The International Hearing Society (IHS) is a worldwide membership association that represents hearing healthcare professionals. These professionals service the hearing-impaired population by testing hearing, selecting, fitting, and dispensing hearing instruments, and providing follow-up care and counseling.
As the membership organization for thousands of independent specialists, IHS promotes and maintains the highest possible standards and customer service for its candidate population, providing programs in competency accreditation, education, and training while encouraging specialty-level certifications.
“At IHS we pride ourselves in providing exceptional customer service and putting our members and customers first and foremost! It’s a hallmark and tenet of how we value ourselves as an association,” said Sierra Sharpe, the IHS Professional Development Project Manager who leads management of the International Licensing Examination for Hearing Healthcare Professionals (ILE). “We are aware of the rigor required of our candidates as they endeavor to earn licensure and we continually do our best to find solutions to support them.”
This focus on customer service was put to the test when candidate requests and good psychometric practice collided. Candidates were asking for domain-level sub-score results to help them better evaluate their performance on specific topics covered in the exam. Following good psychometric practice, IHS does not report such sub-score results because of the relatively short lengths (and, consequently, lower reliability) of the domain sections.
“It was a daily struggle for us to tell candidates we were not able to provide that level of information. Because of our ongoing goal to provide excellent customer service, it was an especially tough message to deliver,” said Sharpe. “We knew there was a gap we needed to fill but were in a quandary as to how to make it happen.”
As more candidates took the licensure exam and continued to request section-level results, IHS was determined to remove the pain points their candidates were experiencing and to find a solution to fill that gap.
“Alpine was aware of our predicament and recommended we explore the option of providing practice exams offered through Test Run, a notable partner of theirs. We met with Test Run to learn of their offering and immediately saw how it could fill in the missing gap and benefit our program and our candidates, “said Sharpe.
IHS wasted no time finalizing the decision to implement Test Run and has not looked back. They branded their Test Run platform as “ILE Test Prep.” Approximately 70% of IHS candidates have adopted the use of the platform. According to Sharpe, “It has demystified the exam experience and helped candidates feel more prepared and less stressed by familiarizing them with the types of content they will see on the licensure exam.”
“We also provide the IHS Competency Mapping tool for candidates, which shows how the different lessons in our education products align to our competency model (blueprint). Test Run separates questions by domain and objective and so it’s easy to see the relationship. Not only are we now able to show candidates strengths and weaknesses based on their experience with ILE Test Prep–we are also able to give them tools to enhance study efforts in those areas. The reception has just been overwhelming – and very positive for our candidates,” shared Sharpe. “We also have a Distance Learning Course (DLC), which candidates complete while receiving hands-on training at a hearing healthcare practice. These products fit together to provide great benefit to pre-licensure hearing aid specialists.”
Satisfied candidates and trainers have expressed appreciation for ILE Test Prep powered by Test Run.
“ILE Test Prep has been an invaluable solution to better prepare students/trainees for the ILE when used in conjunction with the DLC and Trainer Manual. It has proven to further develop the requisite knowledge to pass the exam while simultaneously familiarizing its users with examples of the exam format. Since its recent introduction it has been my experience that the confidence level, and pass rates, of those who have utilized ILE Test Prep prior to the exam far surpasses that of those who have not. When used as teaching tool regarding practical subject matter, ILE Test Prep is a must-have resource for any student/trainee and their mentor.”
– Mike Gedeon, Trainer, ACA, BC-HIS
Other IHS stakeholders are also benefitting from ILE Test Prep.
Businesses that provide on-the-job training are finding value from ILE Test Prep. It’s a great tool for their trainers to quickly and efficiently get people trained, licensed, and ready to perform as full professionals. It potentially reduces the number of times their candidates have to take the exam, which saves the company money.
State and provincial licensing boards also are finding value from ILE Test Prep. Like IHS, licensing boards received requests from candidates seeking more detailed feedback regarding their test results. These licensing board stakeholders can now give a more satisfying answer with ILE Test Prep in place.
