Preparation and patience are Brad Beaver’s top recommendations for successfully completing the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA)’s online pesticide certification exam. Beaver, acting chief of IDOA’s environmental program bureau, discussed needed equipment and how IDOA addressed issues with the online testing process.

Since mid-December, 780 people completed exams and another 200 exams were scheduled this week. More than 800 are enrolled in online pesticide training. IDOA expects to offer 15,000 to 20,000 certification exams during the 2021 certification year.

Beaver told FarmWeek IDOA has resolved a problem that caused individuals to be kicked off during an exam. “The main issue was the server wasn’t big enough to handle the (computer) traffic. Things are running much faster,” he said.

Beaver recommended someone kicked off during an exam try to log back in and let the proctor know what happened. If that isn’t successful during an exam’s three-hour timeframe, the test can be rescheduled and $12 fee transferred to the rescheduled exam, according to Beaver. If a test must be rescheduled within 72 hours, an extra $12 may be charged to ensure an available proctor.

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Beaver noted Google Chrome is the preferred browser and exams should be taken on a desktop or laptop computer either a Windows PC or Mac with a working camera and microphone. Exams cannot be taken on a tablet or Chromebook.

To start, go to the University of Illinois Pesticide Safety Education website and follow the step-by-step instructions to create an account and sign up for any training and any online exams. “Training is valid for 30 days so they can review as many times as needed,” he added.

The website instruction page helps users test their computer equipment and microphone. If equipment fails, “you don’t have to buy a new laptop or computer. Try to borrow one from someone else,” he advised. While a public library computer may be another option, it must be in a private area without others nearby.

If it is difficult to hear using a computer’s internal speaker, Beaver recommended connecting external speakers because headphones are not allowed during an exam.

Once an individual signs up for an exam, a time must be scheduled with a test proctor by clicking on the proctor website’s link. Testing is “truly available 24/7. If you want to take it at 3 a.m., there’s likely a slot available. We’ve had a lot of people take tests at different hours of the night,” he said.

Everyone needs to set up two accounts: one with U of I Extension and another with the proctor service. The same login and password may be used for both and to schedule additional training and exams.

Those unfamiliar with online proctored exams may be surprised. Beaver explained a proctor will want to “look” at the test taker’s room to ensure manuals and other reference materials aren’t beside the computer. The proctor will ask to see a driver’s license to be sure the person taking the test is the individual who registered. “They will lock down your computer so you can’t Google answers,” he noted. Likewise, no phone calls or conversations are allowed during the exam.

“Just like when you take the written test, there is a clean desk. We will not let you have your phone and take a call,” Beaver reminded.

“The challenge of a remote system is, how can we ensure the integrity of the exam? IDOA has to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency integrity,” Beaver said. “Some may look at this as intrusive, but it’s the only way we can be sure.”

IDOA staff understand an online testing system is new for some people and allow individuals to have someone with them at first in case there are technical problems, Beaver said. However, once the proctor starts the exam, the additional person must leave, he added.

As of Jan. 11, 12 pesticide exams were available with another seven expected to be available by the end of the week. Nine pesticide training programs were available by Jan. 11 and another two were expected soon.

Starting Jan. 1, IDOA began offering a few limited in-person testing sessions. The schedule and information are available here.

Beaver stressed seating is limited due to COVID restrictions. Most locations allow only eight to 10 people with the largest site only seats up to 25. Individuals may register for an in-person exam. Registration closes when a class is full.

“It’s worth it to try online testing,” Beaver said. “I tell everybody, ‘Just take your time and go step by step.’ Guys who said they’re not tech savvy took their time, didn’t rush through and did OK.”