Returning to centre-based testing safely and securely with the BTL Test Centre Network

Woman wearing face shield

Protecting the integrity of the assessment is a fundamental part of delivering tests in the BTL Test Centre Network. Many certification and awarding organisations use the international network to enable candidates to sit their exam in a safe, secure and comfortable environment which meets all the technical and logistical requirements of the test.

So, when centres were forced to close for most examinations back in March due to COVID-19, many awarding and certification organisations were faced with a decision to either cancel and reschedule centre-based tests, or adapt to allow learners to continue with their qualifications during this time.

During centre closures, many awarding organisations turned to remote invigilation as a route to letting candidates sit their exams securely from home. The BTL Test Delivery Services team helped many organisations both within and outside of the Surpass Community get started with the remote invigilation service, however, this wasn’t a suitable option for all qualification types.

No one was prepared for the extent of disruption caused when lockdown first hit, but during the period of closure, test centres, BTL and awarding organisations worked closely together to define processes and procedures to ensure that when centres were able to re-open in July, the safety of candidates and centre staff was at the forefront, whilst still protecting the integrity of the test.

‘This year, the year of COVID-19 has seen ICAEW change and develop new processes almost overnight to adapt to the ever-changing restrictions the world has been under for the last 9 months. Remote invigilation was rolled out earlier than originally scheduled to support our students who are not able to or not comfortable with travelling to centres at this time. BTL have been incredible in sourcing more exam venues after many of our popular venues have significantly reduced their capacities in line with social distance guidance. Despite the challenges of 2020, ICAEW worked in partnership with BTL to successfully deliver a total of 22,500 exams in venues and 5000 exams remotely over three sessions.’

Jacqui Bell, Logistics Executive, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

The centre experience had to be closely looked at from end-to-end in order for the necessary changes to be made – how can the registration process be completed safely with sometimes hundreds of candidates per session? What should be done with candidates’ belongings? How can hygiene practices be managed before, during and after the test? How can social distancing be maintained in centres? How can international assessments be delivered with multiple regional and national lockdowns and regulations? How can the integrity of the exam be protected?

Watch our Surpass Community webinar to hear more experiences from centre suppliers

How have centres had to adapt to keep learners and staff safe?

‘Test centres are open now in line with government guidelines and we are seeing organisations restart their assessment programmes. Safety is of the upmost importance, so centres have strict measures in place to protect candidates and staff. Despite social distancing restrictions, we’ve not seen a widespread impact in our centre capacity, as many of the centres’ other normal operations have been put on hold, enhancing our test capacity in some areas. Our global network has demonstrated its unique ability to adapt, and I’m proud of the team’s professionalism.’

Ceri Harper, Head of Test Delivery Services, BTL

BTL has worked closely with centre suppliers to ensure that even during a second lockdown, centre-based testing can continue. The team have had to be sensitive to the ongoing situation internationally, and differing level of restrictions that are in place around the world.

Social distancing is being observed in centres, and all centres within the Surpass Test Centre Network have thorough processes and procedures in place that adhere to current government guidelines.

Measures that have been put in place include, but are not limited to:

  • One-way systems in and out of centres where possible
  • Hand sanitiser in all public areas
  • Removal of public seating to minimise congregation
  • Limiting points of contact between staff and test takers
  • Enforcing social distancing practises throughout the admissions process
  • Sanitisation of all equipment, with wipes available for candidates if required
  • Extra space in the exam room with at least 2m distancing between each candidate
  • Masks in public areas for candidates, and for staff at all times (in line with individual centre regulations)

Whilst social distancing rules mean that often less students can be accommodated in a session than pre-COVID, capacity within the Surpass Test Centre Network overall has not been severely affected, as many centres have made further spaces available for test use due to other business activities being cancelled and are focussing on test delivery as a primary source of business.

Having to actually physically close the doors at the end of March was a real shock to me, and I’m sure it was to many other people…it gave us an opportunity to have a look at our procedures, to look at how we process things and just the running of the centre in general…have BTL helped us through this process and made this transition into this really difficult time easier? Absolutely.’

Mike Cunningham, The Exam Services

In other scenarios, larger venues have been sought out to accommodate candidates whilst adhering to guidelines. Due to the high volume of candidates wanting to sit exams after the lockdown, Surpass test centre supplier TEAMCo, secured space in the ExCeL London, in order to accommodate large number of candidates safely under social distancing restrictions. With 480 candidates per session, preparations for this was a huge undertaking, with all staff undergoing COVID-safe training.

‘We had 4 sections of the excel all dedicated towards these exams, everyone had huge amounts of space around them so there was no problem with social distancing. They were one of the first venues to invest in anti-viral mist…so in between exams all of the equipment and everything inside the venue was sanitised…We were fortunate enough to have an inspection from Newham council…I’m really pleased to say they were so happy with the way things were running they gave us the green light (to carry on).’

Tom Vidler, TEAMCo

Remote Invigilation, Test Centres, or Both?

‘Many organisations have multiple testing scenarios following the ‘new normal’ world we are living in, therefore, providing candidates the choice between live invigilated online tests or seats in a safe test centre is an important requirement. We are pride ourselves on being in the unique position to offer both and a number of our customers already benefit from this hybrid model. In addition, our newly formed partnership with the globally respected provider of online invigilation, Examity, affords us even greater flexibility and enables us to offer a truly comprehensive service to our Awarding Organisations.’

Miriam Broome, Test Delivery Manager – Online Invigilation, The Surpass Team at BTL

One of the silver linings to come from the pandemic is the accelerated introduction of remote invigilation as an alternative delivery method. Prior to COVID, many organisations had reservations about venturing into remote delivery.

In the ‘new normal’, many awarding organisations that transitioned to remote invigilation are continuing to offer this service alongside centre-based testing to give flexibility to learners who may not be able to travel to a centre location, whilst still allowing those who prefer to be in a test centre environment the option to book a seat in a centre.

‘We have a number of students who were given an option of sitting either online or in a centre, and we were really surprised to find that actually people to prefer to study in a centre or take their test in a centre, purely because they are removing themselves from the distractions of home’. 

Becky Daines, Pitman Training

If you are offering remote delivery alongside centre delivery, it’s important to be able to demonstrate comparability between delivery methods, to ensure tests remain valid and fair. Read our article on equivalence reporting to find out more, and how our psychometric experts can help.

About the Surpass Test Centre Network

The Surpass Test Centre Network is made up of more than 250 Surpass-ready audited test centres worldwide, with the ability to source more locations should they be required.

As the Surpass Test Driver can conveniently be installed on any computer, we utilize both independent and vendor-grouped centres to provide you with the highest-quality venues, with flexible capacity to suit you and your learners.

Certification and Licensure bodies are increasingly turning to BTL’s Test Centre Network for the peace of mind that their learners can sit important examinations in a fully-equipped, comfortable, secure and stress-free environment.

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