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Debunking Some Common Myths Concerning Computer-Based Testing

Computer-based testing happens to be the most common delivery mechanism that most IT certification vendors use to deploy their exams. Unfortunately, some test-takers make faulty or incomplete assumptions with regard to how computer-based testing systems work. In this essay I will address three of the most prevalent myths as culled from my professional experience as a technical trainer.

Computer-Based Testing Myth #1: All Testing Centers are the Same

Some IT certification vendors (for example, Microsoft) have an exclusive partner agreement with Thomson Prometric. On the other hand, other providers (such as Cisco) have an exclusive arrangement with Pearson VUE. However, most vendors (such as CompTIA, Apple, and Novell) allow testing candidates to sign up for their exams by using either registrar.

I cannot stress this point strongly enough: do your homework before you show up to take your certification exam. By this I mean that you should definitely do whatever you can to actually visit your local testing center sites in order to determine their relative quality.

The raw truth of the matter is that certification testing is held in higher or lower regard by different VUE or Prometric testing centers. I have tested at locations where the actual exam room seemed to be nothing more than an afterthought to the training center: noise pollution, open windows, and antiquated computers contribute to a subpar testing experience.

Consider testing centers that offer their candidates easy-on-the-eyes LCD monitors and fairly robust workstation computers. Noise-cancelling headphones are a big plus. Of course, you also want to avoid testing centers whose examination room is a high-traffic area (this happens sometimes, believe it or not).

Finally, take into account the courtesy level of the testing center staff. If you had the choice of dealing with a crab or a bundle of sunshine, which type of person would you deal with?

Computer-Based Testing Myth #2: If My Computer Crashes, My Exam is Gone Forever

A common misconception among IT certification testing candidates is that if their testing workstation goes kaput, then so does their exam session. I want you to know that so long as your testing center adheres to site requirements as dictated by Pearson VUE and/or Thomson Prometric, then you need not worry.

Why, because in VUE and Prometric testing centers, all examinee workstations are operating in a largely thin-client architecture. Well, let me qualify that statement. Perhaps the term “slightly pudgy” architecture is more apt in this situation.

That is to say, that while the VUE and Prometric exam engines run locally on each testing computer, the exam sessions themselves are stored on a centralized server computer located elsewhere at the testing center (hopefully on battery backup).

The take-home message here is that if your exam computer were to reboot or power off suddenly, or simply crash, your exam session state can be reestablished by the test center admininistrator when the testing workstation comes back online.

On the other hand, if the site server computer itself were to go south, then all currently testing examinees’ sessions may very well be in grave danger of being trashed. I’ve seen that happen, and it is understandably not a pretty sight to behold.

Computer-Based Testing Myth #3: If I Possess the Requisite Content Knowledge, then I’m Golden

One important maxim in the IT certification industry is that most vendor-specific certification exams involve two answers, only one of which representing the graded correct response. One answer is the “real world” answer, which reflects the practical behavior of the technology under consideration that is based upon your personal industry experience.

Another answer is called the “vendor’s answer,” which reflects the party-line response of the technology vendor to a particular topic of concern. Now, let me ask you: which one of these answers is graded by the exam engine as the correct one?”

Say no more, friend; say no more.

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