Seven tips to recruit and manage SMEs for technology certification exams

imagePosted by John Kleeman

How do you keep a certification exam up to date when the technology it is assessing is changing rapidly?

Certifications in new technologies like software-as-a-service and cloud solutions have some specific challenges. The nature of the technology usually means that questions often require very specialist knowledge to author. And because knowledge of the new technology is in short supply, subject matter experts (SMEs) who are able to author and review new items will be in high demand within the organization for other purposes.

Cloud technological offerings also change rapidly. It used to be that new technology releases came out every year or two, and if you were writing certification exams or other assessments to test knowledge and skill in them, you had plenty of notice and could plan an update cycle. But nowadays most technology organizations adopt an agile approach to development with the motto “release early, release often”. The use of cloud technology makes frequent, evolutionary releases – often monthly or quarterly – normal.

So how can you keep an exam valid and reliable if the content you are assessing is changing rapidly? Here are seven tips that could help – a few inspired by an excellent presentation by Cisco and Microsoft at the recent European Association of Test Publishers conference.

  1. Try to obtain item writing SMEs from product development. They will know what is coming and what is changing and will be in a good position to write accurate questions. 
  2. Also network for SMEs outside the organization – at technology conferences, via partners and resellers, on social media and/or via an online form on your certification website. A good source of SMEs will be existing certified people.
  3. Incentivize SMEs – what will work best for you will depend on your organization, but you can consider free re-certifications, vouchers, discounts off conferences, books and other incentives. Remember also that for many people working in technology, recognition and appreciation are as important as financial incentives. Appreciate and recognize your SMEs. For internal SMEs, send thank you letters to their managers to appreciate their effort.
  4. Focus your exam on underlying key knowledge and skills that are not going to become obsolete quickly. Work with your experts to avoid items that are likely to become obsolete and seek to test on fundamental concepts not version specific features.
  5. When working with item writers, don’t be frightened to develop questions based on beta or planned functionality, but always do a check before questions go live in case the planned functionality hasn’t been released yet.
  6. Analyze, create, deliverSince your item writers will likely be geographically spread and will be busy and tech-literate, use a good collaborative tool for item writing and item banking that allows easy online review and tracking of changes. (See https://www.questionmark.com/content/distributed-authoring-and-item-management for information on Questionmark’s authoring solution.)
  7. In technology as in other areas, confidentiality and exam security are crucial to ensure the integrity of the exam. You should have a a formal agreement with internal and external SMEs  who author or review questions to remind them not to pass the questions to others. Ensure that your HR or legal department are involved in the drafting of these so that they are enforceable.

Certification of new technologies helps adoption and deployment and contributes to all stakeholders success. I hope these tips help you improve your assessment programme.

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