November, 2011
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Would you Answer the Call to be an SME?


Do you have an opinion about the relevance of the National Home Inspector Exam® (NHIE)?

Are you annoyed that you have to pass it to become an ASHI Certified Inspector and, in some states, to practice your profession?

Or, do you believe it serves the profession by establishing a level of minimal proficiency, meaning that those who pass are knowledgeable enough about inspecting a home that they will not harm themselves or the property while doing so?

Now that I think about it, I suppose it’s possible to be annoyed, appreciative and critical of the current exam administered by the Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors®. Nevertheless, those of us who were called on in 1999 to serve as subject matter experts (SMEs) in its creation were not motivated by the opinions of our fellow ASHI members.

North Carolina’s legislation mandated an exam and based on years of administrating our own exam, ASHI’s leadership understood the importance of a secure exam. I was one of a group of senior members who gathered in North Carolina to create a psychometrically valid and legally defensible examination for home inspectors.

Professional psychometricians (those with a Ph.D. in creating exams) assisted us. We quickly learned how our new exam had to differ from the exam that ASHI was using at the time.
  • It needed no more than 200 questions (in contrast to the 400-question membership exam being used by ASHI at that time).
  • Only four potential answers were needed rather than the five options in the ASHI exam.
  • True-false questions were totally invalid.
  • Confusing, ‘trick’ or ‘gimmie’ questions are never permitted.
  • Many additional parameters must be met before a question can be accepted as psychometrically valid.
Because I have a teaching degree and have taken courses in designing exams, this information reinforced what I already knew.

In addition to writing questions, we learned how computer programs would track each question and weight it compared with similar items. The Examination Board of Professional Home Inspectors® (EBPHI) continues this process today.

Each year, the EBPHI needs new questions to keep the NHIE current, valid and secure. Each year, Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) gather, as we did in 1999, to write new questions, update and improve existing and prior questions, and review the exam. Serving as an SME and as a member of the EBPHI was one of my most rewarding and humbling experiences.

Every few years, the EBPHI has to create a new basis for the exam by conducting a Roll Delineation Study (RDS). The RDS is a huge volume of work contracted through the psychometricians. Home inspectors across the country and Canada are asked to weigh what constitutes an inspection and to rate the importance of each aspect. The resulting work product (RDS) establishes the basis for the NHIE.

What qualifies someone to be selected as an SME? Having a strong background in the technicalities of inspecting is a start, but not enough. Writing a valid question is not a simple matter. The initial effort must be accepted by the other SMEs, allowing for serious challenges and editing for accuracy and content. Few questions make it through the process in original form. This tough review process results in the best possible question, with only one correct answer and three plausible, but good, distracters. The final version of each question is highly refined and wholly valid.

Do you believe a valid, safe and up-to-date NHIE is important to the profession?

Do you believe the NHIE needs to be reviewed regularly?

If your answer is yes to either question, then I challenge you:

The next time you see a Call for Subject Matter Experts, are asked to participate in an RDS or receive an invitation to serve on the EBPHI, consider responding. If you are chosen to participate, I guarantee you will gain both professionally and personally from the experience.

Many of us who are no longer on the EBPHI provide continuity by continuing to participate as SMEs. The reward is knowing that the NHIE remains the best exam available and that our profession is stronger and more able because it exists. In addition, this effort allows those states that require its passage to keep it as a requirement, and that those who have yet to seek more validity to hold a license will look nowhere else.