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Examination and Testing System
THE COMPUTER-BASED TESTING SYSTEM :
A Breakthrough in the Philippine Civil Service Examination System
Introduction
One of the most important and visible functions of the Philippine Civil Service Commission (PCSC) is the conduct of examinations - the first step in the process of selecting prospective civil servants.
Examinations are conducted in pursuance of the constitutional mandate that appointments in the civil service, except to certain positions defined by law, shall be made according to merit and fitness to be determined as far as practicable through competitive examinations. Examinations are considered as the most objective means to determine who among the hundreds of applicants aspiring to join the government are most qualified. Those who will pass civil service examinations are conferred a civil service eligibility -- a basic requirement for entrance to government service.
The examination system of the PCSC is as old as the civil service system of the Philippines. Every year since 1900, the PCSC has been administering examinations for entrance in the government. In the past seven years, the PCSC administered at least five examinations a year to some 5,000 to 400,000 examinees nationwide. In fact, in 1994 alone, the PCSC administered various examinations to some 570,000 examinees. The large volume of examinees who take the examinations every year underscore the important role of the PCSC in keeping professionalism and competence in the bureaucracy.
The Office for Recruitment, Examination and Placement (ERPO) is the specific unit of the PCSC tasked to implement the overall examination and placement programs of the Commission. It is also the lead office that studies and recommends policies concerning civil service examinations.
Before the PCSC started to move towards the path of computerization, examinees of civil service examinations had to write their answers on mimeographed answer sheets. Those answer sheets were handscored twice to ensure accurate results. A number of employees designated as checkers painstakingly handscored the answer sheets. Most often, public school teachers were commissioned during their non-teaching hours to handscore answer sheets. The release of the test results of a multiple-choice type of test normally took a year for a test population of about 100,000.
The PCSC’s examination system has gradually taken off from its crude beginnings. Starting 1967, the examination system began to use computer technology, initially, in the processing of test results. The year 1990 marked a milestone in the history of the PCSC’s examination system. It was during that year that the PCSC acquired mid-range computers to beef up its capability to handle more test data and process them at a much faster rate such that results were released in only about six months. The impact of this important development was far-reaching as it gave birth to the PCSC’s vision of a computer-based examination system.
In the latter part of 1990, the concept of a "walk-in" type of examinations started to take shape. The walk-in examination system is envisioned to be an "instant test - instant result" type of thing. One who wishes to work in the government but has no Certificate of Civil Service Eligibility can simply walk-in the PCSC office or any of its regional offices and apply for an examination. If he is found qualified to take the test, he can immediately take one on the same day he applied. After the test, he can wait for a few minutes for the result of his test.
While this vision of a one-stop examination scheme has tremendous potential, at that time, the needed technology was not yet available to the PCSC. Despite this, the PCSC remained steadfast in its intention to pursue this vision.
One of the most significant steps it made towards this direction was the implementation of the "dispersed" examinations. The "dispersed" examinations were administered twice a year.
It did not take long before the PCSC thought of administering the examination more frequently. Beginning 1994, the Career Service examination has been administered six times a year in 14 regions throughout the Philippines.
These developments have encouraged the PCSC to build the ground work for a fully-computerized examination system. In 1991, the PCSC embarked on an ambitious project to develop its own software programs to begin the process of computerizing the entire examination system. First to be given priority is the creation of a computer-based test bank.
The Computer-Based Test Bank
Early in 1991, the computer-based test development system or the Examination Generation System (EGNS) was developed. The EGNS was designed for test item banking, assembly of test forms, and generation of equivalent test forms.
Through the years, the PCSC has continuously enriched and refined the test bank. The test questions in the test bank are classified according to the subject area, specific skills to be measured and the difficulty level. The questions drawn from the test bank are "assembled" to make a test form. On each examination schedule, a different test form is used to maintain variety and confidentiality of the test questions. While no two test forms are alike, they are nonetheless equivalent in that their level of difficulties are the same.
Prior to the installation of the EGNS, the PCSC’s test bank was in the form of records and index cards. Recording, filing, storage, retrieval and assembly of the test items were done manually. But with the EGNS, a whole test form can be generated in minutes by only pressing several keys on the computer keyboard. Presently, the EGNS can generate a 150-item test in just ten minutes.
