CloseUp: Certiport–A Tale of 2 Million Exams

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In one of the most interesting press releases I’ve read in recent memory, Certiport announced, “…the company has eclipsed the milestone of 2 million certification exams delivered.” In case you don’t already know about Certiport, it’s the company behind the Microsoft Office Specialist program (or MOS, for which Microsoft announced intentions of certifying 1 million professionals by the end of 2002 at one point) and the relatively new Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC3, usually pronounced “eye-see-three,” despite the numeric superscript on the cert name).

In a phone call with David Saedi, Certiport’s CEO, I was able to get a better sense of how that 2 million figure really breaks down. Certiport reported having issued a million MOS certifications during the summer of 2003, and Saedi told me growth rates for the program were about 12 percent yearly. Do the math, and this indicates about 1.12 million MOS holders a year later.

This means that Certiport has probably delivered something less than 780,000 IC3 exams (inevitably, not all MOS exam efforts result in passing scores, so what’s left over after MOS numbers come out is somewhat diminished thereby). In all likelihood, the actual number of certifications awarded is probably lower than 1.5 million unique individuals, simply because some people hold more than one Certiport credential, some people take the same exam more than once before they pass, and normal passing ratios for certification exams seldom exceed 75 percent. Any way you slice and dice these figures, however, the result is a large number. In fact, it puts Certiport into territory occupied only by a few other companies, all with major certification programs—namely, Novell, Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA and Oracle. That explains why I feel compelled to introduce and describe Certiport’s two programs here.

The Microsoft Office Specialist program covers three versions of Office: 2003, XP (2002) and 2000. These credentials are available for all three Office versions listed, and for each version, three credentials are available (listed in ascending order of effort, difficulty and attainment):



  • Specialist certification: Candidates demonstrate proficiency in individual Office components, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and Outlook, by passing a single exam on that component.
  • Expert certification: Candidates can achieve expert status in Word or Excel by achieving Specialist certification on that component, then passing an additional exam.
  • Master certification: Candidates must achieve expert status in Word and Excel, and pass the PowerPoint Specialist exam, then complete one elective on either of the two remaining Office components (Access or Outlook).


More information about MOS exam requirements is available from Certiport (see, and the Microsoft Web site also includes lots of useful information on its Microsoft Office Specialist pages, at In our conversation, Saedi indicated that Robert Half International’s recent efforts to prequalify temporary workers through MOS examination has been extraordinarily successful, resulting in both higher pay for temps who qualify and a striking conversion rate among Fortune 500 companies for such temporaries that’s 50 percent higher than the conversion rate for the non-certified!

First announced in 2001 and delivered in June 2002, the IC3 program has been around for 27 months now. It is a basic, global Internet and computer literacy credential that has been adopted by a large number of junior and senior high schools, community colleges and technical schools, other academic institutions, as well as skills- and standards-setting bodies as a core element in many curricula in countries and regions around the world. The exam covers key computing fundamentals (hardware, software, using an operating system), key applications (basic program functions and operation, word processing and spreadsheets) and what Certiport calls “living online” (networks and the Internet, e-mail, using the Internet and the social impacts of computing and the Internet). It’s positioned as an ideal, basic, entry-level demonstration of basic computing skills and knowledge, and has gained significant credibility all over the world. That’s probably because the credential is built around job-task analysis and input from subject-matter experts all over the world, and is overseen by the Global Digital Literacy Council. In fact, Certiport works very hard to make IC3 exams fair and culturally neutral (currently available in 11 languages), as well as demonstrative of key skills and knowledge. “Workers need to be productive when they sit down to do their jobs worldwide,” Saedi explained.

Lots of additional information about the IC3 is available online at, and it shows potential to become a standard element for establishing credibility, not just for those interested in working in information and communications technology, but for anyone interested in developing the skills and knowledge necessary to function in the modern workplace. Saedi cites its values for older workers being retrained for information economy jobs, as well as for younger workers preparing to enter the workforce for the first time.

In fact, though the IC3 has not yet eclipsed the Microsoft Office Specialist in terms of the number of exams delivered, it appears to be just a matter of time before this is the case. Perhaps it will occur even before Certiport announces passing of the next inevitable milestone at “3 million exams served!”

Ed Tittel is a full-time free-lance writer and trainer, and is technology editor and a regular contributor for Certification Magazine. E-mail Ed at


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