Perps On the Run! (or, Issues in Certification I.P.)


Certification is big business these days… and therefore lots of people are looking for ways to capitalize on it, by making money selling plagiarized exam intellectual property (IP) or by cheating on exams to get a short-cut to certification. So, that is not ideal. Microsoft and others do a lot of work to protect certification from braindump providers, proxy test-takers, score-report fakers, etc. In yesterday’s Live Meeting on the topic, these were things I enjoyed learning the most, in no particular order.



  • Individuals who “cheat” can be decertified and disallowed from ever taking cert exams. Even with the massive amount of due diligence that is involved in investigating and verifying egregious offenses, 89 individuals have been decertified this year

  • You can go to another country to take an exam. Except in the case of China and India, where you now need to prove citizenship to take your exam–this change was made because of trend analysis in which we found high levels of non-resident testing that tipped us off…

  • We have an anti-piracy team that regularly gets to use language like “perpetrators,” “take-down”, and “malfeasance.” It’s like, Magnum (MC)P.I. (sorry)

  • We get about 4 e-mails a day from people around the world, reporting shady cert dealings and possible cheaters

  • Under the exam Non-disclosure Agreement (NDA), you can show people your score report, but you can not discuss a certain question (even if you want to kick around your answer with someone to see what THEY would have said…) 

  • We send undercover investigators to confirm illegal activity and perps (see bullet 3) who are selling braindumps or proxy-testing

  • CertGuard has tons of info on this for all IT cert providers (not just MSFT) and a list of braindump providers to avoid (www.CertGuard.com)

  • We may switch up content on our exams, in particular if there is a hint that some of the content has been stolen… we do not announce these changes, because that would tip off the people who took it to start with. The only time we would announce changes to content is if it affects the outline of the exam.

Don’t believe me? Here is a recording of the afternoon session. Thanks to Microsoft Learning’s Shon and Rob for the great information and to Mitch, Michael, and Rob Williams for sharing their perspective and advice. You can find them here:



IMHO, it’s tricky. Microsoft needs to do the right thing by our certified customers (of course it is in our best interest to have Microsoft Certified professionals have great reputations), but also be careful not to tread on your individual rights or free commerce in the industry. For example, if someone posts something illegal–or something we don’t agree with–to a Microsoft-hosted newsgroup, or if a Microsoft search tool delivers the same–where is the line between doing what we think is right for certification versus “editing” or controlling the public’s experience, when not everyone’s perception is aligned with mine, or ours, or whoever is doing the editing? It’s made even more delicate when we’re talking about millions of people around the world who don’t always share the same cultural understanding or laws… it’s complicated. Don’t mind me, I’m an old windbag, boring herself blog-less, mmm-hmm. If you are still reading this, WAKE UP! Go to bed, or something.


But first, report any NDA violations to TCTIPS@microsoft.com and check out CertGuard for more info on how to avoid braindumps and protect the value of certification.

Comments (13)

  1. CertGuard says:

    Excellent Trika…you are the best!!!

    I’d like to thank you, and the rest of Microsoft, for the opportunity to present this information to the people that matter.

    I wish all IT Professionals out there the best of luck with their certifications, and I hope that we can help many more individuals achieve their certifications the correct way.

    Robert Williams

    CertGuard

  2. 2nded <– yeah i am still tired. :-)

  3. Phil Hall says:

    Here’s my take: MS (and everyone else) should immediately redesign the entire test-taking scenario. Instead of just sitting in front of a test PC and clicking on answers; have, say, ten computers that have "something wrong with them," and the test taker needs to fix a majority of them–all the things wrong are, of course, things that would be covered in the test. This is about as real-world as you can get. Plus, instead of memorizing a braindump, you have to have the ability to perform the task at hand.

    But that’s just my opinion.

  4. There are many ways that the actual testing process can be handled, and there have been ideas from many people on just how it should be done, but I believe Microsoft is doing their best to increase the complexity of the exams by providing adaptive questions.

    The problem is that even if there were computers setup in the Testing Centers to handle what you ahve mentioned, there would still be people that hack the systems and cheat, or help others cheat.

    People cheat because they get something out of it. What WE, as a community, need to do is make it so that the cheating itself is not profitable. If we can accomplish that, then we’ve won the fight.

    Good luck on all your Certifications and on your career.

    CertGuard

  5. Jason says:

    Ive got mixed feelings about it really. I mean the exams are not that well designed in my opinion (sorry), but I also dont like the idea of cheating. But the two go hand in hand.

    If the exams were simulation questions, add this, do that, rather than pointless lists of multiple choice and endless boring text stories.

    Ive been in IT over 10 years, and perhaps I cant answer a specific question that has no relevance to anything I’ve done, i bet i can fix a problem with or configure or install a server and its applications no problem. But without "learning" the types of questions that will be asked (which ive already defined as being unhelpful) the risk of failing is quite high.

