The latest news on online testing

OnlineTesting2By Marybeth Everhart

By now you have likely heard that, beginning in 2015, NCRA skills tests will be moved online. (May 2 will be the last brick-and-mortar testing.) But what exactly does that mean and how does it affect you, if at all? No doubt, you have lots of questions, so let’s try to answer them.

What is online testing?

What online testing means is that you will no longer be required to travel to a testing location at a date and time specified by NCRA, and you will have more than two or three testing opportunities per year. Instead, you will be able to schedule your test — RPR, RMR, CRR, CBC, or CCP — for a day and time that best suits your schedule and preparedness level. Are you a morning person and feel you are at your best at 6 a.m.? Then schedule your certification exam for 6 a.m. Or do you prefer to stay up late and want an 11:30 p.m. test? Maybe Saturday at 3 p.m. is best because your spouse, kids, and family pets will be out of the house and you can concentrate. Whatever suits your schedule best is what works!

How many tests can I take each year?

Will the test still be offered just three times a year? Nope, the tests will no longer be comprised of just three testing events each year — May, November, and August. Instead, you can take up to six tests per year (twice the current offering), and you’ll receive expedited test results! No more six-week wait for your score and then waiting a couple of months for another shot at the certification. You can take each test twice every four months — again, when you’re ready and feeling confident, you can take a certification exam and receive instant feedback.

Who creates the tests?

All tests are still created by the National Court Reporters Association, but the tests will be delivered online via myRealtimeCoach and proctored by ProctorU.

How do I register for an online test?

Of course, the process will not be exactly the same as it’s always been. That’s what change means: a new approach. Much like you did for a brick-and-mortar test, you go to NCRA.org/testing to register. After completing the registration process, you’ll receive a confirmation email from NCRA with instructions for contacting ProctorU to schedule your test.

What if I don’t need all three legs of the RPR or RMR?

Good news! Now take just the leg or legs you need, and pay for only those legs!

What is ProctorU?

ProctorU is the online proctoring company selected by NCRA to provide live, online proctoring for all future exams. To learn more about them, go to proctoru.com.

How will the tests be delivered?

You’ll go online to take the tests. You will have an online proctor, through ProctorU, confirming your identity. You will log onto myRealtimeCoach.com to access the test(s) you have registered for, and the proctor can confirm you are on the right site if you are unsure. When ready, you will click the “Play” button to play the one-minute warm-up and, again when ready, click the “Play” button to play the audio for the certification test.

Do I need to be a member of myRealtimeCoach in order to take an exam?

No, you do not. If you already have a membership to myRealtimeCoach, then you’ll know where to go, how to log in, and how myRealtimeCoach works, so you’ll be more comfortable on test day; however, membership is not required.

Can I practice on the myRealtimeCoach site prior to testing?

Of course! Again, if you already have a membership to myRealtimeCoach, you are already familiar with the site and the functionality. If you are not a member, you will have access to several sample tests so you can practice and prepare prior to actually taking an exam.

What equipment will I need to test online?

As you would imagine, you’ll need the same equipment you’ve always needed, such as a computer, your writer, and CAT software, but you’ll also need a few more items:

  • Internet access. You can’t go online without it!
  • A gooseneck webcam. Why? Because the proctor will need to see you and the room you are testing in, just as an on-site proctor would. But why a gooseneck and not the one built into my computer? Because the proctor will ask you to do a 360-degree pan of the room and to view your equipment from different angles. That’s nearly impossible to do with your computer, especially with various peripherals attached to it.
  • Why headphones if I’m taking a test by myself? Good question! Two reasons: One, headphones will block out any extraneous noise, like your neighbor’s dog barking or the doorbell ringing and, two, there will be no ambient audio that can be recorded and later listened to or shared with others. Security and test integrity are important!
  • Windows XP or higher and Mac OSX or higher. No DOS computers, please!
  • A Web browser like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari. The same Web browser you use to access Facebook and Pinterest will work just fine.
  • Adobe Flash Player v11 and Adobe Shockwave Player are recommended plug-ins for your webcam. You likely already have them installed on your computer without even realizing it. If you are unsure, ask any teenager in your life, and he or she can confirm that for you.
  • A shredder. If you prefer to print your transcript to proofread it (RPR and RMR only), you will need to have a shredder handy so you can shred that copy in front of the proctor before completing the testing session.”

OnlineTesting1What else should I know before registering for a test?

As part of the testing process, you’ll need to upload some files. Don’t panic! This is much like attaching a file to an email, but you will need to know where to find your CAT files on your computer and what the file extensions are. For instance, how does your CAT software designate your steno notes and your transcript files? Is it FILENAME.not or FILENAME.sgngl or FILENAME.trp? Most likely, you look at those file extensions every day as you produce transcripts, but perhaps you’ve never paid attention to them. Now would be the time. If you don’t know where your files are kept or what file extensions are used, contact your CAT vendor for assistance, and do so well in advance of taking a test so you are comfortable with the names and locations. For practice, send yourself or your friends emails with note files and transcripts attached so navigating to those locations and finding those files becomes second nature.

How and when will I receive my test results?

When you complete the testing process, you will immediately receive an electronically graded score. That means you will receive the percentage of accuracy determined by the myRealtimeCoach grading engine, which does a word-by-word comparison of your transcript to the master transcript. If your electronic score is below 90 percent, then that is your final grade, meaning that you know instantly that you did not pass. If, however, your electronic grade is 90 percent or higher, your transcript will be reviewed by an NCRA Qualified Grader to confirm your final score. Note that 90 percent is not the required accuracy to pass a certification exam! The RPR and RMR requirements are still 95 percent, and the CRR, CBC, and CCP requirements are still 96 percent. The 90 percent is simply a threshold set to designate the need for a human review of an electronic grading.

It is also worth noting that candidates will have the opportunity to review, at a nominal fee, their graded transcript (with or without a Qualified Grader’s review) to identify the errors made. After all, you cannot improve your skills if you are not aware of the types of errors you are making.

What if I would rather go to a test site?

If you feel you are really a brick-and-mortar kind of test-taker, don’t despair! On-site tests will still be available May 2015, so you have time to prepare. Start prepping now so you’re ready!

What if I have more questions?

NCRA has created an online testing resource center with helpful information on CAT software settings, putting your writer in test mode, security questions, and much more. Access those resources by going to NCRA.org/testing.

Marybeth Everhart, MA, RPR, CRI, CPE, is the national marketing manager at Realtime Coach, a realtime trainer, and former court reporter. She can be reached at meverhart@learnrealtime.com.