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Pirates, cheats and IT certs

Robert L. Mitchell | June 20, 2014
Cheating is on the rise, but IT certification programs are fighting back.

While there's no way to definitively know if a prospective hire has cheated to obtain an IT certification, employers can and should check with the certification body to make sure the person actually attained it. "Trust, but verify," says Addicott.

For the most part, he adds, hiring managers can trust that verified IT certifications were legitimately earned."Just a few rotten apples have cast doubt on the qualifications of individuals in the IT profession," he says. But, he adds, it is possible that a few individuals have benefitted from the live exam content available online and used that to gain a higher score on an exam. So an IT certification should only be one part of the hiring decision.

Other steps include checking references, reviewing employment history and asking a few carefully crafted questions designed to gauge whether the candidate really knows his or her stuff.

Where the cert developers fit in
Developers of IT certification programs, such as Microsoft and CompTIA, contract with Prometric, Pearson VUE and other independent test centers that administer and proctor tests worldwide on their behalf. These businesses also provide training services, and so must have a secure firewall between the testing and training sides of the business.

IT certification bodies and test center operators are engaged in an arms race with pirates who steal test questions and answers, and with cheaters who buy that information, share answers in chat rooms, pay "proxies" (people who will to take tests for them) and bring a range of technologies and techniques into test centers to gain an edge. IT certification organizations, worried about degradation of their credentials, are striking back by turning to more sophisticated methods to catch cheaters and mitigate piracy. And cheaters who get caught increasingly face more than just a slap on the wrist.

Even people who cheat and don't get caught during the exam still have reason to worry. Pearson VUE records every session to digital video and reviews it after the fact. Recently, scrutiny of unusual head movements tipped off the team that one test taker had an embedded camera in his glasses. "The way people are cheating is changing. They're using technology more," Poyiadgi says.

But the most common ways people try to cheat aren't always the most high-tech, says Shelby Grieve, Microsoft's director of professional certifications including the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert and Microsoft Technology Associate. "The trend has moved from taking exam answers into a testing center to more passive methods of cheating, such as using 'brain-dump' sites and proxy testing services," she says.

Grieve says Microsoft has caught candidates who colluded online through question and answer sharing, as well as people who used low-tech approaches such as copying off other peoples' exams, texting answers and even modifying someone else's printed score report.

 

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