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Is the HERS Rater Test Too Difficult?

HERS Rater Test, Students With Laptops

HERS rater test, students with laptopsYesterday I wrote about whether or not HERS rater training is a scam. In the forum where I saw a rater venting about his experience, there were pages and pages of comments, and another complaint that emerged in the thread was that the national HERS rater test is too difficult.

Yesterday I wrote about whether or not HERS rater training is a scam. In the forum where I saw a rater venting about his experience, there were pages and pages of comments, and another complaint that emerged in the thread was that the national HERS rater test is too difficult.

I don’t know how accurate it is, but I’ve seen in a few places now that the national average for students passing the test on their first attempt is about 65%. Having been a co-instructor in the HERS rater class 19 times for another HERS training provider, I can tell you that that number seems reasonable to me, if not a little high.

Of all the HERS training providers’ websites that I’ve looked at, none show the data from their national rater test results. I do have the data for one training provider’s tests, however, from the period November 2007 through May 2010. In the 21 classes taught during that period, 191 out of 346 students passed the test on their first attempt. That’s a passing rate of 55%.

I’ve discussed here before what we’re doing to change that in the Energy Vanguard HERS rater class and will discuss it many more times in the future. But let me just say now that a passing rate of 55% – or even 65% – indicates that there are problems with the test, the training, and the expectations.

A low passing rate also gives the industry a self-inflicted black eye. As I see it, the reasons for the low passing rate are:

  • Most HERS training providers try to teach the class in 5 days, and there’s just too much material for that amount of time.
  • Most HERS rater classes have no prerequisites, and many of the students aren’t ready for the level of academic rigor they find in the class.
  • There’s not a well defined set of materials the students can go to for answers. Test questions are pulled from a wide array of sources, and even training providers don’t have a list of them.
  • Some test questions are too tricky and too difficult.

One result of this low passing rate on the national home energy rater test is that the final cost of HERS rater training for a lot of people is higher than the $1200 to $1400 they pay their HERS training provider. For all those students who aren’t in the 55% or 65% who pass the test, add another $50 to $150 per additional attempt at the test. I’ve known some people to take it nearly 10 times before finally passing it, although most who retest do pass it on their second attempt.

Also, most HERS training providers structure their classes in a way that is not pedagogically sound. At the end of most HERS rater classes, the last thing the students do is take the rater test. If the national average for passing rate is indeed 65%, then 35% of them walk away having just failed the test. It doesn’t matter to them how much they learned during the week because they leave the class feeling like a failure.

In our HERS rater class, students get up to three chances to pass the test during the 8 day class – at no additional charge – and passing or failing the test is NOT their last experience of the class. In the spirit of openness, we’ll be publishing our data on first attempt passing rates as well as the overall passing rate. Anyone taking the Energy Vanguard HERS rater class will know coming in what their chances of success are.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. I think the purpose of HERS
    I think the purpose of HERS training is to establish a firm, thoughtful foundation upon which to further one’s knowledge. Once an individual has been trained to “get it”, field experience becomes the true learning conduit. Having been in the building business for 30 years and believing I had a pretty good handle on building science, HERS training showed me how much more there is to learn. 
    Hers training touches on the basics and is currently lacking in the important area of combustion sefety. 
    I also think it would be helpful to know which questions one got wrong … a seemingly easy detail.

  2. All good thoughts. I will be
    All good thoughts. I will be interested to see how things turn out for you. 
    It is certainly a difficult course for those with no construction background. 
    I liked the 5 day class, but I came expecting to do absolutely nothing else during those days and I mean nothing else. I got up, went to class at 7:30am, came home usually about 7 or 7:30pm, studied, went to bed, and did it all again. And I could not get through all the material, but I got through the majority. Very much like college. 
    I wonder how many come planning for intensity of the class. I suspect that not being prepared for that level of commitment affects some. 
    Also, unfortunately, luck plays some part. I think several of the questions were not covered and I had to guess. So guessing wrong could mean the difference between passing and failing. 
    I like your ideas. Good Luck.

