Remote Testing: What It Is, When It Is, Why It Is



Last year, as thousands of CPA Exam sections were cancelled due to the coronavirus, the profession found itself once again faced with the prospect of adaptation. While COVID-19 did not create the concept of remote testing, it certainly managed to expose how such an option can be useful; and not just for extenuating circumstances, but as a means to make the CPA credential yet more accessible. As the CPA Journal reported in October, remote testing could open the door for candidates located in geographically remote regions and candidates with disabilities1.

As COVID-19 vaccination distribution remains a slow, but steady process, remote testing is being considered with the gravity it deserves. As CPA candidates know, timing is essential when planning to sit for the Exam, and the temporary closing of Prometric testing centers last year struck fear into the hearts of many, even resulting in some candidates dropping out of the pipeline altogether. With hindsight on their side, the AICPA is already expecting to have a pilot of the remote test ready to deploy by the second quarter of 2021. So, what will that look like exactly? Well, according to the AICPA, remote testing will rely heavily on three things: proctoring, security and software. Here is what we know so far.

Securing the environment in which candidates take their exam is key to preventing the kind of cheating that makes boards and other stakeholders so wary. According to AICPA Vice President of Examinations Michael Decker, the concern is not individuals cheating during the test, but taking the content of the test and sharing it with others. Therefore, much of this security relies on ensuring that candidates are taking their exam in an environment that is clean, and by ‘clean’ they don’t mean Lysol.

Instead, Prometric will employ what is being referred to as a Readiness Agent which will perform a 360-degree environment check to ensure that anything not required for the Exam is not in the room with the candidate. These things include cellphones, tablets (devices of all kinds, really), unnecessary wires, writing utensils, paper and even children, to name a few. According to Decker, four lonely walls inside a room clear of bookshelves, pictures and any clutter is preferable. In short, sterile is probably a better descriptor than clean.

The second part of ensuring the security of the Exam and its contents relies on software. Candidates will be using their own equipment – computer, monitor and external camera – but the only application that may be installed on the computer at the time of the Exam is the Prometric testing software. The software is the same that is used in Prometric Test Centers, and the driver and content of the exam will be cloud-based, meaning no actual copy of the test will ever touch any candidate’s hard drive.

A readiness check will ensure that a candidate’s computer meets the specification required to run the exam. Following this check and that of the Readiness Agent, candidates will then be handed off for proctoring. Prometric Proctors are trained to monitor up to 8 candidates at a time, constantly watching for subtle abnormalities. The proctors will have the ability to, at any time during the exam, interrupt, inquire and/or terminate the test.

Candidates could be interrupted by the proctor and asked to move their cameras and show parts of their environment, for instance, if they are repeatedly observed looking off to the side or looking down, etc. If the environment is deemed at anytime during the test to be insecure, then that session can be terminated by the proctor.

Of course, many areas of the remote test are still being considered, especially when it comes to interruptions. For example, small children running into the room, power or Wi-Fi outages and other hiccups with terrible timing operating in accordance with Murphy’s Law. The Pilot Exam, which is the current focus of the AICPA, will serve as a proving ground to test such unforeseeable challenges and analyze heightened risk areas, technical architecture, security audits and other considerations.

Source: MICPA

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