Periodic review and refinement of the test items in the test bank are performed to ensure that they remain relevant and up-to-date. While the Office for Recruitment, Examination and Placement (ERPO) maintains and enriches the computerized test bank, it also solicits the expertise of Test Consultants from the academe to write and review various types of test questions.
The operationalization of the computer-based test bank provided an impetus for the Commission to experiment on the walk-in examination system for the Career Service Examination. The walk-in examination system has metamorphosed from a paper-and-pencil testing scheme in 1991 to computer-assisted testing in 1994.
Computer-Assisted Test (CAT)
Computer-Assisted Testing (CAT) is a PCSC-developed software program designed to administer the PCSC’s Career Service Professional or Subprofessional examinations - the entrance test for the second and first level employees, respectively, in the government. It facilitates the systematic storage, updating and retrieval of pertinent examinee data as well as checking and scoring of examinee answers to test questions from a computerized software. It is also able to generate reports of ratings and statistics of the test scores.
The CAT system, a tool for test administration, replaces the paper-and-pencil type of examination and enables speedy checking and scoring of the examinees’ answer data on different levels or types of examination. The system provides the advantage of generating test results to examinees within one hour. It is also capable of generating statistical reports of the test scores and other pertinent data about the examination.
CAT Version 1.0 was initially administered in July 1994. Under this system, the examinees read the test questions from a test booklet or printed questionnaire, but recorded their answers on the computer. In the latter part of that year, the PCSC marked another milestone in the field of testing. By redesigning the framework of the CAT Version 1.0, the PCSC came up with the CAT Version 2.0. This higher version of the CAT enables the examinees to read the questions from the computer monitor and record their answers on the computer.
The design of the CAT system is so simple that even those who do not have any experience in operating computers can easily take the test. It is equipped with user-friendly features that can be easily understood and appreciated by the examinee. One unique characteristic of the CAT is the tutorial session which the examinee may choose to undergo before proceeding to the actual test. The "practice test" is a ten-minute, ten-item test which enables the examinee to familiarize himself with the instructions in taking the test. Because of this, the CAT is administered with minimum supervision from a test proctor or administrator.
The CAT System aims to :
provide an individual, through a one-stop process, the opportunity to acquire a civil service eligibility at a time he/she may need it for immediate employment in the government;
facilitate the evaluation and processing of examination results (as compared to the paper-and-pencil test which took at least a month before the results are released, in the CAT, it only takes about an hour) and;
make the administration of Career Service test flexible and convenient because the examinee does not have to wait for the next scheduled examination.
CAT Administration
At present, the CAT is operationalized in all 14 PCSC regional offices throughout the Philippines. Each of the regional offices has at least 15 computers dedicated for the CAT. The frequency of the conduct of the CAT depends on the regional office’s capabilities.
The ERPO serves as the core unit for the CAT operations. The operation of the CAT starts with the generation of the test form from the computer-based test bank stationed in the ERPO. The test package, which includes the test form or the test questionnaire, key to correction, and table of score transmutation, is transmitted from ERPO to the 14 PCSC regional offices through the WAN (Wide Area Network). The regional offices download the test package into a computer and store it in a floppy diskette for installation. The test package is then installed in one or more computers. The CAT is conducted on a one-on-one basis or for a group setting depending on the number of computers available.
As of the end of 1997, the CAT has serviced a total of 81,351 examinees all over the country. Of this, 14,987 (18.42%) were given certificates of civil service eligibility.
Future Plans for the CAT
Improvement in the CAT system continues to be the order of the day insofar as the development of CAT is concerned. Linking the test bank to the CAT seems to be the logical next step.
The PCSC plans to expand the applicability of the CAT. At present, the CAT only carries the Career Service Professional and Subprofessional Examination. The other examinations that the PCSC regularly administers such as the Police Entrance Examination, Competitive Examination for the Local Scholarship Program, Career Service Executive Examination, etc. are still using the paper-and-pencil test approach. The PCSC hopes to use the CAT technology in all these examinations.
Complementary mechanisms will have been put in place for CAT. The PCSC hopes to develop video-based test administration procedures to automate the complete examination process and to minimize manpower requirement in the frequent conduct of the CAT.
 
 
 
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