By Christina Herzog, Senior Analyst and Coach, Maher & Maher

A number of TechHire grantees are facing a particularly difficult challenge: helping students pass exams at the end of their programs. While grantees are having success getting students into their programs, some students have struggled to apply the learning in their certification exams across a variety of programs.

Three TechHire grantees—Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, Midlands Tech College in South Carolina, and Pellissippi State Community College in Tennessee, joined a Peer Consultancy call in July 2018 to exchange ideas, brainstorm challenges, and identify promising practices. Two key ideas emerged as particularly promising: creating supports for test preparation and staying connected to students to retake the exam for certification should they struggle in the first test.

Creating Supports for Test Preparation

Ivy Tech received reports from students that not all of the material on the CompTIA 901 and 902 tests was being covered in class. They also found that they were losing the engagement of students around the 6- to 10-week mark, and students were having trouble completing the course and taking the exam. The grantee wanted to ensure that students were accessing all of the books and materials necessary to fully prepare for the exam. As a result, both Ivy Tech and Midlands Tech (who was having a similar challenge with its CompTIA exams) have instituted working study groups. At Ivy Tech they bring in a former student who has successfully completed both the course and the certification to share ideas and test prep skills. They have increased the use of study guides and are providing additional tips to students. Midlands has also added a two-week in person bootcamp at the start of their program and exam prep assistance. A majority of grantees on the call recommended using TestOut and MeasureUp practice test tools with their participants. Others, such as Montgomery College, provide a full two weeks of test prep at the end of formal instruction and prior to administering the CompTIA exams. North Texas College requires students to have scored at least 90 in two practice tests before taking the exam. And, the Youth Policy Institute (TechHire LA) noted that their partners had raised private funds to provide food for study hours, which increases student participation in extra study sessions.

Staying connected

Several participating programs noted that it can be difficult to stay connected to students who are discouraged after an unsuccessful first attempt to pass certification exams. While some grantees on the call noted that they initially planned to have students test before leaving the program, they have adjusted their procedures and moved testing to occur during the program instead of after the program. Montgomery College requires students to test for their certification exam prior to the end of class and to provide scores. If necessary, a tutor is provided to students who did not pass their first exam to support content remediation before students retake the exam. For anyone who has not passed the exam by the end of class, an intensive study skills instruction course taught by IT instructors is provided. If students continue to be unsuccessful, the program conducts a review of the student’s English language skills and further assesses their understanding of the certificate content.

The Youth Policy Institute build connections between participants by sponsoring tech meet-ups between students and Junior Developers from local start-up companies. They have found that this approach helps to keep students engaged and, in some cases, can lead to future job opportunities.

The Ivy Tech, Midlands Tech, and Pellissippi State Community College teams continue to work toward improving student performance and success in completing certification. As your program works to explore strategies to support students as they gain certification, your TA coach can be a useful resource. Don’t hesitate to share your success stories and promising practices as well as any challenges you might like to discuss in future Peer Consultancy calls with your coach.

More information on the programs that contributed to the discussion during this peer consultancy is available online, using the links below:

  • Ivy Tech program site here
  • Midlands Tech program site here
  • Pellissippi State Community College site here
  • Montgomery College’s program site here
  • Youth Policy Institute’s program site here, and recent events here