    To me that can be right. Ive also found the Citrix Exams to be terrible in this way.

    So cheating i fear wont be removed until a better solution to testing is found.

    Jason

  6. hartplaza says:

    Jason,

    I share your feelings. Anyway, I allways ask, who do you cheat on? It is nice to be able to tell everybody how many certificates you own, but the real value will be in the field, at work. You can cheat a whole lot of certificates, but if you do not know your stuff, you wont get far at work. The real IT pro’s, with the real knowledge do not need a whole lot of certificates, because when they apply for a job, they know what they are talking about, instead of the people who cheated at their exams.

    Myself, I don’t need to cheat. I also do not own a whole list of certificates, just some basic ones. Sometimes I get people to apply for a job, and they have received a whole list of certificates in just a very short time. That is reasons to ask some basic questions to see if they really know their stuf. Most of the time that will be the last you hear from them.

    So, if you really want to test the IT Pro to their knowledge, give them a live situation so they can proof themselves,… instead of a multiple choice exam. To bad that this will make the exams very expensive..

  7. Jason says:

    I dont cheat personally because i gave up on the certiifcation chasing awhile ago. Ive done the odd exam hoping to get through them, but at £100 a time it seems like a great cash cow for MS and a true waste of my time. (Again this goes back to the fact that it doesnt test skills in my opinion… just who can remember the answers to multiple choice – so thus aiding those that want to cheat). Ive met many MCSEs in my time who have been a waste of space, because the one skill a good systems engineer, implementor, architect (or whatever the new named fad is these days), is think on your feet and troubleshotting skills. These skills cant easily be tested by "You get this error" what is the answer type questions.

    On the other end of the scale, ufortunately "True" skills dont count for anything unless you have a certificate (im talking in the majority of UK advertised jobs), so its self defeating. Many companies wont even interview people, regardless of their skill unless they have a MCSE.

    Why? because too many people are applying for the same job, the best way to cut down the numbers of interviews is to remove any without the cert. Anoher reason why companies need MCSE’s only is to get points for a Partner program.

    So people who are trying to get a certification are not getting it for the sake of getting it (like in the NT4 days) they are doing it for career progression, so if they have the skills, but not the cert, they perhaps are feeling inclined to cheat because the tests are holding them back (imho). They dont want to waste alot of time, and money on something that the only value to them is the peice of paper, to them the exam is pointless. I agree those that cheat who havent got the skills will be found out, but most of them would probably fail at the interview stage if coming up against someone who has the skills and can talk.

    The future IMHO doesnt look bright, MS have made a real hash of the new certification tracks as fas as i can tell, which just makes it even more open to cheating.

    Im glad that i made the decision some time ago to not chase the certifications, because seeing the new tracks, its proven me right.

  8. hartplaza says:

    The area I am from, there is not a big deal about MS partnerships. If there is a job, they only ask experience with a certain product. I rarely see a company asking for a MCSE. For me that has been the reason to stop chasing certificates.

  9. Spunky P says:

    What’t the deal with india? Is it not possible to go to India a get your training and take the tests? Can you please direct people to a source document that says this, especially if they are not a resident or citizen of India and are traveling to get training in this country? Thanks!

  10. A developer says:

    The truth is that if someone cheats, and he lose all his certs, and will NEVER have the oportunitty to get another certification, at least a lot of people who thinks in cheating will try to pass their exams by themselves.

    But I think work is the real world, and just looking at someone experience, and making the property questions, you can decide if you hire him or not. The problem is that several times HHRR doesn’t check the knowledge people says they have…    but day to day work shows the real value of a person, and that’s something nobody can change.

  11. trikah@microsoft.com says:

    Spunky P,

    I understand that you CAN go to get your training and test, but you have to get prior written permission. It’s not on the MSL site, but it is on Prometric site "Note: As of April 1, 2007, only citizens of India will be permitted to register for exams in our India test centers, and only citizens of China will be permitted to register for exams in our Mainland China test centers."

    http://www.prometric.com/Microsoft/default.htm

    Yours,

    Spunky T

  12. bk says:

    microsoft should know where is the source of cheating,

    Like testking,p4sure, acual exam,topcert

  13. MarkinManchester says:

    I see no change since the last post, dumps, sims, testkings, actualtest, P4S and more still dominate the exam scene.

    Do you think there will ever be any positive action to address this situation. I think that 89 individuals out of the millions that take these exams is a poor show.

    I think the main reason for these exams is that business’s feel that they need certified personel to support the product they have purchased and if there is a shortage they will possibly switch.

    As always I think it is about business practise and revenue streams but hasnt M$ always been about that and nothing else.

    My 2 cents

    Mark