How to Prepare for a Practical Exam
What is a Practical Exam?
In a practical exam (also known as a performance exam), a work situation is replicated to test a candidate’s ability and skill in performing critical and frequently performed job duties. A candidate can expect to be evaluated by rater(s) who are experts in the field. The experts will give identical instructions to all candidates and evaluate all candidates according to the same set of rating standards.
How do I prepare for a practical exam?
The only way to prepare and score high on a practical exam is to know how to do the job and know how to do it well. There are no short-cuts, no books to study, no manuals to read, and no test-taking tips on how to pass a practical exam. This is an applied test where previous hands-on experience and “how to” skills are invaluable. If you have extensive experience performing the most common job duties of the field, you are likely to do well on the test.
Types of practical tests
- Job task: Candidates are tested on different job tasks. The test is designed to include a set of well-structured tasks that highly resemble real parts of a job. For example, a truck driver may be asked to complete a driving assignment, a painter may be asked to paint a wall, or a tile layer may be asked to set tile.
- Writing Skills test: Candidates are asked to prepare a written document (memo, report, summary, plan, etc.) using a provided computer in a controlled setting with supplied information or materials. The test is designed to represent the writing requirements of the job. The product is evaluated by trained raters using structured scoring guidelines. The assessment will likely include writing mechanics, organization, clarity and conciseness, analysis and critical thinking, technical soundness, etc..
- In-basket exercises: Candidates sort through a manager’s “in-basket” of letters, memos, e-mails, and/or reports describing problems and scenarios. Candidates are asked to review them, prioritize them, and respond appropriately with memos, action plans, and problem-solving strategies. Managerial and professional judgment and decision making will likely be a focus, and elements of writing skills testing (see above) will likely be included.
- Physical Abilities tests: Some jobs require general physical abilities such as lifting, pushing, pulling, climbing, crouching, crawling, reaching, balancing, eye hand coordination, manual dexterity and steadiness, etc. When physical abilities are essential job requirements, they may be tested in a standardized environment and using standardized equipment or materials. At all times, safety will be a primary consideration in the design and administration of the test. In the event of a safety concern (e.g., the candidate doing something that puts him/her at risk), the testing may be terminated.
- Presentation Simulations: This technique requires the job candidate prepare a brief presentation on a job-related topic and to answer questions from a panel of interviewers. Usually, the presentation is a mini simulation of the kind of presentations made on the job, and the panel represents the kind of audience likely to be encountered. Each member of the panel then rates each interviewee on presentation skills, and possibly other areas such as handling stress, managing conflict, influencing, etc. A variation may include having the candidate prepare a written response to a technical issue and then present it orally to the panel. In addition to the presentation skills, the written response may also be used to evaluate clarity and effectiveness of writing skills as part of an Oral Exam.
- Role Play Simulations: Candidates are asked to pretend that they already have the job and must interact with another employee or client to solve a problem. The other role player is a trained rater. For example, the candidates may be asked to play the role of a supervisor, to show how they interact with and counsel an employee. This is often administered in conjunction with an Oral Exam.
- Keyboarding Tests: Candidates are asked to type in order to measure the speed and accuracy of their typing skills.
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