IHS has achieved financial benefits with ILE Test Prep as well. Perhaps the biggest surprise in the way of financial benefits is the passive revenue stream that ILE Test Prep has provided.
“Test Run’s mission is to provide credentialing organizations with a cost-free premium learning resource to help improve their candidate outcomes, while strengthening their operating budgets in the process,” stated Dwayne Gray, Founder and CEO of Test Run.
“We implemented Test Run in March 2019 and finished the year at 172% of our budgeted revenue goal. It added a significant revenue stream – with extremely low levels of staff effort – and blew our revenue expectations out of the water!” said Sharpe. “That’s been a real positive win for us internally. The new revenue stream has allowed us to offset ongoing exam maintenance and development costs and provided funds for additional improvements to our program. And because we didn’t have to pay upfront setup costs, we were able to invest in a fairly comprehensive marketing plan to promote the new offering.”
The IHS marketing plan includes a mass mailing campaign where they target trainers, people who have failed the ILE, and those who are using Test Run as they enter the field (pre-licensure). Targeted emails to education program candidates as well as social media campaigns are ongoing. IHS currently has a Facebook campaign underway where they post a specific ILE Test Prep practice question to entice people to insert their answers in the comment field. They are then instructed to check the IHS website on the following day to see the answer, which brings more traffic to their site and interest to their program.
“Not only has the ILE Test Prep helped us fill the missing gap, improve our program, and provide value to stakeholder groups, it has been a joy to work with Test Run,” said Sharpe. “Test Run does not require any financial investment up front. They efficiently orchestrate the entire setup, implementation, and branding process free of charge and merely take a small cut of the revenue each month for their compensation. They’ve made it so easy that I hardly think about it. Maybe an hour a week of staff time is devoted to the maintenance of this platform. Test Run handles everything else for us, which is really nice!”
Gray explained the process, “When a credentialing organization comes on board, we work closely with them to set up a customized platform and import their practice items and custom content. We then provide dedicated support for the organization, as well as all candidate and tech support, so virtually no work is required to manage and maintain the system. Organizations can just sit back and watch their candidates improve, and their revenues grow.”
IHS populates its Test Run platform with older, more exposed items from the ILE that would have typically been retired. This provides an additional financial advantage by giving IHS a way to capitalize on their original item development investment, while maintaining security of the licensing exam items.
”This is a typical model for many of our clients. They use retired or compromised items, which gives them an extended shelf life and can serve candidates by guiding them in their studies and helping them determine where they need to develop and increase their knowledge as they prepare for their exam,” said Gray.
Dr. Brett Foley, Alpine’s Director of Professional Credentialing, also pointed to some psychometric benefits to using retired items in a practice test system. “A candidate’s performance on their first exam attempt may not be an accurate indication of their true ability if they are hampered by a lack of familiarity with the exam format, structure, and conditions. Having access to authentic, test-used content might help reduce some sources of anxiety and build confidence, allowing the candidate to perform at their best. Additionally, by using only retired items, these benefits are achieved without threatening the security or fairness of the operational exams.”
“At the forefront,” agreed Gray, “our primary goal is to help candidates feel more confident in their exam pursuits and to help them achieve greater success.” He continued, “One client recently shared with us that in the 3 years since they began using Test Run, they have seen an astonishing 9% increase in Candidate Pass Rates (across all five of their exams)”.
Sharpe agrees that Test Run provides great value. “We are seeing phenomenal results.Without Test Run, IHS wouldn’t have practice exams because there would be no staff time to support it. Signing a contract, researching, and maintaining a platform (not to mention the financial investment) would require resources we don’t have as a small non-profit association,” she explained. “Test Run continues to do everything for us. As we add new items to the [practice] bank, they even take care of that for us. It has been such a positive experience with a low staff effort burden. Test Run has been just great and I would not want to do it without them.”
The IHS/Test Run/Alpine partnership is a “Win: Win: Win” relationship that has allowed IHS to put candidates first and foremost by solving their needs. It has also solidified lasting partnerships and provided financial perks as a bonus they never expected.