Testing Services Opens Opportunity to Student Success

TMCC's mascot Wizard the Lizard gives a high-five to a Testing Services staff member.
Rebecca A. Eckland

Helen Scott, Manager and Lead Proctor for the TMCC Testing Center, has certainly noticed that things have changed since the switch to remote operations due to COVID-19. Although the number of tests she and her team of 17 staff and student workers has given has remained relatively stable, this department’s ability to provide testing services has increased its ability to reach students and community members near and far. This is due, in part, to putting conferencing technologies like Zoom to the test and discovering new ways to provide access to placement exams like the Accuplacer and CAPE, which is a placement exam for foreign languages.

How has this online environment changed Testing Service’s reach? Recently, Scott`s staff was on the line with an active member of the military serving in Iraq who wanted to take the Accuplacer exam. The prospective student was ten time zones ahead of Scott, who takes calls and proctors exams from her home-office for Testing Services.  And yet, the prospective student was able to complete the Accuplacer—the first step into starting his journey into higher education—while on a different continent. 

Since TMCC’s move to remote learning in March, Testing Services has proctored approximately 1,100 students through the Accuplacer exam using Zoom. This is no small feat (given the troubleshooting that working remotely with technology requires); yet, this change is one that Scott sees as advantageous for students.

“This is an incredible opportunity to expand what we already do and potentially reach even more people,” said Scott. “There are people who couldn’t physically stop by for an in-person appointment with us, so did they just give up on their education [because they couldn’t take the Accuplacer]? I bet a lot of them did. So the more opportunity we give potential students and community members to make their dreams come true or to get their education, I think that’s a bonus for everyone.”

About TMCC’s Testing Services

At some point in nearly everyone’s life, you have to display a certain skill set or proficiency and the only way to do that is through a proctored exam. This includes placement exams like the Accuplacer or CAPE, as well as High School Equivalency tests. Testing Services also offers proctoring services for exams required by other schools and programs, and for programs outside of an academic curriculum, which could be exams for another class at another academic institution, or certification exams for specific industries. In a nutshell, if there’s a test for that, chances are Testing Services can proctor it. 

“While most students know that Testing Services offers the Accuplacer, few people realize the extent of tests the department offers to TMCC students, prospective students, and the community. In fact, the department offers nearly twenty different types of tests that are academic and industry-based. Many of these tests are high-stakes and require meticulous attention to detail to administer,” said Gwen Raubolt, a Testing Proctor in the Testing Services office.  In addition to exams for TMCC classes and placement exams, over the past few years, Testing Services has added industry-based tests that include aptitude tests, skill assessments, and certification exams for a number of professions including accounting, personal trainer, public utilities, and even midwifery, to name a few examples.

“Testing Services even proctors tests for students who do not attend TMCC, but need a proctor to administer an academic test for another institution. Proctors have administered tests from institutions across the country and around the world,” said Raubolt. Interestingly, the transition to remote operations hasn’t hurt this “small-but-mighty” department that works long and hard to provide the opportunity for every potential student and community member to take an exam that could be the first step in making positive changes in their lives.

This is due, in part, to Testing Services’ extended hours that have continued, uninterrupted, despite the shift in operations that occurred in March. “If you have an 8-5 job, how are you going to make it to an office that’s open 8-5 to take a test that will allow you to continue your education?” Scott asked. “Chances are, you can’t. The extended hours during the week enables those who work full time to schedule an exam that fits into their daily schedule.” 

Need more than 2–3 hours? Scott and other proctors also work with students and community members to schedule multiple sessions, as needed, to complete an exam. 

“It’s [been] challenging,” admitted Scott, who lost two staff members after the transition to remote operations. On April 13, Administrative Assistant and Lead Proctor Jovanna Puertos was called to serve in the National Guard. “Jovonna was my right-hand girl. It’s been hard to delegate her duties because she was so incredibly efficient. I had no idea how valuable she would become. But, what she does for our country right now is more valuable,” Scott said.

