Certification Terminology


The certification process is as lengthy as it is thorough. Whether you are an operator, volunteer, board member, or certifying agent, it is important to understand the language used throughout the certification and exam development process. Here are some common terms that are important to know.

Accommodation– A modification to the format or administration of an examination granted to the candidate to assist with a documented disability, without altering the expectations of knowledge evaluated or the examination results.

Appeal– A formal request by an applicant, candidate, credentialed individual, or an authority that holds membership for reconsideration of an adverse decision made by the credentialing body regarding an item, score, or desired status.

Applicant– An individual that submits materials with intention of earning a credential or certification through a specific certifying body.

Assessment– The process that evaluates the individual’s or credentialing body’s fulfillment of the requirements.

Bias– A preference that influences the treatment of candidates, or groups, in a manner that differs from the treatment of a population.

Board– A group of individuals that are appointed/elected as the decision-making body and governance of an organization. Examples include Board of Directors, Certification Boards, Licensing Authority/Board, Regulatory Board. 

Certificant– An individual who has met all requirements of a certification program and as such has earned the to use the certification and continue to meet the marks through ongoing recertification or maintenance of the certification based on the requirements.

Certification– A voluntary, non-governmental process in which a level of achievement can be earned, as determined by a board/committee/etc., through a set of standards and minimum competency to be met by an individual. Some regulatory bodies may use a certification program to meet licensure requirements.

Certification Body– An organization that offers and manages a certification program.

Code of Conduct– The certifying body policies that govern the professional and ethical behavior required for certificants. Can also be known as “code of ethics”.

Committee– A group of individuals that volunteer or are invited to make judgements, provide advice or guidance on specific tasks or decision-making.

Compensatory Scoring– A scoring model that determines a candidates’ pass/fail status based on the total score instead of scoring section by section. In this model, high scores in one area can offset low scores in another area. Also referred to as “Cumulative Scoring”. 

Competence– The ability to complete a task or function in a role at the level of understanding that meets or exceeds the minimum standard in the specified environment.

Confidentiality– A requirement that information is not granted or disclosed to unauthorized individuals, organizations, or other entities.

Continuing Education (CE)– Activities or short courses that certificants attend to receive credit for the purpose of maintaining competence and recertification.

Continuing Education Units (CEUs)– A unit of measurement received for some continuing education training. One CEU is equivalent to ten CE hours or contact hours.

Designation– An indication of a credential that an individual holds. It may be a specific title, letters, or acronyms, listed before or after an individual’s name. An example provided is Professional Operator (PO). 

Due Process– A fundamental principle of fairness in legal matters. Procedures are set and enforced by the certifying body to ensure no prejudicial or unequal treatment of an individual is cast during decision-making.

Eligibility Criteria– The prerequisite qualification that applicants must provide to take an examination or qualify for a certification. This often includes education, experience, and training/apprenticeships.

Examination– The standardized process used to determine whether the candidate meets the established criteria as defined by the specifications of a committee, certifying body, or regulatory body.

Fairness– The principle that all applicants, candidates, and certificants will be treated in an equal manner through the certification and recertification processes.

Governance– The structure (e.g., board of directors) through which the authority in an organization is used for decision-making.

Item– Scorable examination questions for candidates to respond to.

Item Difficulty– The average score of candidates taking the item.

Job Analysis (JA)– The use of one method or multiple methods combined to identify the performance and associated tasks, knowledge, and skills related to the certification and function as foundation for the examination validation.

Licensure– A mandated process created by a state or provincial grant of authority to practice a certain profession after verifying that the individual has met predetermined and standardized criteria.

Operational Items– Items on an examination that are scored and contribute to the pass/fail status.

Pretest Items– Items on an examination that do not contribute to the pass/fail score of the candidate and are instead evaluated as a result of examination administration to assist with testing viability for future use.

Psychometrics– A specialized field of study concerned with theories and techniques for educational and psychological measurement. This includes measurements of knowledge and abilities.

Recertification– The renewal process for a certificant based on specific requirements to be completed in the determined intervals. This may include continuing education.

Reciprocity– The granting of certification to an individual holding a similar certification that was granted by a different organization or program and has been determined as a comparable and equivalent source.

Reliability– The degree to which the scores on an examination are repeatable across forms, jurisdictions, or administrations.

Sample– A group of people or items that are taken from a larger population for measurement. A sample should be representative to ensure the findings can most accurately be generalized from the sample to the full population.

Score Report– The documentation that provides information on the performance of the examination and the pass/fail status of the candidate. Score reports may include detailed information regarding the performance of specific knowledge sections.

Standardization– Ensuring that the examination procession is designed, developed, administered, and scored in a manner consistent with a specified plan.

Subject-Matter Expert (SME)– Individuals who provide specific knowledge and expertise to an aspect of the certification process. Examples include job analysis and item review. 

Validity– The degree to which accumulated evidence supports the outcome decisions made within the respects of the specified requirements for obtaining a credential.


The above definitions are a combination of information provided by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (I.C.E.), PSI, and WPI. The intention of this article is to provide a better understanding of terminology used during the certification process and to better assist our operators, members, and volunteers.


Basic Guide to Credentialling Terminology, Authored by I.C.E. Terminology Task Force, December 2020



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