Accreditation Goes Virtual

During 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations across the nation to reconsider how they conduct business, including the process of earning Accreditation in Public Relations (APR). Both the Panel Presentation and Examination for APR are now offered virtually.

Monica Lester, APR, is one of the first practitioners to sign up for the virtual options. With 14 years of experience in public information, the former journalist and mother of three boys sent in her application last August. Her goal was to take the test in June 2020. Lester spent months studying for the exam, participating in the online prep course and listening to the audiobook “Fundamentals of Public Relations.”

Her panel presentation in March was canceled due to COVID, so she scheduled a virtual panel on April 27. After being Advanced from the Panel Presentation, Lester chose the new Prometric remote testing option, called ProProctor, taking the test from home in her kid’s bedroom.

“Once I found out [that testing from home] was an option, ProProctor seemed like a no-brainer,” said Lester. “I knew I would feel more comfortable taking the test from home, especially during the pandemic.”

As of this past summer, APR candidates can sit for the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations either in a Prometric Testing Center, or remotely, through ProProctor. For a remotely proctored exam, candidates must use a computer equipped with a camera, microphone and internet connection, and also must be able to install a lightweight computer app prior to the test event. Phones and watches are not allowed, and test-takers are required to sit in a neat, well-lit room. No one else is allowed in the room, not even a pet. Lester made sure that her family was gone on her test day, and ensured that her dog was in another part of the house.

Melissa Vela-Williamson, APR, also took the exam at home. The owner of MVW Communications has more than 16 years experience in public relations, with a recent goal of earning her APR. After attending several APR information meetings, she decided it was time to “get serious about Accreditation.”

“This year, my goal was to buckle down and cross the APR finish line,” she explained. She completed her Panel Presentation the day before Texas started its COVID shutdown. She had signed up for an APR Boot Camp in April, but like many other face-to-face meetings, the course was canceled.

“I was very worried I would lose all the ground I had covered studying the textbook and study guide materials,” said Vela-Williamson. In preparation for the examination, she took practice tests on various PRSA websites, studied ethics modules and signed up for the online course, participating in as much as she could before her July 8 test date. She recently chronicled her responsibilities during COVID, noting that it was a juggle of work clients, children and APR studies. Vela-Williamson’s tenacity paid off when she passed the exam via the ProProctor remote option in July.

“Now that I’ve crossed APR off my bucket list, I feel like a pro,” said Vela-Williamson, explaining that the APR process makes her feel like she has earned her place at “the leadership table” while adding confidence that her work can be trusted.

“During this crazy COVID time, I want to encourage everyone who wants to earn their APR to keep working toward it,” she said. “It’s doable, even during a pandemic.”

APR candidates who are ready to give their Panel Presentation, or are motivated to start the process, should contact their PRSA or participating organization Accreditation chair. Virtual panels can be held on Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams or other online platforms.

For the examination, ProProctor offers candidates 24/7 access, allowing them to test wherever and whenever is most convenient. A related examination for graduating college seniors, the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations is also offered remotely via ProProctor.

For more information about Accreditation, visit this site.

APR Virtual Exam Tips

Two of the newest Accredited professionals, Melisa Vela-Williamson, APR, and Monica Lester, APR, have plenty of tips for candidates considering the Prometric remote testing option, called ProProctor.

“Most important, read any materials Prometric sends you about testing,” Vela-Williamson advises. “You’ll want to prepare your workspace exactly as they mandate.”

The newly Accredited practitioner said it works best to have a space where you can lock the door so no one comes in the room because the intrusion would disqualify the candidate’s test results. “I cleared out all my office items and took my children to childcare on my exam day so I could focus without disruption.”

Lester had a similar tactic, sending her family away for the day and her pets to another part of the house.

ProProctor protocols require a secure environment for test-takers. The remote proctor takes several photos before candidates get started, verifies their identities, and allows one clean sheet of paper and pen. Lester said they checked her sleeves and glasses to make sure there were no recording devices. Phones and watches are not allowed. Lester chose to forgo the optional 15-minute break because it would mean going through the security screening all over again.

She said it helps to rehearse a bit before the big day. “The week before my exam, I actually studied in the room where I planned to take the test,” she said. “This way I could make sure the room temperature and chair were comfortable.”

ProProctor suggests candidates run a computer assessment a couple of days before testing. The assessment tests internet download and upload speeds. The company also requires users to download an app to their computer. For this reason, it usually works best for candidates to use personal computers because some employers install software that prevents administrator changes on company laptops.

As a final tip, Vela-Williamson recommends that candidates eat a healthy meal before the test because food and drink breaks are not allowed. Likewise, she said candidates should use the restroom before they start so they don’t have to stop in the middle of the examination.

Ann Peru Knabe, Ph.D., APR+M, is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve with 25-plus years in military public affairs, national security and international settings. On the civilian side, she owns a consulting firm in Milwaukee. She is the vice chair for the Universal Accreditation Board, the international governing body that manages the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential. 



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