The term “certification” is sometimes used interchangeably — and incorrectly — with “certificate.” Certifications and certificates are distinct credentials with different characteristics. The most distinguishing factor is that certificates are awarded after an education or training program is completed, while certifications are separate from education and training programs and require passage of a third-party assessment, typically a standardized exam.
Characteristics of a Certification (Workcred, 2018, 2021)
Industry certification bodies, professional associations, and employers.
Passing a third-party assessment based on a set of competency standards (minimum performance expectations) set through a defensible, industry- or profession-wide job analysis process, which is reviewed and revised regularly.
A person can perform a set of skills relevant to a professional setting.
Assessment created by
Psychometricians, who are test and measurement experts, with input from subject matter experts.
An oral, written, or practical standardized assessment that is fair, valid, and reliable and based on a set of validated competency standards.
Time to complete
Period of validity
Time-limited, includes a recertification process.
Recertification is required to maintain the certification.
Can be revoked for incompetence or unethical behavior.
ANSI/ISO/IEC: 17024:2012, Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons; National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs; Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC) Standards
With the continued growth in the type and number of credentials, and to validate rigor, the term certification may refer to a credential that has one or more of the following elements: