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How Computer-Based Testing Works

By  Aug 3, 2008

Topics: Certification

The process IT certification exam registration can be confusing to the test-taker, at least at first. How does the exam registration process work? What is the first step to be undertaken? In this essay I will walk you through the entire process from start to finish.

Before we begin, though, we should review the major categories of IT certification exams because their mode of registration often depends upon their format.

The standard computer-based exam has many subtypes, which we will discuss in detail in future blog posts. For now, however, simply understand that this is by far the most common type of IT certification exam.

With a standard computer-based exam you have a predefined time period to complete a predefined number of items. In the vast majority of cases, you receive immediate feedback at the conclusion of the exam as to whether you have achieved a passing score.

The standard written exam is an uncommon, though immediately familiar, exam format that is used in a minority of IT certification programs. This exam type should be fairly comfortable for you "out of the box" because, like the traditional written exams you probably took in grade school, you use good ol' pencil and paper to complete the test.

Typically the standard written exam format involves the following characteristics:

  • More stringent scheduling requirements due to the presence of a live exam proctor
  • Shared exam venue; multiple candidates complete the exam during the same timeframe in the same proctored exam room
  • Delayed feedback, from days to weeks to perhaps even months, in the examinee receiving his or her score report.

Certification programs that employ the standard written exam format include the (ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL).

The lab practical exam generally generates the most trepidation among certification candidates. In a lab practical exam, you are asked to physically perform one or more tasks that are directly related to the IT skill set under consideration.

For instance, you might be asked to install and configure the Linux operating system, or troubleshoot a rack of Cisco routers and switches.

Because of the time and logistical factors involved, lab practical exams tend to involve much by way of time, monetary, and travel expense. For instance, in order to take the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) lab practical exam, you must travel to one of only a handful of Cisco laboratory sites in the United States. The CCIE lab exam is also eight hours in duration (!).

Furthermore, with lab practical exams the examinee sometimes must wait for days or weeks in order to receive his or her exam results.

Certification programs that employ the lab practical exam include the following:

In the next installment of this series we will take a look at the specific steps that you must undertake in order to re-register for an IT certification exam.

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