By Pooja Ganeriwala, Content Manager at Mettl.com
It’s no secret that the economic benefits of obtaining an IT certification can be staggering; allowing IT professionals to earn nearly 8 – 13 per cent premium above a base salary. Factor in the compounding effect of annual pay bumps and increased chances for promotions and the incentive to earn certifications becomes all the more appealing. Which is perhaps why the industry deals with a high level of cheating fraud each year, mainly by test-takers who won’t let anything come between them and that high-paying job that mandates only certified candidates to apply.
With an aversion to the idea of failing a test, and apparently even the concept of preparing for it, candidates appearing for certification sometimes go to great lengths to ensure they make the grade. When they don’t find an existing method that they trust to yield the results they need, they simply invent one!
How Candidates Cheat
With the rapid development of technology over the last decade, the ability of candidates to cheat on certification exams has increased significantly. Whereas even a few years ago they had to use clever contraptions like mechanical pens with carefully-folded cheat sheets, it’s a different ball game today.
In some ways, the methods of today’s cheats are even reminiscent of a 1990’s spy movie technology. For example, today it wouldn’t be far-fetched to go online and easily purchase a Bluetooth spy kit (custom made for the unscrupulous) which contains a tiny earphone that fits deep into the ear canal, a mic to relay information discreetly to a professional or anybody with additional resources outside the exam room, and a button to signal simple messages. Thus writing an entire certification without actually knowing a thing!
Another huge problem is “brain dump” sites, where anyone preparing for an exam can pay for complete versions of certification tests, which include the actual questions and the answer key. Playing on the industry’s lack of success in containing content theft for professional certifications, organised groups continue to use dummy test-takers who only serve to memorise or copy the entire question sequence when registering for the test. This information is then relayed to individual candidates for a fee sometimes as high as $2500/ test.
Cloud-based Testing: A Possible Solution?
For those looking to combat the rise in professional certification cheating, the challenge is two-fold: preventing content leak/ theft, and setting up security walls that are impenetrable for cheats to scale. The answer lies in cloud-based certification platforms, that make the use of cloud computing to organise, schedule, deliver, and assess certifications in large numbers, with tight controls on security.
Cloud-based testing by definition makes it difficult to define anything tangible for cheats to get their hands around. Since it is all online, it has the ability to immediately curb testing by proxy (where candidates pay someone else to take the test) through online proctoring. Currently, many facilities employ an on-site proctor, but unfortunately, there is no guarantee about this individual’s morality. Would s/he allow someone to cheat or falsify information? Who knows! With online proctoring, on the other hand, the matching of test takers and proctors can be greatly randomised. A camera pointed at the test taker can alert the proctor to any odd behavior, and real-time screen sharing can further limit the possibility of outside help.
Similarly, by not having any physical location to store the assessments, it makes it virtually impossible for hackers to access and retrieve data. Cloud-powered platforms encrypt the data, delivering questions one at a time directly to the candidate’s screen, and the answers are recorded at a central location with the results and certifications being processed in real-time. This also allows for each test to be randomised in context of question sequence to a candidate, thus making it difficult to memorise a specific exam version – even if someone has purchased a black-market copy of the test. This reduces significantly the possibility of electronic theft and posting of test questions and answers on brain dump websites.
The End of Cheating?
Of course, cloud-based testing is not a perfect solution to eliminating examination cheating. No matter the roadblocks, some people will inevitably find a way to circumvent them. However, with intelligent randomisation of questions and random matching of proctors and test takers, cloud-based testing is a promising tool to curb cheating to preserve the integrity of professional certifications.
Mettl.com is a digital talent assessment platform that enables companies to conduct customised assessments for pre-hire screening, employee training and development, certification programs, proctored exams, contests and more.