Q&A with Ceri Harper – find out more about our Test Delivery Services

BTL offer a range of Test Delivery Services, allowing organisations to expand their reach, and have the confidence that tests are delivered securely and without issue, giving candidates the best possible experience.

We spoke to Ceri Harper, to find out more about her role as Head of Test Delivery Services, and the services on offer.

Ceri Harper

Ceri Harper – Head of Test Delivery Services

Ceri heads up BTL’s Test Delivery Services team, a role which includes the management of our Test Centre Network and our Online Invigilation service. Ceri has a well established history in the assessment sector, having worked with AAT and Pitman. This role included setting up and running the day to day management of a professional test centre in the UK, where she administered exams for RCPCH and AAT.

Ceri’s knowledge from the candidate and invigilation side has already proven invaluable in running BTL’s established Test Delivery Services, and as we break new ground in online invigilation, Ceri is looking forward to working with the Surpass Community further.

Hi Ceri, firstly, for anyone who may not be familiar with the services BTL provide, can you give a short summary of BTL’s Test Delivery Services?

Of course, we provide customers with tailor-made solutions to suit their business needs. Whether that’s providing access to a global test centre network, or a secure online invigilation service, we can help. We’re passionate about ensuring the candidate has the best possible experience, and adopt the best technology to ensure high standards of quality and service are met.

What’s your background, and what attracted you to the role with BTL?

I previously worked as a student recruitment manager for AAT, before moving to Yorkshire and opening a test centre in Leeds for Pitman Training, where we administered exams delivered through Surpass for AAT and RCPCH.

The role with BTL fitted nicely with my experience, both of working from the candidate’s perspective, and also from a test delivery perspective.

Working in Test Centres must have given you a great insight into how they operate. What kinds of things were you able to bring to the role from past experience?

Yes, it’s been invaluable to have had experience of running a test centre. Not only was I already familiar with the Surpass software, I had a great insight into how an exam day operates, and first-hand experience of the running of a test centre which put me in an excellent position for this role.

What does your role as Head of Test Delivery Services at BTL involve?

There’s five members of the Test Delivery Services team in total, and it’s my responsibility to oversee the running of the team and the various services we offer. We’ve recently seen an expansion of our services, with the introduction of a new online invigilation service, and as a result of this and our ever-growing Test Centre Network, the team has recently grown too. We are very lucky to have brought in some very strong and experienced members to ensure the team meets and exceeds customer expectations throughout the whole exam journey. It’s my role to look at our function across the business, look at new opportunities, and ensure everything runs smoothly.

You mentioned a new online invigilation service, how does that work exactly?

Yes, we’re extremely excited to have been able to launch this service. It’s something we’ve been keen to do for a while, and a recent addition to the Surpass Community, the Association of Corporate Treasures (ACT), gave us the perfect opportunity.

We’ve partnered with ProctorExam to provide a fully web-based solution with dual camera monitoring, which allows candidates the flexibility of sitting their test in a location convenient to them, without compromising the security of the assessment. Whilst we’re leveraging the ProctorExam technology, the customer’s contract is solely with BTL, which allows us to provide a streamlined service alongside Surpass.

Tests are simply scheduled in Surpass as normal, but on exam day candidates find a convenient and private location e.g. the home or workplace, log into the application to perform a series of identity and environment checks, and then start their exam as normal. The exam session is recorded, via a webcam and the candidate’s mobile phone which they place behind them, along with a screen capture. The exam is either invigilated live, or reviewed after the exam session by a team of trained reviewers, who will flag up any untoward behaviour.

Don’t people tend to feel a bit uncomfortable being recorded while taking their test?

In my experience, candidates seem to soon forget that they are being recorded. The benefits of being able to take their test in a convenient location, reducing stress levels, seem to far outweigh any concern about the cameras. Judging by what some of our reviewers see when reviewing the footage, candidates are very comfortable! Also, the majority of candidates will have nothing to hide anyway, they just want to be able to concentrate on their test and demonstrate what they know, so it’s not a problem.

Surely it can’t capture everything though without a person being in the room to closely monitor the candidate. Is it as secure as traditional invigilation?

Yes, certainly. We’ve even had comments that it could be more secure in some respects. Before entering their assessment, the candidate performs thorough ID and environment checks using their phone, which even include checking behind their ears and up their sleeves, which is unlikely to happen in an exam hall. I’ve seen more of some candidates than I ever thought I would! They scan the entire room with their phone, including under their desks, so there’s little chance of any disallowed items in the room, or any opportunities for cheating. It’s really easy for the candidate to do, and an excellent use of the smartphone technology that most candidates have readily available.

The candidate then places their phone behind them, so that their behaviour is recorded from both in front, and behind. The software also captures what’s happening on the candidate’s screen.

With the ‘record and review’ method, trained reviewers watch the exam session back, and with this method it’s quite easy to pick up on any odd or suspicious behaviour that may need to be addressed, as it becomes more apparent than if you were monitoring a large number of candidates at once in an exam hall.

So why would an organisation opt for online invigilation, as opposed to traditional in-person invigilation at a centre?

There could be a number of reasons, but for the customer we launched this service with, it was to give candidates flexibility and allow convenience over where they sit their test. In some professional qualifications, candidates are within the workplace where it can be difficult to take time out to travel to a test centre. The online Invigilation technology means they can sit their test in the workplace, or at home, creating a stress-free experience, without compromising on security.

Organisations may also choose this to be able to reach candidates in areas where there aren’t any convenient test centres, ensuring candidates can sit their exam wherever they are.

