Dear Pearson VUE, Prometric, and other computer-based testing centers,
I will be the first to admit it: I am addicted to chapstick (specifically, the pure Vaseline kind). I also drink a lot of water. I think it’s refreshing, and it keeps my eyes—and my fussy contact lenses—hydrated. And sometimes I like to wear a wrap to keep my arms or legs warm in an overly air-conditioned office. So I ask you this: when I spend five hours taking a standardized test in your testing center, why must you deprive me of these items that are so critical to my well-being?
Before I delve more deeply into my complaints, let me just say that I understand and support many of your test security measures. I don’t mind showing my ID, having my palm scanned every time I enter and exit the testing room, and keeping my smart phone in a locker. It doesn’t bother me that I’m being filmed and audio recorded during my tests. Some people cheat, so I think it’s important to employ measures that ensure test results can be trusted.
But do these measures go too far? And are they counterproductive? Let’s start with the chapstick. Take a look at my chapstick container (pictured above). There is absolutely no way for me to hide notes or test answers in my chapstick. And if you’re not sure, feel free to inspect it when I arrive at the testing center. You can also inspect my wrap before I enter the testing room, and you’ll see that I have not embroidered notes on it.
Now my water bottle is a bit sketchier. It’s opaque and aluminum, and I suppose I could hide notes in there. But again, you can always inspect it. It’s also a bit noisy when I set it down on the desk, which might bother other test-takers. (Although you do provide us noise-cancelling headphones—thanks for that!) On the other hand, I think water is something universally appealing to test-takers, whereas my chapstick addiction and air-conditioning sensitivity might be a little less common. In fact, it seems that water offers more than just hydration to test-takers: a recent study from the UK suggests that consuming water while taking an exam boosts performance.
I conclude with a modest proposal. Perhaps computer-based testing centers could provide clear, recyclable plastic cups and water to test-takers. If you use this kind of cup, you can see what’s inside, they won’t make too much noise when set on the table, and—if you recycle them—you won’t be overly wasteful. I know this would cost money, so I wouldn’t mind if you tacked on an extra $5 or so per test to fund cups and water. That’s nothing compared to the $350 I spent for the privilege of taking my two teacher-licensing exams.
Even if you reject my water proposal, I urge you to rethink some of your testing policies. Think about how you might feel if you were stuck in a cold room for five hours without the basic amenities—water and chapstick, for instance—you can always easily access in your office.
Written by Education Sector policy intern Jennie Herriot-Hatfield.