I have, over the years, written many articles about certification exams, and about the exam process. Some of what I was about the actual exam experience… including Time Tips for Certification Exams. So many of my exam experiences involved driving to a testing centre. Fortunately the last few exams that I have taken – and a few before that – I was able to take remotely.
Preparing for a remote exam is very different from going to a testing centre. You have to be equally prepared with the material of course… but you also have to prepare your testing area at home.
When you register for the exam the provider will tell you a lot of this, but it is often buried in several pages of information that they are sending you about the exam, and a lot of us will gloss over it. So here you are, many of the tips that I think will be helpful.
Who Does This Apply To?
As my regular readers will know, I have chiefly been concerned with Microsoft exams. With that said, I have taken other certification exams remotely, and the advice given herein applies to all of them. None of the policies discussed herein are Microsoft policies, rather they are policies of the testing body, usually (but not exclusively) Pearson Vue.
Prior to starting your exam, you will be asked to point your camera in every direction to show your work area. The proctor will work with you to resolve these issues; with that said, if you are like me, when you are ready to start the exam you want to start the exam. Addressing these issues ahead of time will go a long way to easing your mind when it is time to click Begin.
Let’s look around!
Before you begin your exam, you will be asked to take a photo of the four cardinal points – to the left, right, forward, and behind of where you are sitting. The proctor will then look at these pictures and either approve it to proceed, reject it out of hand, or have you make any number of corrections. Making sure ahead of time that your exam area is acceptable is the best way to proceed, and will cause the least amount of stress for you once the appointment time arrives.
Every professional will tell you that a cluttered work area is not conducive to productivity. With that said, many of our offices are cluttered, and we do just fine. Your clutter needs to be completely cleaned off before you begin your exam. Notebooks, Post-It notes, hair brushes, pens, external hard drives, external speakers, dog treats, remote controls, eyeglass cleaning solution… these are just some of the items that are presently on my desk (or within easy reach) that must be removed from your exam area. Yes, I have a cluttered work area. Looking at the embedded picture it is clear to see that an exam proctor will reject this area out of hand, and have me make several changes before allowing my exam to proceed.
Modern Workplace Conveniences
The vast majority of us work on laptops these days, and because of that there are some external peripherals that make life easier. For example, I have a docking station with two external monitors on my desk. It makes working better. It is also forbidden for your exam. You will have to unplug everything you can – especially external monitors.
Let me rephrase that… it will not be enough for you to unplug extra peripherals, you will also have to remove them from your desk. Later in this article I have suggestions for dealing with that, so keep reading.
I have never had an issue with jewelry in the exam room, but watches – especially smartwatches and fitness watches – are definite no-nos. Unfortunately, this is something that the proctor can miss when reviewing everything for you before the exam. Why is this unfortunate? I am glad you asked. I took an exam recently where the proctor did not notice… until I was halfway through the exam. As I was reading a question and trying to figure things out, my screen froze, and the chat window appeared. Take off your watch and put it out of reach! I did, and I moved on. If you are the sort who gets rattled by interruptions, this will suck.
Uncover your face!
The world is upside down. Two years ago, had you walked into a store with a mask on, you would have been suspicious. If you try to walk into a business without a mask today, you are immediately jumped upon by people concerned about Covid-19. Fortunately, you are going to be alone in whatever room you use to take the exam, and cannot spread germs. If you cover your mouth (or face), the proctor will give you a warning. This can suck if you have a cold or allergies… but deal with it.
Nothing Within Reach
The only items you should be able to reach while taking the exam are the keyboard and the mouse. Everything else should be put well out of reach. A couple of exceptions: You may have a clear glass filled with clear liquid (yes, this means you may not have coffee); you may have tissue paper (but not a box of tissues) on the table in case you need to sneeze. You must have your identification handy – two forms of it, in fact. I always have my Driver’s License and my passport, but you can decide what to use.
You must be in a closed room, and nobody can walk in or even knock on the door while you are in the exam. Yes, this includes pets. There can be no noise of any sort during the exam. Yes, they are watching you. Yes, they are listening too.