Has there been a lot of interest in this service?

We see a lot of potential for this service and it’s looking really promising so far. We are currently undertaking pilots with some customers so that they can get a taste for what it is and how it works and identify whether it’s the right solution for them.

It sounds like Online Invigilation is a fantastic new service to add to BTL’s offering, and gives organisations even more choice about how and where they deliver tests. Another option of course is for organisations to use BTL’s Test Centre Network. It’s already very well established, but why did BTL initially decide to introduce this service?

The Test Centre Network was initially set up to meet the needs of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), who wanted a single supplier for both the assessment software, and their test centres. It was designed for high-stakes, session-based exams and we saw it as a great opportunity and something that would appeal to other customers using Surpass as well. The network was first established in 2014 with 10 centres, and has gone from strength to strength since then.

How many Test Centres are currently part of BTL’s Test Centre Network?

It’s the the largest Test Centre Network in the UK, and there’s currently over 290 Surpass-ready audited Test Centres around the world, which we are adding to all the time. We work with over 40 professional test centre suppliers, and often need to source centres in new locations to meet the needs of our customers, so we can scale-up even further should the need arise.

There are Centres in all the major cities in the UK, and in many overseas locations including Qatar, Egypt, Singapore, and Malaysia to name just a few.

How do you identify suitable centres, and do they all have to meet certain standards?

Sometimes we’ll be approached by a centre, or we might reach out to one of our suppliers if a customer needs a centre in a location that we don’t currently provide.

Before a new centre even comes on board, we ask for key information, so we can form an initial impression of how suitable they will be. If they pass that stage, we’ll then perform an in-person audit, ensuring the environment meets our expectations. We work to JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) standards, which set out the requirements of test centres. We also perform a technical check on all the computers to make sure they meet the correct specifications for delivering tests using Surpass. Amongst other things, we look at the environment of the centre, for example, that it is a clean and quiet space, that it can be easily accessed, presence of secure storage areas, appropriate space between desks etc. Basically everything that would contribute to a good experience for the candidate, and a secure and smooth-running test.

We have been known to fail a couple of centres if we’re not happy that they fully meet with the requirements, so we are extremely strict when it comes to standards. Although thankfully, we don’t have to fail any too often!

With so many centres on board, it must be difficult to ensure standards are maintained and they are operating in line with your expectations. Are there processes in place to manage this?

Each centre undergoes a regular audit. In addition to this, we sometimes conduct spot checks of centres on exam days, and the awarding organisations themselves will occasionally visit the centre.

We also provide training and documentation to centre staff and Invigilators, and they must pass a certification exam to demonstrate they understand the process and functionality for invigilating assessments in Surpass.

It’s quite a rigorous process, but essential for ensuring every centre operates smoothly and provides the best possible experience for candidates. I think everyone who undergoes this certification process would agree it’s worthwhile!

In the run up to exams, and on exam day itself, the Test Delivery Services team provide operations support to centres, whilst the support desk is on-hand to deal with any technical queries.

We’ve built up excellent relationships with all our centres, so they know they can trust us to provide support when it’s needed, and through these processes we can trust them to consistently meet our high standards.

Quality is of the utmost importance to us as the Centres are representatives of BTL and Surpass and we need to ensure they consistently meet with our high standards. We are also conscious of how stressful an exam day can be for candidates, so by providing a good quality centre that meets all the requirements for a smooth-running test session, we can help to provide an excellent candidate experience.

Are centres dealing with large volumes of candidates on exam days?

The capacity of centres varies, from as little as 4 seats, up to 150, which is great as it gives even more flexibility over how far candidates need to travel to sit their test, and accommodates different customer requirements.

We provide support to centres no matter how big or small, and encourage centre staff to pick up the phone even if they are just unsure of something and want to double-check with us; we are always happy to provide advice.

To give an idea of numbers, we had 83,000 seat bookings in 2018 alone, which demonstrates the scale of the service.

That’s impressive. Have you seen volumes increase year on year? What’s 2019 looking like?

Yes, since we launched 2014 volumes have continued to increase, we’ve currently got 86,000 seat bookings for 2019, with those tests being delivered in centres in over 100 countries.

Which organisations make use of the Test Centre Network?

We are currently working with two customers for their session-based exams, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), and Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW).

As mentioned earlier, customers often like to have one supplier for all parts of the assessment process, but also, using our Test Centre Network gives them access to a large number of test centres of varying capacity, which they know meet our high standards and all the requirements for delivering tests using Surpass. So, by using our Test Centre network we can remove the burden of the organisation sourcing suitable centres in the right locations, whilst ensuring candidates receive an excellent experience.

Organisation’s just want a secure environment with the correct facilities so that candidates can fully concentrate on their exam, and we can provide that.

We’ve heard a lot about the services currently on offer, but what does the future hold for BTL’s Test Delivery Services? Are there any plans to expand further?

From what we’ve seen in the last year alone, it’s only going to expand further. The Online Invigilation service is obviously something quite new for us, so we’re looking forward to working with more customers on that, and the Test Centre Network is growing all the time. We’re also looking at all elements of delivery, including on-demand and BYOD testing, which may be further additions to the Test Delivery Services.

That sounds very exciting, if anyone reading this wants to find out more about any of the services, or wants to become part of the Test Centre Network, who should they contact?

Existing customers can get in touch with their Account Manager to find out more, or I’m happy to be contacted on ceri.harper@btl.com.

Start your journey towards remote candidate testing – get in touch with the Test Delivery Services team now.