I took the new Versant by Pearson English Certificate test last week.  In a few days I’ll write about what I liked and didn’t like but right now I want to highlight a feature that I liked a lot and I think other test makers should consider.

I really like that to complete a practice test, the test-taker must download Pearson’s secure browser and go through all of the same setup and security setup (except for providing ID, of course) as they do when taking the real test.  Anything anomalous in the test-taker’s setup is highlighted and they are prompted to correct it.

In my case, the browser pointed out that I had multiple webcams running on my system.  That message left me puzzled, but after 30 minutes of troubleshooting I was able to figure out that ages ago my screencasting software had silently installed a “virtual webcam.”  Fifteen minutes more and I was able to find the batch file deep in the program’s plugin folder necessary to uninstall it. When I took the test the following day everything went smoothly.

A fairly obscure problem like this can be tough to handle on test day – it’s the sort of thing a proctor might not be able to figure out, and a test-taker might not be granted 45 minutes to solve it on their own if their test is scheduled for a specific time. In the worst possible case, it could result in a test termination without a refund. I’ve certainly gotten reports of hundreds of mysterious terminations over the past three years (on various tests).

My potential problem is just one example of how requiring test-takers to go through a nearly complete setup process during the preparation stage might be a good idea. Basically, I want testing firms to do everything humanly possible to reduce the number of terminated tests and the number of rescinded test scores.

Is the implementation perfect?  Well, no. Some might find it frustrating to download some software and click through a bunch of setup stuff when they just want to practice for the frigging test.  I get that. As a concession to this (I suppose), while all of the warnings are displayed in the practice test, the user is totally free to ignore them and simply proceed with the test. This could blunt the effectiveness of the whole rigmarole.

Also: it is really nice to have a practice test that accurately simulates the look-and-feel of the real test. Like… it is 100% the same software, as far as I can tell. The buttons are all the same, the clocks are the same. The flow is the same. I’ve written some very kind words about the new TOEFL Go App from ETS. As a TOEFL prep guy, that app is like a dream come true.  It brought a tear (of happiness) to my eye.  That said, whenever I recommend it I’m forced to remind my students that the timers and clocks in the app are not like on the real test.  Then I need to spend 15 minutes explaining how the real timers work.  When students ask me why ETS didn’t include accurate timers in the app I glower at them until they leave the room.

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