Prepare Your Area
I am lucky enough to live alone (with my dog) in an apartment with a dedicated office. With that said, my office as-is would not be suitable to taking an exam. This is what I do in advance of an exam:
- I unplug my laptop from the docking station on my desk, and I put it on a table in a clear part of the room, away from everything else. You may or not be able to do this, but if you can, it will be easier than unplugging all of your extra monitors and peripherals and moving them off your desk.
- I take my dog for a very long walk. Does this sound silly? Doing that before the walk ensures that she will not bother me to go out during the exam.
- I put my smartphone on Nighttime Mode. This ensures that there will be no calls or texts or bleeps or bloops during the exam. You cannot turn your phone off completely because it is needed for the exam process.
- (When I lived with other people) I took the time to let them know that I was taking an exam between X:00 and Y:00, and that they should not disturb me unless the building was on fire. To remind them, I had a sign on the door that read: “DO NOT DISTURB. DO NOT KNOCK. EXAM IN PROGRESS.”
- I make sure to visit the W.C. before starting. I once had an assistant who failed an exam because she needed to use the restroom.
Get Comfortable… but not too comfortable
I had a discussion with a colleague who told me that he solved a lot of the space issues by taking his laptop out of his regular work environment and bringing it into his living room and sitting on the couch. I told him I did not think this a great idea because I have always believed what parents and teachers taught when I was in school: Sit up, sit straight, and you will focus better. He told me that was ridiculous, that he had now taken two exams from his couch. He did not see the irony in having failed them both the first time.
We all work differently, but make sure that wherever you are that you can focus and concentrate on the exam without distractions.
But I don’t live alone or have a dedicated space! What can I do?
I mentioned earlier that I am lucky enough to live alone. That can be interpreted in a number of ways, but the truth is that with regard to taking certification exams it does make life easier. For people who live with others, or who do not have an area easily decluttered, it can be difficult to arrange the alone time in an appropriate area. I wish there was a simple answer to this dilemma. While there is not, it is at least easier now than it was a year ago. During the nascent days of the pandemic, when we were forbidden from leaving the house, it would have been difficult – if not impossible – to find an appropriate exam room. Now, while we are certainly not all living our lives freely, we are at least able to go out somewhat.
Many apartment and condominium complexes have quiet rooms that can be reserved. If not, shared workspace locations, such as Regus, are open and rent out enclosed offices by the hour. A quick phone call to Regus confirmed that free memberships are available on their site, and office space can be rented by the hour for as low as $19. While this will increase the cost of your exam, it will at least solve the problem. Keep the receipts – you can probably write it off on your taxes!
But the old way…
If you are not interested in taking the time to prepare your work area for an exam, or if you do not have the option, then some testing centres are still open. A quick search on Pearson Vue’s site shows that of the three nearest testing centres to my home, one is completely unavailable, one is completely open, and one has a single day available in May. One can assume from that there are a couple of possibilities:
a) Some centres are absolutely open for business;
b) Some centres seem to be completely closed for business; and
c) Some centres are picking up the slack for the closed ones and are just completely busy.
I am making assumptions, but the best advice I can give you is to go online and see for yourself what is available. Every region is going to be different. A quick search of Montreal, Canada (knowing that the province of Quebec is still largely shut down) shows one testing centre available with twelve appointment slots in the month of April. Your region will be different, so you will have to do the research.
Taking certification exams from home will solve a lot of issues that many test takers have faced in the past, such as exam room availability, rural areas without convenient testing locations, inclement weather, parking, and more. It also creates new issues that can all be mitigated, as long as we are willing to take the time (and occasionally the expense) to do so. Make sure you know what you are getting into, and remember this: The best prepared exam room will still be an obstacle for a poorly prepared tester, just like an unacceptable exam room will be an obstacle for the best prepared candidate. Making sure that you are prepared, and so is your environment, is the best recipe for remote certification exam success.