Certification is the formal attestation or confirmation of certain characteristics of an object, person, or organization. This confirmation is often, but not always, provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit. Accreditation is a specific organization's process of certification. According to the U.S. National Council on Measurement in Education, a certification test is a credentialing test used to determine whether individuals are knowledgeable enough in a given occupational area to be labeled "competent to practice" in that area.
One of the most common types of certification in modern society is professional certification, where a person is certified as being able to competently complete a job or task, usually by the passing of an examination and/or the completion of a program of study. Some professional certifications also require that one obtain work experience in a related field before the certification can be awarded. Some professional certifications are valid for a lifetime upon completing all certification requirements. Others expire after a certain period of time and have to be maintained with further education and/or testing.
Certifications can differ within a profession by the level or specific area of expertise to which they refer. For example, in the IT Industry there are different certifications available for software tester, project manager, and developer. Also, the Joint Commission on Allied Health Personnel in Ophthalmology offers three certifications in the same profession, but with increasing complexity.
Certification does not designate that a person has sufficient knowledge in a subject area, only that they passed the test.
Certification does not refer to the state of legally being able to practice or work in a profession. That is licensure. Usually, licensure is administered by a governmental entity for public protection purposes and a professional association administers certification. Licensure and certification are similar in that they both require the demonstration of a certain level of knowledge or ability.
Another common type of certification in modern society is product certification. This refers to processes intended to determine if a product meets minimum standards, similar to quality assurance. Different certification systems exist in each country. For example, in Russia it is the GOST R Rostest.
Other types include:
In first-party certification, an individual or organization providing the good or service offers assurance that it meets certain claims. In second-party certification, an association to which the individual or organization belongs provides the assurance. Third-party certification involves an independent assessment declaring that specified requirements pertaining to a product, person, process, or management system have been met.
In this respect, a Notified Body is a third-party, accredited body which is entitled by an accreditation body. Upon definition of standards and regulations, the accreditation body may allow a Notified body to provide third-party certification and testing services. All that ensures and assesses compliance to the previously-defined codes but also to provide an official certification mark or a declaration of conformity.
For software testing, the certifications can be grouped into exam-based and education-based. For exam-based certifications the candidate must pass an exam, which can also be learned by self-study. For example, for International Software Testing Qualifications Board Certified Tester by the International Software Testing Qualifications Board or Certified Software Tester by QAI or Certified Software Quality Engineer by American Society for Quality. Education-based certifications are the instructor-led sessions, where each course has to be passed. The Certified Software Test Professional and the Certified Software Test Professional by International Institute for Software Testing are such examples. It is common for people who require certifications to undergo paid structured learning to help them achieve their goals.