Job as Online test-scorer?
February 17, 2013 9:31 AM   Subscribe

My husband is considering doing online test-scoring as a side job. What do we need to know?

My husband is currently unemployed (receives disability) and would like to find work but is constrained by his illness. (A nice, quiet mailroom job...harder to find than you would think!) He has a BA and has in the past taught one class at a trade school for his profession. Finding a job he could do from home where he could earn some extra money would be great for him in a lot of ways. Would online test-scoring be something he is qualified for, or is the pool of scorers usually limited to people with more in-depth teaching experience? Is ETS a legitimate company or are there better ones out there?
posted by PussKillian to Work & Money (15 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
He might want to check out Pearson. I did English as an undergrad but qualified to score middle school math tests, for some reason. They are legit! They have essay grading and math grading online. I think they also have an online writing tutoring program. Their busy season is spring when students take standardized tests, so it's a good time to investigate and apply.
posted by shortyJBot at 9:41 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did this for ETS for years. The pay is not that awesome and the system is a little convoluted but it is absolutely a way to make money on the side. When I worked for ETS they were a little hung up on what you got for your own SAT scores, so this may wind up being a limitation, but look into it. I had a Masters degree but no teaching experience. There are qualifying tests usually to get to do the work which are more skills based (can you learn to apply a scoring rubric) and less knowledge based. I did this many years ago, so things may have changed but here were the upsides and downsides.

- decent money, though while I was working there we saw our hourly wage drop 30% or so
- working with people who are often interesting if you interact with them at all
- working from home with a fairly regular schedule
- initiative is rewarded and if you're good at what you do and are decent to get along with you can often move up the food chain somewhat

- technology limitations can be frustrating and random. You (used to) use bad software that had weird problems and no one was that good at working them out
- you're a cog in a machine. You have to fairly apply a specific rubric and there's very little room for creative thought
- you're often less than part time
- rigid schedule - you can work the hours they give you or you can't work, people check on you to make sure you're doing enough work in a given time
- secrecy - you see sort of awful things sometimes and need to basically shut up about it. I saw kids whose entire essays were "help me! I no speak English." and I had to give them a failing score
- standardized testing is an awful thing in many ways and the ETS people are True Believers about it which can be tough to deal with depending on your own moral compass
posted by jessamyn at 9:53 AM on February 17, 2013 [17 favorites]

I did this with Pearson. My degrees are in History but I qualified for middle school Spanish, math, and reading. My experience was identical to jessamyn's except they didn't care about SAT/ACT scores (probably because I wasn't scoring them).
posted by sm1tten at 10:59 AM on February 17, 2013

Sorry, forgot to mention that I had no real teaching experience and this wasn't a problem.
posted by sm1tten at 11:00 AM on February 17, 2013

Sorry, this doesn't answer your question, but I thought it would be worth mentioning just in case. Your husband's situation may be different, but as far as I know, working while you are receiving disability is usually not allowed (in the US), and can result in having your disability payments revoked. I would triple check this before your husband looks for any sidework, especially the kind that doesn't pay under the table, which I imagine these companies do not.

My mother is on disability in PA, and has run into this problem before. Again, I apologize if this information isn't relevant to you and your husband.
posted by dysh at 11:01 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I worked for ETS -- not from home, at the very beginnings of NCLB -- and I agree with Jessamyn.
posted by jeather at 11:01 AM on February 17, 2013

Previously: Inside the multi-million dollar essay scoring business.
posted by Snerd at 11:18 AM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm an ETS employee, and so is my husband. Sending you a MeMail, but in short: I'm glad I've worked for them and it pays pretty well. The biggest drawbacks are the cog-like nature of the work, the reptitiousness (it's REALLY draining) and the variable hours/unreliable income. Burn out is pretty bad, too, but then I've worked for them for three years.

