Testing by the Book

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The IT industry is all about the future, right? Certified professionals around the world spend their days—and nights—supporting the cutting-edge and paving the way for the next big thing. It’s a forward-thinking community that turns to the past only to benchmark how far we’ve come. Right?

Well, mostly. Turns out, there’s inspiration in the past that could affect the future of certification testing and training.

Starting June 1, the National Association of Communication Systems Engineers (NACSE) is going back for the future. NACSE, in short, is embracing the kind of testing you used to dream about in high school—the open-book quiz.

“For some years, NACSE’s Board of Standards has discussed the possibility of open-book exams,” the Colorado-based association announced in late April. “In reflection, our purpose in certifying is not to determine what a person has memorized, but to assure that the candidate understands the relevant concepts and/or knows how to research specific details, when necessary.”

Ladies and gentlemen, let the controversy begin.

NACSE makes a great case for the shift in testing policy. Methodology, technology, hardware and software are constantly evolving, and expecting IT professionals to memorize and maintain all the details needed on a daily basis is “naïve.” Technicians, the rationalization continues, already rely on reference materials and access to information on a daily basis. NACSE is simply letting that process start at the study stage. Adding fuel to the linguistic fire, NACSE called closed-book testing “archaic” and not reflective of the “real world.”

Obviously, this is a move that’s going to have supporters and detractors. On the plus side, certification candidates will still have to build basic skills, but credentials will be easier to achieve for testing-challenged professionals, and they’ll also build information-gathering skills that will be with them throughout their careers. On the minus side, no one ever said certification testing was supposed to be easy, and some could see the new policy as another softening of certification that could lower standards and respect for certified IT experts.

At the very least, NACSE deserves credit for trying something new and possibly breathing new life into a beleaguered industry. But is this a direction we should be going?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, as the front-line professionals most directly affected by the changes in certification standards. Would you lobby your certification program to follow suit, or does the difficulty of traditional certification testing carry a necessary panache?

As always, I’m available for your thoughts at tsosbe@certmag.com. Don’t worry if you can’t remember that e-mail address: Just keep your copy of CertMag open while you’re pecking out the note.

Tim Sosbe
Editorial Director


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