fter 10 per cent of the questions were thrown out for being “especially problematic,” barely one-half of all Certified Human Resources Professional designation candidates passed the first national knowledge exam.
The Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA), the body that oversees the national standards, admits that many people found the exam more difficult than they had expected. Improvements will be made, said the association, adding though that the exam is fundamentally sound.
“Overall, the feedback and the results indicated that many writers found the exam more challenging than they had anticipated,” said Anne Charette, president of the CCHRA, in a letter addressing concerns raised by some candidates who felt the exam was unfair (reprinted on page 19).
The 52-per-cent pass rate was not “unusual,” she wrote, but added: “We do hope that this pass rate will improve over time.”
The national knowledge exam, the soon-to-be-required first test for all aspiring CHRP-holders, was introduced as part of the national standards last March. The exams were created to ensure all CHRP holders across the country meet similar requirements for the designation.
Soon after students wrote the exam, many said the test was unfair. Some complained that the exam did not reflect the academic course or the preparation work, and some of the questions were badly worded and confusing.
After concluding 15 of the 150 exam questions were a problem for most people, CCHRA added 15 marks to every exam. With the added marks, 52 per cent of all writers reached the pass mark of 70 per cent.
“I’m not disappointed,” Charette said in an interview about the results. “I know everyone thinks we should be, but I am not.”
The CCHRA is trying to set a high standard for the profession and so the exam has to be difficult. A 52-per-cent pass rate, therefore, isn’t unreasonable, she said.
“Are we going to do some work on it? Most definitely we are,” she said. “But my caution is that I don’t want the exam to be made easy.”
The independent board of examiners, the group that created the exam for CCHRA, will be looking at the 15 problematic questions to figure out what made them such a problem.
The bad publicity about the exam could discourage some people from writing it in May, she said, particularly since Ontario members still have the option of writing the Ontario exam under the old standards. But the national standards process is much better than the old system, she said. “It is better for people entering the profession.”
In Ontario, the pass rate was very close to the national average, said Dan Stapleton, chief executive officer of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO) and a member of the CCHRA board of directors. However, unlike Charette, he said he was surprised at the number of failures. “We expected the pass rate to be higher.”
Some of the Ontario exam writers may have expected the national knowledge exam to be the same as the Ontario exam candidates had to write before national standards were introduced, he said. The pass rate of the Ontario exam is typically around 65 per cent.
But the national exam was different and perhaps more difficult, he said. It required candidates to apply judgment and experience rather than just recall information taught in courses.
“One of the things we need to consider is if people should have a bit of experience before they write the exam,” he said.
It also appears as though some of the people who wrote the exam in Ontario misunderstood the purpose of the preparatory workshops, he said. The provincial associations were responsible for helping candidates prepare for the exam.
The workshop was intended to help people with how to write a multiple-choice exam; it was not meant to help them with the content, said Stapleton.
In British Columbia, where students did above average, the B.C. association took the Ontario preparation course and added an extra day of training to help people with content, he said.
Stapleton said HRPAO and CCHRA are looking at how to help students prepare in the future.
CCHRA has signed a deal with Captus Press to produce an online preparation course, which will likely cost between $250 and $350, said Charette. The course will teach people how to write the exam as well as help with the content. “Diagnostic tests” will help students identify areas they need to improve.
Kathy Bocking, a certified general accountant with three years of HR management experience, finished the post-graduate HR course at Oakville, Ont.-based Sheridan College in August and wrote the exam in September. She said she was pleased, though surprised, with her 83 per cent final mark. She’s convinced, though, that there were major flaws in the process.
“I feel relief that I don’t have to do it again, but no sense of accomplishment, because I think the whole process was at question,” she said.
She added that the information on the Professional Assessment Resources Centre site, run by CCHRA, and in the preparation booklet and the practice exam provided by HRPAO were not at all helpful.
“I came out with a bad overall feeling. I laud (the associations) for trying to raise the professional level and the perception of (HR). I think they just had a really bad stumble and I hope they just do a lot of reflection on what the problems were and make a real valid attempt to improve them for next time.”
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