  3. Personally, I think the level
    Personally, I think the level of difficulty is about right. If this is going to be a true profession, then it needs to be stringent. Someone without the proper background has no business jumping into this kind of work. in my opinion there are too many green/sustainable/etc. etc. certifications out there that are a joke and almost make the industry meaningless. I chose the path of HERS because I wanted the challenge and to actually learn something useful. 
    Yes, the week of classes was very intense. But it was just like any college experience. Maybe the only error with the system is not informing candidates of how hard/intense it actually is….and not just a series of lunch-and-learns. If you want to take it serious start reading the materials about a month ahead of time. 

  4. Yes, Hunter, the class
    Yes, Hunter, the class absolutely needs to be stringent, and anyone who wants to be a home energy rater needs to demonstrate competency in building science, pressure testing, energy modeling, and the various standards and protocols. I hope I didn’t give the impression I was in favor of dumbing things down. What I’m actually in favor of is better education and a better, not dumbed-down, test.  
    And I totally agree with you that anyone signing up for a course should know what they’re getting into, and advance studying will definitely smooth the process. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Sam, yes, expectations are a
    Sam, yes, expectations are a factor in the HERS rater class. You came in with the correct expectations for the class because it’s definitely intense. We’re going to drop the intensity level a bit – otherwise we’d have trouble getting people through 8 days.  
    We’re using a different format, too, which should help out some on the luck side. There’s no way, even in an 8 day class, that we can cover every possible question you could see on the HERS rater test, but I think we’ll be able to prepare students better in how to find answers.

  6. I don’t personally believe
    I don’t personally believe that the test is too difficult. Many people register for the course thinking that they can jump on the bandwagon, when they don’t really have much experience in building science. 30 years of building, combined with college level classes in thermodynamics and physics, helped me to pass it the first time with a 91. Many of the other candidates had very little experience or education in the field. If we are to be taken seriously, we don’t want to dumb the test down so that anyone can pass it. Our integrity as raters demands a difficult challenge test.

  7. Good points, Walt. We
    Good points, Walt. We definitely want certified raters to know their stuff. I’m not advocating for dumbing the test down. I do think, though, that the passing rate could be higher if (i) training providers would get away from the 5 day, come one, come all class model, (ii) RESNET would publish a study guide similar to the USGBC study guides for the LEED AP tests, and (iii) RESNET would put out a better test. 
    Or maybe I’m wrong and 65% is fine for the passing rate on the national HERS rater test. It just seems to me, though, that we can have both high standards and a high success rate.

  8. While I don’t think the test
    While I don’t think the test is to hard, it could be better written.I remember a few questions where they ask what is the best in X situation – the problem is in which climate do they want the answer for? There were also a few other questions that I simply consider “trick” questions & really have no business being in the test. 
    One of the key things to remember is that when taking a test, the answers are based on that organizations perceived best practices, not new studies, or what you consider a best practice.  
    As this is an open book test, I think some time should definitely be spent on how to find the information. I remember learning in school about the table of contents, indexes, etc… but it appears that many do not even know what they are nowadays. One other item is how to use the find feature in RESNET, a document, or article.

  9. I found the test was
    I found the test was appropriate as to difficulty, but I have a few criticisms about some clumsy wording on the test questions (not quite enough information usually. i.e. the climate situation Sean mentioned). I feel that the test on the whole a good one, but it certainly needs to be updated. This goes the same for BPI exams. I wonder if RESNET has a system in place for keeping the test up to date and a evaluation system for problems that get a higher percentage of wrong answers to be reviewed. This would fix some of the ambiguous questions and those without enough information. Test questions are very hard to write but that does not mean they need to be set in stone.

  10. I’ve been involved in
    I’ve been involved in construction one way or another for over 8 years…residential fnial inspections, blower door, CAS, and duct blaster certification. 
    What should I do or read up on to prepare for the class and test?

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