My husband scores TOEFL and only has a BA, for what it's worth. I score GRE and have a master's. And I don't recall being asked for my SAT scores at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:55 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the info, everyone. As to the disability/work issue, he's been informed that he can work and continue to receive benefits if he makes under X dollars a month, so he'd be looking at pretty part time work. The two options he's looking at are either supplementing his disability payments by a small amount each month but not exceeding the amount that would cut off his disability payments, or finding a job that would allow him to try being a full-fledged member of the work force and off disability. He'd rather do the latter, especially for self-esteem reasons, but is a bit fearful about not being able to handle the stresses of going back to work, so we're exploring options at the moment. (Getting him back to school without more student loans is another thing we're trying to work towards.)

Do the various companies allow you to work part-time hours? Heck, if I can handle the more soul-crushing aspects, I may give it a go (MA, some teaching experience) but I have a full-time job. It sounds like they kind of want you to work regular office hours.
posted by PussKillian at 3:59 PM on February 17, 2013

Best answer: With ETS, you work set shifts--either four or eight hours at a time. The exact shifts vary by program, but it's usually some variation of 8:30-5 or 11:30-8 EST. Some programs have evening hours. It depends on what you're scoring for. I don't think it would be particularly easy to work this job with other full time work on top of it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:56 PM on February 17, 2013

Best answer: With Pearson I was able to score anytime between 7am and 11pm during the work week (Saturday to Friday) over a set term (I always did Spring which was early March to mid May) but I believe you had to score a certain number of tests per day/shift. However, you could work as little as twenty hours a week, but thirty or more (up to forty) was encouraged. I want to say that my info might be outdated as I haven't scored with them recently.
posted by sm1tten at 7:18 PM on February 17, 2013

I worked as a test-scorer for several months, but my experience was in a physical center rather than work-from home. We did still score entirely on computers, though.
I was able to get the job with only a BA and no teaching experience. They did want to know my SAT scores, and they administered a (very basic) science test to see if I could score the science exams.
I'll echo what Jessamyn said--the work is boring and sometimes soul-crushing. The rubric is very exact. You may see answers which demonstrate a clear knowledge of the subject, but which you must give a zero. Sometimes the rubric is changed halfway through a batch of tests, and you look into the face of true arbitrariness. For quality-control reasons, you will be fed pre-scored test responses, and evaluated based on your agreement with them. If you can't toe the line in the face of some real wrong-headedness, you will lose your job.
All that being said, if you can read fast and have good critical thinking skills, this can be a low-stress job with few physical or mental demands. Pay was not great (~150% of state minimum wage, no benefits), but stress was low. Hours were irregular and seasonal, since most standardized tests are taken around May-June.
As for companies, I was an employee of Kelly Services (a temp company) contracted to CTB-McGraw Hill (a textbook & testing company). I worked 8-hour shifts in a scoring center, but I'm sure there are other models out there.
posted by agentofselection at 8:18 PM on February 17, 2013

Sometimes the rubric is changed halfway through a batch of tests, and you look into the face of true arbitrariness.

This would pretty much never, ever happen with ETS, for what it's worth. Not that it's not occasionally soul crushing. But consistency is probably their top value.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:29 PM on February 17, 2013

I saw it happen when I worked for them, actually. Not that the rubric changed, but that we were asked to interpret it in a different way which gave essays different scores.
posted by jessamyn at 8:31 PM on February 17, 2013

I score for Pearson, and I'd say that getting in with them isn't the easiest, but once you're in, you can stay in indefinitely. The biggest problem is that getting up to speed on their scoring rubric can be troublesome. (And yeah, the ethics thing. Bleah.)

They often have trouble with their technology--in fact I think I'd say that in more than five years, I've never seen them go a scoring session without something going wrong.

However, if *you* screw up, and don't meet standards for one day early on, you're out for the session and that's that. If you were counting on the money, too bad. If you've always been awesome, for years and years, too bad. An off day can end up meaning more than a thousand dollars just disappeared from your income. Also, once you hit the top of the payscale, you're there forever. There are no more raises.

I love/hate this job. It's nice to be able to be home and have a flexible schedule. But there's nothing more infuriating than having an off day and being tossed out like you're a piece of garbage, which doesn't happen often anymore, but happened a few times in the beginning. It was very stressful.
posted by RedEmma at 8:49 AM on February 18, 2013

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