Despite all the challenges, the Testing Services team continues to deliver quality proctoring for the Accuplacer and equivalency exams at a rate of 125-exams per week. “We’re really comfortable with the online process, now but the caveat is that there are students out there that don’t have a computer to use,” said Scott. To address this, Testing Services has teamed up with the Information Technology department. “We refer [those students] to IT where, as long as they had internet [at home], IT would let them check out a laptop from them, go home, take the test and then return the laptop,” she said. 

Testing Tips from TMCC’s Testing Experts

If you’ve got an online test coming up, Scott offers a handful of tips to potential testers that can help you to be successful—and that can make you get it right the first time, and avoid the $20 fee to re-take a test.  

  1. You need a computer with internet access. In other words: don’t plan on taking your test on your phone. There are many reasons for this, such as: some tests require that you log in to a website in order to access the test. It’s also a best practice for your performance, too. Think about it: computer screens are larger and put less strain on your eyes. Also, having a keyboard and mouse makes it a lot easier to navigate through an exam than the relatively small screen of a smartphone. Bottom line: save your eyes, posture, and $20, and take your test on a computer. 
  2. Find a quiet spot where you won’t be distracted. In order to do your best, you need to find a room in your home where you can focus on the task at hand.  Ideally, this should be a room with a door you can close to keep out distractions like spouses, in-laws, children, and pets. If you have a spouse or roommate, tell them the time you are taking the exam so that they can keep quiet, or give you space while you take your exam. 
  3. Have your valid government-issued ID handy. For most official exams, you will have to verify your identity by a valid government-issued ID like a driver’s license. You can’t take a picture with your phone and hold that up to the proctor, nor can you substitute other forms of identification (sorry, your student ID won’t work), so make sure you have your ID with you before you log in to the Zoom session to begin your exam. 
  4. Make yourself comfortable.  First, you can put your mind at ease by reviewing the material covered on the exam, even if for ten minutes the day before. (Accuplacer offers practice tests on their website.) You should also keep your physical comfort in mind while taking the exam. This means having a comfortable chair and making sure you have water, tea, or coffee available nearby. You will also want to be well-rested when you begin the exam. “I’ve had to wake people up who fell asleep while taking their exam,” said Scott, who admits that trying to do that through a Zoom call is an interesting challenge.  
  5. Know when to call it a day. Ideally, your exam should take no longer than two hours. If it does, Scott suggests scheduling another testing session to finish up the exam. Her advice is supported by research which has found that the average attention span for adults declines rapidly after 45 minutes. If you can, include short breaks in your exam to refresh your mind and body. If you are unable to complete the exam within a few hours, scheduling a second session when it best fits your schedule may render better results than just “powering through.” It may be the difference between passing the exam and having to pay an additional $20 to take the exam again.    

If you’re ready to take an exam, you can reach out to Testing Services online. Once you complete the form,  you will receive an email confirming your scheduled testing appointment. The day of the exam, you will receive a Zoom link that you will have to join in order to start the testing process. 

As TMCC moves through its reopening stages, Scott says there will be reduced hours for in-person testing at the Testing Services office on the Dandini Campus. However, the ability for students and community members to take their proctored exams online will continue, uninterrupted, just as it has since the move to remote operations.  The benefits of online proctoring are clear: the reach is far greater than offering only in-person proctoring. 

In fact, Scott's staff recently proctored an exam for a student in Japan. The student scheduled the exam for late Saturday afternoon, but due to the time difference, it was Sunday morning in Japan. “This is the new reality of this moment we’re in,” said Scott. “But it is all about connecting, and technology is enabling us to increase access to education in unprecedented ways.” 

The Testing Services Office offers services during the following days and hours:

  • Monday–Thursday: 8 a.m.–8 p.m.
  • Friday:  8 a.m–7 p.m. 
  • Saturday: 8 a.m.–5 p.m. (excluding holiday weekends)

For more information about Testing Services at TMCC, contact the department at 775-673-7111.