Although instances of exam piracy and other forms of cheating with regard to IT certifications seem to have declined in the past few years, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen anymore — unfortunately, a few candidates still use brain dumps, proxy test takers and other methods to get a certification they didn’t really earn.
If pressed about it, some of them would probably ask why it matters so much. After all, they aren’t hurting anyone, right?
Actually, they are — their fellow techies. The contract between an IT pro and a credentialing program is that if the former works diligently to master a set of skills and knowledge, pays a fee and passes an exam or set of exams, then the certifying body will formally recognize that person as having a certain level of proficiency in that area, which in turn will lead to desired jobs, promotions, raises and other professional perks.
Some, however, have opted to play outside the rules within their own industry when it comes to credentialing.
As a result, many employers look askance at certifications. If several candidates can (and do) get a credential by cheating — and without actually knowing anything about the subject matter — then what good does it do for people who have to make hiring decisions? This damages both innocent and guilty parties by undermining the overall view of IT certifications.
Regrettably, there always will be people who try to cheat. It’s up to the certification programs (and the honest candidates out there) to try to mitigate the opportunities they might have to do so.
Here are a few steps that can be taken to reduce instances of cheating, thus boosting the value of IT credentials:
- Build in Performance-Based and Written Components. If a person has to demonstrate hands-on skills with or write a complex essay on a particular product or technology, this makes cheating much more problematic. It would be much more difficult to disseminate a step-by-step, comprehensive explanation on how to set up a server manually than to just post answers to a few questions. Plus, these testing methodologies generally carry more weight with employers, cheating or no cheating.
- Offer Sensible Explanations of What Cheating Is. I’ve seen experts on certification testing pull all kinds of things under the cheating umbrella, some of which didn’t really belong there. For example, one commentator said a few years ago that destruction of property at a testing center counts as cheating. No, it doesn’t — that’s vandalism. I’m not trying to downplay the severity of that offense. Obviously, it’s wrong to intentionally damage the equipment and resources of the certification exam provider, but it’s not cheating. Describing it as such helps no one.
Also, others have claimed that discussing the content of any test with anyone constitutes cheating. They might have intended to say that going over specific questions and answers with someone is iniquitous. Yet, if taken at face value, this assertion indicates that any coverage of a test topic in conversation prior to the exam is unethical. Of course, candidates have to know what to study and how to study for it, and the idea that they shouldn’t consult with someone knowledgeable for even a modicum of advice and guidance is ludicrous. To avoid confusion on what or what does not constitute cheating, certification programs should be as explicit as possible on what they consider cheating to be, offering specific examples if necessary.
- Be Clear on the Consequences. This includes the direct penalties for cheating, such as expulsion without a refund, as well as ineligibility for any other certifications. But it also ought to be a marketing campaign of sorts — the IT certification industry should be very clear about how cheating is counterproductive in the long run because it damages the worth of certification. After all, cheating requires time and energy too, and if people realize the efforts they invest in fraudulent means of passing an exam ultimately will devalue the very objective they’re after, they’ll be less inclined to do it.