competence compass

Why Competency Profiles Are Essential For Credentialing Exams

With so much riding on credentialing exams, it’s surprising to see some exams that are still not supported by a competency profile. These essential foundation documents list the minimum knowledge and skills necessary to enter an industry, work in a role or hold a designation. 

If you are a regulator or employer and want fair, legally defensible, and effective exams, you need competency profiles. They let all stakeholders—the public, employers, test-takers and regulators—know that test-takers have met the minimum requirements of a role. Creating a useful competency profile is a significant investment of time, but it pays off in the long-run as it:

  • ensures the fairness and validity of exams
  • streamlines the curriculum development and evaluation process
  • increases industry transparency

If you choose this approach, your exams will only be as current and comprehensive as the profile. It is therefore important to keep the profile up-to-date with regulatory and industry changes. 

What is a competency profile?

A competency profile, sometimes called a competency model, outlines the skills, knowledge, and abilities a professional needs to be proficient in their job. Creating and administering a credentialing exam without a competency profile is like erecting a building without construction drawings. At best, the result might not match your vision. At worst, it is dangerous. 

Unfortunately, some sectors in the financial industry have yet to realize the importance of competency profiles or have been secretive about their profiles. For decades Canadian securities professionals laboured toward an invisible standard owned by an American company. Competencies in this field have been hidden from the public and industry stakeholders. 

Fortunately, the wisdom of making competency profiles public for all stakeholders is gaining traction. Other financial services are more transparent, with clearly defined and publicly accessible competency models. For example, credentialing exams for Financial Planners are guided by competency standards published by the FP Canada Standards Council. They’re available to the public and updated regularly.

How Competency Profiles Strengthen Credentialing Exams

Documented and publicly accessible competency profiles can protect your organization’s reputation and the reputation of your industry. They enhance the quality, credibility, and usefulness of credentialing exams in four key ways. 

1. Competency Profiles Help Learners Prepare for Exams

Without competency profiles, learners have to treat all content as equally important when studying. They lack a method of gauging how deeply they need to understand content. Students resort to memorizing question sets rather than on learning to master competencies, which should directly relate to achieving success on the job.. Competency models provide learners with a framework—a kind of rationale—that makes their learning more relevant. Instead of relying on memorizing by rote they can see how their learning fits into a bigger picture. 

2. Competency Models Help Designers Craft Legally Defensible Exams

Credentialing exams that do not rely on competencies are really just a grab-bag of miscellaneous test items. Without care, an exam may fail to assess crucial skills or knowledge. Since the question bank serves up different exam questions for each student, exams may differ wildly in terms of difficulty and relevance. By requiring every learner to demonstrate the mastery of questions associated with the same competencies, designers can ensure a fair experience while still protecting exam security. 

3. Competency Profiles Focus Test Item Development

How do you decide what topics to include on your exam? If you have a competency profile, it is simple. You develop questions related to each competency until all competencies are covered.. In robust exam delivery systems, you can even assign different weights to each competency to achieve a perfect balance that reflects what test-takers will face once on the job.

4. Competency Models help prove competency to the public

The immediate goal of any credentialing exam is to ensure that professionals have the minimum skills and knowledge to do the job. The broader goal is to show the public that your profession is trustworthy. Competency profiles increase the public’s faith in the profession. They demonstrate the minimum threshold for competency, so the public can see that credentialing is based on knowledge and skill rather than nepotism or politics.

Competency profiles are worth the effort

Building out a competency profile will take time and effort, but the results are worth it. You’ll end up with more effective exams that can stand up to legal challenges. Test-takers, credentialing organizations, and your industry all benefit when credentialing exams are based on competency profiles. 

For help crafting exams or building out competency profiles, contact Oliver. We’re training and credentialing experts trusted by regulators and professional associations to protect the integrity of education, certification, and compliance programs.

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