Letters to the Editor

August 1, 2004
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NCEES responds to complaints about exams, and a reader responds to the June Editor's Note.

March 2004

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) would like to re-spond to several statements in Dennis Mouland's March 2004 [Offsets] article "The Surveyor's New Clothes."

Mouland writes that the NCEES land surveying test "evaluates knowledge of trivia, ability to perform tasks only a small percentage of the profession would encounter, or demands that one answer questions with the wrong answer." The issue of triviality is one that NCEES takes seriously. When developing a test to evaluate the competence of land surveying applicants, NCEES makes every effort to ensure that the questions and problems assess critical aspects of the profession.

All NCEES examinations are grounded in a validation process that begins with a job analysis known as a Professional Activities and Knowledge Study (PAKS). NCEES uses rosters provided by its member licensing boards and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing to send a PAKS questionnaire to a cross-section of professionals across the United States, aiming for diversity in geography, practice, age, gender and ethnicity. The questionnaire asks recipients to rate the importance of different tasks and knowledge required of a newly licensed land surveyor. Those who complete the survey set the examination content.

Because the surveying profession changes rapidly, NCEES undertakes a new PAKS every five to seven years. Current exams are based on the 1998 PAKS. The most recent PAKS questionnaire was sent to more than 5,000 surveyors, photogrammetrists and GIS professionals in May 2003. The more than 1,900 respondents included surveyors from every state and jurisdiction. A special NCEES committee of volunteer licensed surveyors is using these survey results to develop new specifications for the content of the Fundamentals and the Principles and Practice of Land Surveying examinations; these are scheduled to be administered in October 2005. The PAKS results are also available to every state board, which can use the data to help determine content of the state exam.

Regarding test questions requiring a wrong answer, this is a concern that NCEES addresses through an arduous test-development process. The initial questions are written by practicing professionals. A committee of different practicing professionals then reviews, answers and discusses each question. Questions identified as possibly confusing, misleading or unimportant are discarded. The council has in place a final safeguard against questions that require inaccurate answers. NCEES routinely analyzes test results statistically to detect questions with possible flaws. Those considered problematic are eliminated before the final scores are calculated and released. Examination pass rates are posted on the NCEES website.

NCEES understands the importance of having surveyors involved in creating the tests, and PAKS is just one of many ways the council actively encourages surveyors to participate in the test development process. It offers many opportunities for practicing surveyors to write new items, review existing items, attend cut-score workshops and help prepare study guides.

In the article, Mouland also writes that NCEES is on a "mission to make the test impossible to pass unless testers have a four-year degree," in an "effort to circumvent state laws." The intent of NCEES is far from this. First, as part of its mission, NCEES is dedicated to assisting its member boards-the state licensing boards-with land surveying regulatory processes that demonstrate high standards of knowledge, competence, professional development and ethics. The council provides these member boards with services that advance licensing procedures, such as quality education, examinations and qualifying experience. Second, through its Model Law, NCEES supports and advances a four-year degree requirement or education acceptable to the state board. Each state has the authority to set its own standards for licensure qualification. Experience is still an integral part of becoming licensed. In fact, the NCEES Model Law requires four years of experience at a minimum, and the council recently accepted "Guidelines of Progressive Surveying Experience" (Appendix B of the Model Rules).

The NCEES website has much more in-depth information on all of these topics, and we invite you to visit it to learn more about exam development and licensure issues with regard to education and experience. Finally, please consider getting involved. The effectiveness of the testing process depends on professional surveyors throughout the country who volunteer their time and expertise. Visit the NCEES website at to find out ways you can participate.

Donald Hiatte, PE, NCEES President
Betsy Browne, NCEES Executive Director

Editor's Note
June 2004

[In your list of instructions and questions for surveyors heading out to work in the field], [y]ou forgot the most important one: "Be sure [to] wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident." [This reminds] me [of] a comic strip I saw once:

The doctor came out and told Mrs. Smith that he had bad news and good news for her about her injured son. The bad news was that the boy had a broken ankle. The good news was that the emergency room staff had concluded that he had really clean underwear.

Gene Winsett

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