking place in mid-2023, with full scale implementation towards the end of the year. Item performance on the beta exam will be reviewed carefully, to find out if any items need replacing and to finalize the passing standard.
Go live and deliver your tests
When you have developed your test content, you need to decide which test delivery options to offer your test takers, depending on the needs of your program. Test taker expectations are high, so it’s important to offer flexibility, convenience and accessibility – while safeguarding test integrity and security.
You could consider remote testing with secure online proctoring, so your new certification test can be taken at home, in the office or almost anywhere. Continuous testing means a test can be taken anytime, as well as anywhere, giving your test takers even more flexibility. A growing number of certification programs are choosing to offer multi-modal testing. This gives test takers the choice to take their test remotely or in-person using the facilities at a secure test center.
PSI already develops and delivers certification exams to registered nurses who specialize in emergency, flight, critical care ground transport, pediatric emergency, and trauma nursing. So when pre-testing and beta testing are complete, the new burn nurse certification will be delivered with multi-modal testing at PSI Test Centers and via online proctored delivery.
Grow your new certification program
When you have launched your new certification program, you’ll need to market it to your audience. There are a variety of channels to do this, including industry conferences, your social media accounts and partner organizations. Another PSI client, the American Board of Paranesthesia Nursing Certification (ABPANC) has seen success through a series of posters in high traffic areas of hospitals where their target audience will see them.
Equally, developing the test content for your new certification isn’t a one-off effort. You will need to regularly review your test items and forms to ensure they are up to date and relevant. Particularly in fast paced industries affected by changing trends and technologies.
Creating a new certification program is a big step for any testing organization. But by identifying a need and following a rigorous process to develop your new test it is possible to minimize the risks and maximize the rewards a new certification program presents.