Written competence tests pose many problems for candidates, the least of them is the questions. Kate Foreman takes up some your complaints

Following the item last week on unfairness in competence assessments, a number of people raised other points about taking written assessment tests. There are quite a few learning points here, particularly for readers who are responsible for regulatory compliance standards.

I do not like writing
This is a more common complaint than you might imagine. People have often come into insurance many years ago in preference to other professions where writing is more common, for example,the law and banking. Here are many highly competent general insurance advisers who have spent very little of a long career actually writing.

We must distinguish between someone who cannot write and someone who is not used to writing.

Clearly, training managers and compliance officers must take heed of staff with acknowledged special needs (particularly dyslexia) but what about the person who simply is not practiced at writing? My view is that you must strike a balance.

  • Extend the time of assessments (compliance is not a race)
  • Offer one-to-one verbal assessments
  • Consider the electronic alternative (although this may also cause problems)
  • Provide additional practice assessments.
  • Modern assessment is moving more towards on-the-job assessment and by the assessment of knowledge through multiple choice and short written answers, but the fact remains that advanced formal qualifications (as they stand at present) will remain beyond those who cannot write their ideas down and at quite a pace.

    I do not like computers
    Most employers and education providers should offer an alternative to computer-linked training and assessment and it is, perhaps, a reality that there will remain those who just cannot get on with computers. Even then, many have a preferred learning style that is linked to book reading and hard copy assessments. To maintain level playing fields, it is our view that the two options should always be available to staff.

    Don't forget that any good electronic learning and assessment system should offer a universal print facility so that anything on screen can be taken away and read in front of the fire (with slippers) at home. If it does not, then you must question whether the system is for you and your staff.

    I am an adviser whose first language is not English

    This could relate to any minority language and the statement does not relate to the desire to be assessed in a language other than English.

    Over the years RWA has worked with many advisers who speak Urdu (as an example), but who also speak perfect English. Much of their work with customers is in Urdu.

    Like many people asked to complete an assessment in a second language, the thought process is often to translate from English to mother tongue, work out the answer in mother language and translate back to English for the written answer.

    It is not quite as simple as that but, if you speak a second language, as an exercise, just think of the process your mind goes through when you are asked a question in that second language. Even when you speak the second language fluently, if you are asked a series of questions, the whole process slows.

    We conducted a number of exercises to measure the effect during the CII Financial Planning Certificate process of the mid-to-late 1990s, and even where a minority language speaker also spoke perfect English, the process of answering a question was slowed sufficiently to hinder completion of a written question in the allotted time.

    It is not our place to get involved with the question of what language an assessment should be in, that is a matter of law. But we do take the view that where a practitioner's job relies on the quality of the answers given in an assessment, regulators, assessors and employers should show respect to anyone who is slower at completing assessments for any reasonable reason other than the fact that they just do not know the answers.

    The process of assessment was physically uncomfortable

    This is one for the academic dinosaurs to take note of:

  • I had to sit down for three hours with nothing to eat or drink
  • I was in a large room which was very cold
  • The writing space was the size of a tea tray
  • I felt inhibited about getting up to the toilet in front of all those people.
  • The list goes on. We do wonder sometimes how examining bodies have avoided the attention of Amnesty International, but modernisation is creeping through the system. Employers should consider that the only barrier to competence assessment should be the questions themselves and care should be taken that the environment of assessment should cause as little discomfort as possible.

    Remember also that there are very few activities (apart from sleeping) that last for more than 90 minutes, so do try to limit the time of assessments to something less than this before giving staff a break.

    Educational establishments may feel it is a measure of competence to excel at three-hour assessment stints, but that is not real life.

    If an assessment is not 'open book' (so the delegate can look up the answers) then it is important that the process is robust and there is some form of invigilation, but it does not mean that the process has to be any more uncomfortable than absolutely necessary.

    I was never given the details of the questions I got wrong or the answers.

    This is, in my opinion, archaic and bordering on the lunatic. What on earth is the point of assessing someone and then hiding the correct answers. This is more to do with saving money than common sense.

    The thought process is that if you let someone have the answers, then new questions will have to be paid for and prepared for the next assessment.

    If someone gets a question wrong and is not given the answer, then they are going to continue advising the public in ignorance.

    This is one of the reasons why the process of setting a pass mark can be flawed.

    All trainers and compliance officers should remember that it is what a practitioner does not know that is a risk to the public, not what they know.

    Competence and risk management is about knowing what an adviser does not know or cannot do, so be wary of anyone who wants to sell you services or assessments, but is not willing to let you know the competence gaps.

    Do keep sending us your points of view on this subject.

    Kate Foreman is assessment specialist at RW Associates

  • This page is edited by RW Associates, specialists in training, compliance and competence.
  • ruy.lopez@brokercompliance.co.uk

    Using this CPD page
    For the vast majority of practitioners and indeed support and supervisory staff in our industry, CPD is about regular learning and study that is planned, recorded, timed and evaluated.

    If you are a member of a professional body with a CPD requirement then there will be certain rules regarding the quality and nature of study material, and the way in which it is recorded.

    For staff of GISC members this means recording on your individual training file what the learning was, who provided it and when.

    It might be structured, such as a course, a learning programme or exam study. But it can be unstructured. This form of study encompasses reading the trade press, technical material or taking part in activities to support your professional body.

    Some CPD requirements are points related (a little antiquated) and others require a time value to be allocated.

    For example, it might take one hour to read Insurance Times each week. Most of that could be put as a time value but, in reality, perhaps only an half hour was devoted to learning something. The rule is to be honest with yourself and record the time that is relevant.

    Always take time to make a note of what you felt you gained from the activity. This is useful information for anyone else considering the same activity.

    In response to the popularity of our CPD programme each week's CPD page can now be downloaded from our website. We will be preparing a binder for you to keep these in alongside the results of the exercises.

    To download a PDF of this article as it appears in the magazine click here