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Test-Taking Protocol

By  Aug 12, 2008

Topics: Certification

So...the moment that we have been waiting for has arrived—today is the day of your IT certification exam. What should you do?

Rule #1 is to arrive to the testing center at least 15 minutes early. This early arrival is to compensate for the 'hang time' that sometimes occurs in a busy testing center waiting room as well as the time it takes you to complete preliminary paperwork.

That having been said, do not automatically expect that if you arrive to the center earlier than your scheduled time that you will be allowed to sit for your computer-based exam early.

The reason for this is simple: busy testing centers have their seats allotted for particular time frames, so by the testing center allowing you to sit for your exam earlier or later than the designated time, you might 'step on' someone else's rightfully paid-for exam time.

Rule #2 is to ensure that you have your identification with you. This is a completely inflexible rule, and you will forfeit your registration fee and your test-taking slot if you forget. This text is from the Pearson VUE Web site:

Please be prepared to show two (2) forms of personal ID. Both must have your signature, and one of the two must have your photo.

The 'two forms of ID' rule is the same for both Prometric and VUE testing centers, by the way. Here are the acceptable forms of photo and non-photo identification as presented by Prometric:

  • Driver's license
  • Passport
  • Military identification
  • Employee identification card
  • Credit card
  • Check-cashing card

Note also that Social Security cards are not considered to be valid form of identification.

Rule #3 is to leave all 'stuff' besides your wallet in your vehicle. You won't be allowed to take purses, jackets, cell phones, PDAs—in short, just about anything besides your person and your wallet—into the exam room. Therefore, you are better off leaving that stuff outside the testing center in a safe location.

Once you have signed in, presented your ID, agreed to the testing center's rules and regulations, you will be escorted to the exam room by the test center representative. If the representative forgets to ask you if you need pencil and paper (or a smudged dry-erase board and marker, in the case of Prometric testing centers), then be sure to ask for these items yourself.

Every computer-based certification exam that I have ever taken included a brief on-screen tutorial on how to operate the testing engine. This routine is timed separately from the exam itself. I would advise that you step through the tutorial for two chief reasons:

  • If this is your first exam, then you should be fully apprised as to how to 'work the controls' of the exam engine
  • If this isn't your first exam, clicking through the tutorial may help you to enter the 'Test-Taking Zen' zone that is required in order for you to conquer the exam

One question that I commonly receive from students is, "What happens if my testing computer crashes or reboots for whatever reason? Did I just lose my exam?"

Here's my answer: Don't worry! As I mentioned earlier in this text, a central server computer at the testing center hosts your exam session; the computer at which you are sitting is little more than a 'dumb' display terminal.

Therefore, if your testing workstation crashes and the test center administrator needs to reset it, you will be able to resume your session from where you left off.

The only fly in the ointment is that central testing server itself. If the testing center fails to provide adequate power protection and security to their test server and the test server were crash or to lose power suddenly, then any connected exam sessions are at grave risk to lose data.

Unfortunately, I have seen students lose two hours worth of hard work when a test center's central exam server went offline unexpectedly. This should happen rarely to never, but it does occur, and it is never pretty for anyone that is involved.

When you 'shop around' for a test center, one question you might want to ask is how stable and secure their exam server is (does it have battery backup, etc.).

While you are actually taking your certification exam you will notice a small on-screen timer that informs you how much time you have left in the exam.

For most certification exams, you will also have an Mark Item check box that you can use to flag and then revisit troublesome items.

Most IT certification exam vendors allow you to leave comments on any item in the test prior to your submitting the exam to the test engine for grading. I have never done this myself, but you may be inspired to submit feedback to the certification vendor on items that you particularly liked or disliked for whatever reason.

After you submit your completed exam to the test engineer, take a deep breath. With only very few exceptions, most computer-based exams provide your score and subsequent pass/fail result instantly.

Your numeric score is listed only on your printed exam score report and not on any official transcripts from the exam vendor. As I often tell my students, "A pass is a pass, regardless of whether you scored just at the pass mark or at 100 percent."

Please check the certification vendors' Web sites to read their pass marks. For instance, Microsoft certification exams generally have a passing score of 700 out of 1000 (or 70 percent correct).

Some certification candidates feel better entering an exam knowing in advance how many items they must answer correctly in order to pass the test.

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