Online License Exams—The How, What and Why
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Saturday, July 13, 2024
Online License Exams—The How, What and Why

Online License Exams—The How, What and Why

The Rating Corner
Thursday, October 20, 2022

In the last year, almost half of license applicants took their exams online rather than on paper. But is taking the license exam online better than the traditional way? Let’s compare the processes, examine the data and weigh the advantages.

HOW: Comparing the Processes

Regardless of the method used, the applicants and administrators of license exams must follow the guidance in the Skydiver’s Information Manual, specifically, SIM Section 3-2 A (uspa.org/sim/3#2A). Most of the processes are the same whether the exam is online or on paper. An instructor, examiner, Safety and Training Advisor, judge or USPA Board member administers the tests, except for D-license tests, which an examiner, judge examiner, S&TA or board member must supervise. No outside references are permitted during the exam, and no one can assist the test taker. In other words, this is a closed-book test. A score of 75% is required to pass all of the exams, with the score recorded in the applicant's logbook.

The main difference between the processes is the number of attempts allowed. The applicant taking a paper exam who does not pass must wait seven days before attempting again. Applicants who have not passed the USPA online license testing program may retest online immediately for a total of three attempts per day. This is allowed because there is only one version of the paper test for each of the four licenses, but the online exam has more questions presented from a pool of possible questions, and the presentation order is randomized; even the response choices are presented in random order. Effectively, while questions are similar and pulled from predefined categories, the applicant is presented with a different test for each attempt.

WHAT: Examining the Data

Since September 2019, taking a license exam online has been a feature enjoyed by 5,504 members, some of whom used online testing for multiple license applications. The average number of attempts per user was 1.19, with about one out of six people retesting at least once.

The popularity of taking the license exam online is growing. In its first two years of release, about 10% of license applicants used the feature. Over the past year, 5,036 of 10,722 people earning a license took an online exam, bringing usage up to 47%.

Most members pass the first time; 17% of attempts resulted in less than the 75% passing score. Applicants can choose to retake a test for a better score, even if they pass. Interestingly, of those retaking the exam, 8% did so to improve an already passing score.

WHY: Weighing the Advantages

But the question remains: Is taking the license exam online better than the traditional way? First, B-, C-, and D-license applicants who complete all of their requirement verifications online can instantly purchase their license without an expedite fee. Online test material can be updated with current and accurate questions as details in our sport change. Feedback from tests can drive changes in question wording to provide a test free of “trick questions.” Beyond the advantages of correctness, convenience and timeliness, there is the educational side. Studies from peer-reviewed scholarly research show that closed-book, low-stakes testing with unlimited attempts and slightly delayed feedback—giving results at the end of the test—from a randomized pool is a highly effective teaching tool, even more than an assessment tool, and has a significant effect on long-term learning.

Jen Sharp | D-17516
Tandem, AFF and Coach Examiner; PRO

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