How to Combat Cheating on IT ExamsBy Gina Roos | Print
Red Hat's director of certifications is taking the lead on finding ways to thwart IT exam fraud, which could dilute the value of certifications in the future.
IT certifications increasingly are becoming more important in the industry. Not only can they help IT professionals increase their salary and serve as validation of their knowledge and skill sets, certifications also are considered a valuable hiring tool for recruiters.
According to a 2015 CompTIA report, two-thirds of human resource executives said IT certifications were very valuable, up from 30 percent three years ago, and 94 percent said the importance of IT certifications will grow in the next two years. HR professionals believe holding industry certifications demonstrates the candidate has the knowledge needed for the job. Another CompTIA report finds that 91 percent of employers consider certifications vital to hiring and predicting employee success.
However, industry observers say IT exam fraud is a growing problem, primarily due to a lack of exam security. That has the potential to dilute the value of certifications, even from IT vendors that have highly secure test procedures and policies in place. Cheaters are finding myriad ways to take advantage of a lack of test security, ranging from stolen exam materials sold online to the use of test proxies.
Red Hat, a provider of enterprise open-source software solutions, is taking the lead in combating exam fraud. The company, which offers more than two dozen certifications, has implemented a hands-on approach to IT exam security.
There are two parts to understanding why IT exam fraud is occurring in the industry, said Randy Russell, director of certifications at Red Hat. Organizations need to understand what's happening on a global level and how the exam takers are cheating.
"If there is an exam that has an impact on your career or future trajectory, there are a lot of places in the world where doing whatever is possible to give yourself an advantage is seen as a good thing," said Russell. "It's not just emerging markets. Study after study finds that cheating on exams at the university level is growing, and the sensibility that it's the wrong thing to do seems to be lost.
"People are going to cheat on the test and it's our responsibility as the exam publisher to make it as difficult as possible for people to do that," he said.
Cheating—when an individual tries to gain an unfair advantage to misrepresent his or her performance on an exam—is happening in several ways, said Russell.
Multiple choice testing is particularly vulnerable to cheating, particularly if test takers receive a copy of the questions ahead of the exam. Red Hat avoids this problem by conducting only hands-on practical exams.
Using unauthorized materials presents another unfair advantage. Notes hidden under shirt sleeves or on the brim of a baseball cap, or even a fake candy bar wrapper printed with notes, are some examples Russell noted.
"The key to avoiding this kind of cheating is having somebody monitor the exam," he said. "All Red Hat exams have a proctor—somebody who observes the person while taking the exam."
Exam publishers also have to consider system-level ways that somebody can gain an unfair advantage when taking an exam on a computer, whether it is hands-on or multiple choice. For example, the test taker could provide access to another person, who could do the work for them, or the test taker could use online chat to get help, said Russell. "This requires system-level security."