W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 2.3

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Remote Testing

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. How does remote testing differ from the way our VE team usually administers examinations?

A. One major difference is that when the examination is administered locally, the Section 97.509 administering VEs must immediately grade the examinee’s answers. For an examination administered remotely, the administering VEs can grade the examinee's answers at the “earliest practical opportunity.” There they go again with another meaningless term.   

  Otherwise, the questions should be the same. The minimum passing grades should be the same. Each Section 97.509(a) administering VE team member must observe the examinee throughout the entire examination. Your VEs can keep on administering examinations as before by being physically present at the examination point to carry out their observing. For the lack of a codified term, unless and until someone coins an accepted term, let’s refer to that protocol as examinations administered locally (“EAL”).

   Field trials proved the dependability of the VEs doing their observing from afar. Our regulator has been satisfied that remote testing methods have been developed - including audio and video links, either hard-wired to a site or available through Internet or satellite technologies - that makes remote testing which maintains the integrity of the examination process feasible and warranted.  Reference is made in the rules to examinations administered remotely (“EAR”).

Q. What are the rules for remote testing?

A. Subpart F applies to both EAL and EAR protocols. The only difference is in the relaxed grading period for an EAR. That’s it. Our regulator is not convinced that any other specific requirements should be codified or that EAR should be limited to only examination sessions at less accessible locations. Remote testing is optional and can only be done if a Section 97.519 VEC agrees to coordinate the examination session. A VEC should coordinate sessions only it is certain that the remote testing protocol employed can assure the proper conduct and necessary supervision of the examination session.

Q. How does our VE team obtain permission to conduct remote testing?

A. As with any VE-administered examination, your efforts in preparing and administering an examination – whether locally or remotely administered - must be coordinated by a VEC. Submit your request for session coordination to your usual VEC. If such is not forthcoming, try another VEC.      

Q. A rule change to reduce the three VE team to one or more VEs would go far toward alleviating much of the VE team unavailability problem. Why must there always be three VEs?

A. Because Section 97.509(a) says: Each examination for an amateur operator license must be administered by a team of at least 3 VEs at an examination session coordinated by a VEC. It is apparently to deter cheating. It can, however, sometimes work the other way. When it is evident that the examinee had been access to the exact question and answers in the question set administered, the three-parallel paths trail of accountability makes it nearly impossible to prove who is to blame.

Q. Couldn’t those few isolated examinees just sign a certification?

A. A rule amendment would be necessary for that. If signing a certification is the right way to determine whether the person has actually read and truly understands something as vital as the Section 97.13(c) RF safety regulation, it must assuredly also be the right way to determine whether the person has read and understands all of the rules. It could be either provisional or permanent:

   I certify that I have read the applicable rules of 47 CFR Parts 0, 1, 2, 17, 97 and 214; that I understand the necessary good amateur and good engineering practices, and that I possess sufficient technical knowledge to make those rules and practices meaningful.    

Q. For sight-impaired examinees, our procedure is to read aloud the questions and listen to their spoken answers. Could our VE team and the examinee use a remote A/V interconnection in a similar procedure for those examinees who are unable to attend our regular exam sessions.  Or, could we reinstitute a modern adaptation of the pre-VE system mail-back exams that utilizes A/V recordings for the VE team to observe while grading the mailed-back answer sheet? 

A. Using such protocols would depend upon your coordinating VEC’s willingness to coordinate such examination sessions. Refer to the instructions provided by your coordinating VEC.

Q. Could some or all of our VE team do our observing via cell-phone A/V, e-mail, and the Internet? The question set could be one of the practice sets available from numerous providers over the Internet. At the onset of the examination our VE team would tell the examinee to use whichever practice question set we specify. Of course, we would take precautions to prevent the use of off-screen cue-card-prompting knowledge substitutes. 

A. That how-to also would depend upon your coordinating VEC’s willingness to coordinate such an examination session. Section 97.507(c) says: Each written question set administered to an examinee for an amateur operator license must be prepared, or obtained from a supplier, by the administering VEs according to instructions from the coordinating VEC. Administering one of the practice questions sets would somehow have to be accomplished in a manner that would be compliant with this rule.

Q. Section 97.509(c) says: “Each administering VE must observe the examinee throughout the entire examination.” Does this entitlement also authorize our VE Team to listen to the examinees discussions?

A. No. There is no codified authorization to monitor your examinee’s spoken exchanges.

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September 22, 2016

Supersedes all prior editions