Certification Prep: More than a Practice Test and a Seat for the Exam

Student Certification TestingWe get a lot of questions about certification programs. CTE Directors and administrators know that funding can be increased as the number of students passing certification tests increases.

Experienced teachers know that an effective certification program is much more than a practice test and a seat for the exam. Students enroll into certification programs with a wide range of understanding and experience. Some will already have relevant work experience and just need that piece of paper to move up in their job. Others are looking for their first healthcare job and need help with the fundamentals.

The instructor’s job is to assess the needs of the students and provide instruction and material to give each student the best chance to succeed. Blended learning is an important tool for a diverse student population.

Teachers with a large toolbox of resources will be able to show students their personal path to certification. For many students, that will include foundation instructional material, lecture, hands on practice activities, exam study guides, practice tests and an actual seat to take the exam.

Teaching to the Test Pros and Cons

Recently, AES president, Jim Schultz, shared a comment from a sales rep who deals in CTE products. The rep’s claim was that there is no CTE money out there for schools to spend unless it is going towards test-preparation or certification programs. In response, here is a take on teaching to the test pros and cons in CTE.

Remember high school? Remember all those language arts and math classes that you attended for many years? Those classes were designed to help you learn something. Something that you would take with you from that institution and use it in your career or next level of education and for the rest of your life. You can still add 2 + 2, help your kids with their long division, communicate effectively with colleagues and friends, and figure out what your 20% off coupon will get you at Target.

Remember those SAT test prep courses? Those classes were designed to help you score well on a test. That’s pretty much it.

Both types of courses filled a need.

There are a variety of options for people pursuing CTE careers. Some options lean towards certification acquisition. Others lean towards prep for further, more intensive learning at the next level at a 2 or 4 year college that results in a degree of some sort.

Just as both your regular school courses and your test prep course served their purposes, so do both types of institutions. And people choose one over the other for a variety of reasons–financial, time investment, age, and experience, just to name a few. And both the certification and the degree are incredible accomplishments for those that achieve and receive them. The concern is not with choosing a certification or degree path. Both are commendable. Uneasiness comes from the perception or observation that institutions are only looking towards test prep materials for allocation of their educational dollars.

If both types of educational goals serve a distinct purpose, shouldn’t the tools used to teach students towards those ends also be distinct? Yes and no.

A one-size tool is not going to fit both types of outcomes. Your degree-oriented students likely won’t need the test prep materials at all.

And more importantly, for those students seeking certification, they can’t just take the test prep course and use the test-prep tools. There’s no way you’d score well on your SAT without taking the language arts and math classes. The SAT prep course alone won’t get you there.

Think of it this way…who would you rather have scrubbed up and in your next surgery? A nurse who was taught to the certification test? Or the nurse taught with life-long learning tools?

Get Your Students in Top Form

If you are strictly using certification or test prep materials to teach your students, you are doing them a disservice. Yes, they have the skills to perform task in their field. But they don’t have the soft skills needed to endure.

Employers need people with the skills that students only seem to get from soft skills lesson plans…

In a spotlight article, the National Careers Service says employers want people with skills in communicating, making decisions, showing commitment, flexibility, time management, leadership, creativity and problem-solving skills, being a team player, accepting responsibility, and ability to work under pressure.

This article from the Metropolitan New York Library Council outlines more important soft skills.

Teaching soft skills is critical. Communication and conflict are a part of life, including work life. Our future health care work force’s job success and satisfaction depends just as much on these important soft skills as it does on medical practice and Microsoft Office skills.

Need some resources? Online resources like HealthCenter21 and Business&ITCenter21 offer a great deal of content that covers soft skills, like these:

  • Professionalism
  • Teamwork
  • Legal and Ethical Responsibilities
  • Personal Qualities
  • Communications
  • Health Care Careers
  • Job Seeking Skills
  • The Health Assistant
  • Medical Office Assistant
  • Office Environment
  • Telephone Etiquette
  • Written Communication


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