Why You Shouldn’t Set Test Articles or “Exams” for Freelance Applicants

I don’t know what it is, but some clients don’t seem to trust the quality of applicants on Upwork that they feel the need to set tests or exams, sometimes (low) paid and sometimes requested for free (which is actually against the TOS).

Actually, I think I know why some clients want to set “exams” or cheap test articles on the platform. Assuming they are not a scammer, it’s because they aren’t prepared to pay decent rates for good quality freelancers and have been burnt. As the old saying goes: If you pay peanuts, you’ll get monkeys. Yesterday, on the client section of the Upwork forum, a client asked why he wasn’t allowed to set exams to sift through the applications in a way that regular employers are allowed to set tests as part of an interview process.

Here is my response to that client.

To the OP: As a freelancer, please see this from our point of view. If we spent 30 minutes on every job application filling out an exam, that’s a lot of lost time and money that we could be doing work for existing long-term clients. 5 applications per day would mean 2.5 hours in unpaid work. Sorry, but I have bills to pay too that I don’t want to and can’t waste a minimum of 2 hours every day filling out exams on jobs where I am 1 of 100 applicants. If you were in our position, would you do that? Would you give away your talents, products or services for free to potential customers who feel your existing samples, references, feedback and job score just aren’t good enough as a guide in isolation?

Also, the clients I have from off Upwork never ask me to do a free exam, free samples, free 200 word editing, free this or free that… they are happy with my existing sample work. Yet clients on Upwork seem to want freelancers to jump through hoops for a pittance. If you’re really not finding the quality you want that you feel you must demand an exam of everyone, then either review the rates you are prepared to pay (because if you pay peanuts you will get monkeys) or look elsewhere.

As noted in the comment, it’s as though the Job Success Score, previous happy clients, verifiable Upwork tests and a long account in good standing simply isn’t enough for some clients. I understand you are taking a risk with your business, but there are many reasons for why “exams” on Upwork are a bad idea.

It’s a Waste of Your Time

With so many ways of verifying a freelancer’s suitability and the ability to request a refund through Upwork, it is simply a waste of your time to attempt to narrow down the field even further beyond the specific criteria by which Upwork freelancers are now categorised and the easy system by which you can find the right people. If you don’t trust the Upwork system to find the right freelancer for you, then perhaps you shouldn’t even be on there.

It’s a Waste of the Freelancer’s Time

What could you possibly ascertain from an exam that you couldn’t ascertain from their profile, JSS, their status (Top Rated, or Rising Star) or work history? This is the sort of question I ask myself every time a client asks me to do a small test or to partake in an exam. In the beginning, I was prepared to indulge the occasional job that sounded as if it might have been worth the test, but 90% of them just got canned and the application withdrawn. Which brings me to my third point…

The Quality Freelancers Won’t Bother

Sorry, but we won’t. I have a four-year-old account in good standing. I’m Top Rated with many happy clients. Precisely to whom am I going to be expected to prove myself now with a JSS of 100%? The quality freelancers won’t bother because we’re being invited to new jobs every day. We can pick and choose and the first applications we’ll cast off are the clients who expect us to jump through hoops for jobs with low pay that come across as more trouble than they are worth.

Where Would It End?

To you, it might just be a short exam to help you decide but if everybody started doing it, that’s potentially 2-3 hours of work every day wasted on no-charge or low-pay “exams”. Would I rather be doing that or discussing more work with my existing clients on or off Upwork? I don’t have the time or the inclination to waste essentially half my working day on taking tests that will probably not come to anything. I have several clients asking me to produce more work over the coming months and I’m staring another October in the face (it’s always been my busiest month).

In short – don’t set exams, even paid ones. You’ll find what you’re looking for by using the tools that Upwork provides. If you’re not, then review what you are prepared to pay.

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4 thoughts on “Why You Shouldn’t Set Test Articles or “Exams” for Freelance Applicants

  1. I wholeheartedly agree! I have made the mistake in the past of spending hours completing a test for a writing-related job application, and it turned out to be a lot more trouble than it was worth. Thanks for the reminder not to ever make that time-wasting mistake again!

    1. I used to ask for a token payment, typically around half price, but now I won’t entertain the notion unless they are willing to pay full price. I really cannot fathom what they could possibly learn that they couldn’t learn from the other indicators on Upwork.

  2. pmontgomery

    I work through Upwork, and have a Top Rated profile. I had never actually thought about paid (or unpaid) exams in such a way. I always looked at it as a way to show a client how I would work on something of theirs, though this has helped me see that in hindsight, that’s a little silly – what else are all the tests that I’ve taken through Upwork, samples of writing, editing, and proofing, not to mention the client feedback and success score there for if a client is going to waste my time on work I will either not get paid for, or get paid for, but nowhere near what is necessary for the work that I’m doing, even if it’s merely a test.

    I think I’ll be more discerning with future clients and these exams. Thank you for the wonderful, insightful post!

    1. I sometimes wonder whether I’m just displaying “Top Rated Privilege” when I steadfast refuse to play along with these so-called exams and I have to remind myself that essentially these people are asking for free work.

      I remember being desperate for work at the beginning for jobs that paid a pittance so I do understand how it is tempting to do them. But if everyone refused and reported these jobs, they simply wouldn’t request it. My guess is there are still too many freelancers doing them in a hope of getting some work.

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