NCIDQ News: How Do You Know the Test is Relevant?

Sept. 1, 2008

Critical standards and procedures are an important part in the development of credentialing examinations.

By Sandra Friend

At NCIDQ, we often hear a question regarding our examination: "Is it relevant to residential interior design practice?"  This is a question that has been asked—and through continuous documentation, answered—for years. The short answer is, "Yes, the NCIDQ examination is relevant to residential interior design practice."

When NCIDQ conducted its analysis of the interior design profession in 1998, the psychometricians specifically studied the work of both commercial interior designers and residential interior designers. They discovered that the majority of work in both areas of practice was identical; the difference was the terms used to describe the work. For example, when describing the first phase of a design project-gathering information to determine the project requirements—residential interior designers called it a "needs analysis;" commercial interior designers called that phase "programming." (Hale Associates, 1998).

Credentialing examinations are standardized examinations used to ensure that candidates demonstrate the necessary level of competence to practice in a chosen field. They are used for most professions, including those seeking to be attorneys, accountants, engineers, architects, doctors, and nurses. A lot is at risk when one takes a credentialing examination: An individual might not be able to practice in his or her chosen profession (if they fail the test) or the public could be put at harm (if an individual is inadvertently graded as passing the test and then does something to cause injury to the public). Neither of these scenarios can be taken lightly. Therefore, critical standards and procedures are in place in the creation and grading of all credentialing examinations.

The science of creating credentialing examinations for a profession—called psychometrics—is such an involved and balanced process that it is a study unto itself. Psychometrics refers to the measurement of an individual's psychological attributes, including the knowledge, skills and abilities a professional might need to work in a particular job or profession. The content of any credentialing examination must be valid to the practice or profession being tested. This means that the questions and problems on examinations directly link to known and documented work responsibilities.

The process of documenting job descriptions and delineating the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform tasks is called a practice analysis. NCIDQ is conducting a practice analysis this year, as it does every five years, to continually validate the reliability of the examination. The first phase of the analysis requires describing and recording the work performed in a profession. The second phase entails a survey and validation study to verify the accuracy of the first phase. Both phases are involved, time-consuming and critical steps in the creation of the final practice analysis report.

Fifteen interior design experts, representing a cross-section of the profession from various regions of North America, including educators, residential and commercial practitioners, were brought together to list all of the tasks completed by interior designers. The data was then organized under major categories and was broken down into the essential components of interior design work. To validate the accuracy of this information, a survey was issued to 3,200 professionals in the United States and Canada. The survey presented each task, knowledge, skill, and ability statement in a logical order with scales for collecting respondents' opinions about how critical or important each task is and how frequently each task is performed.

A practice analysis must also determine the target performer—i.e., the level of practitioner at which the study is directed. NCIDQ's examination evaluates minimum competence to practice interior design; therefore, the practice analysis focuses on identifying the knowledge, skills and abilities of an entry-level practitioner. "The definition of an entry-level practitioner is not a recent graduate, but rather a person who can practice his or her profession without supervision at a level of ability that protects the public health, safety and welfare," notes NCIDQ's executive director, Jeff Kenney. On average, an entry-level professional will have a four-year degree in interior design and at least two to three years of professional interior design work experience.

The practice analysis essentially becomes the blueprint for the NCIDQ examination. The bottom line is that the NCIDQ examination is based on what the practice analysis tells us that interior designers do in the course of their daily practice. If exam-takers have received a solid interior design education and well-rounded design experience—commercial or residential experience—then they will be in a good position to pass the examination.

Sandra Friend serves as president of NCIDQ and is the principal of Interior Planning & Design in Ashland, OR. She is an NCIDQ Certificate holder and has served as chair of the Practicum Exam Committee. More information about NCIDQ is available at

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