Another Exam Experience… a harrowing one!

certified-logo-featuredSomeone asked me recently why I used to prefer going into a testing centre to sit my certification exams. I told them that if anything went wrong, the staff had a direct line to get faster support, but that fewer things were likely to go wrong.

This week I sat my third exam in the past two weeks, and so you would think that I have the routine down pat. I disconnect the laptop from the dock, disconnect all of the external cables. I take the computer and the mouse and the power supply from my office area and I set it up on the small table in my kitchen, facing the patio doors. I empty my pockets in my office, and remove my watch there as well. Once I have signed in and taken all of the necessary photos for the examiner, I place my phone in the other room as well. None of this is foreign to me. For the third time this, as I prepared my environment to sit my third exam this month I did all of these things… I thought.

I missed a step.

I should mention here that the Pearson Vue remote proctors are great. They check your environment and make sure that everything is clean. If you are wearing a watch (as happened for my first exam of the month) they politely ask you to remove it, and to put it out of reach.

The testing software (OnVue) is also great. It makes sure that your computer is ready. If there are any open programs, it tells you. Today I discovered (surprisingly for the first time) that if there is another user logged on to the computer, any applications or services that user has open can block the test from starting, and so it patiently told me what was running and I closed it all.

I was probably 40 questions into a 75 (plus or minus) question test when a message appeared on my screen, and my stomach sank.

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I looked to see how long it had taken me to answer the 40 questions. I did some quick math, and knew that I’d better step on it. I had been taking the time to read all of the question and all of the answers – something I don’t always do – because it is easy for me to not have the respect for a ‘beginner level’ exam, and I did not want to get a bunch of questions wrong because I only read the first line, and misunderstood the whole question. Knowing that my battery was not going to last long, I started speed-reading, speed-clicking, and basically speeding my way through as many questions as I could.

It wasn’t good enough.

With nearly fifteen questions left to go, my computer shut down. I was toast. I decided that the best course of action would be to run to my other area, grab the power supply, plug the computer in, come back on, and see what happened. I did all of that as quickly as I could.  I hoped that if I logged back in, I might be allowed to start the exam from the beginning. I could not imagine that I would be allowed to resume the exam from where I left off – that was just not a reasonable expectation. My hope was to restart; my expectation was that the best I could hope for was that the system might grade the questions that I had already answered (marking the unfinished questions as automatically wrong), but what I expected to happen was to just get the automatic FAIL.

I was shocked by what came next.

Once I had logged back onto my computer, the exam resumed from where I had left off.

I sat there dumbfounded for a minute or two. I was in utter shock! The rules are clear: If you stand up from your desk for any reason, your exam ends immediately. I continued the exam, careful to not press the Previous button. I did not want even the perception that I had gone to reference my study material to confirm an answer, and then change it. I went forward only. When the exam was completed, I had the option to go back and review questions that I had marked… and there were a couple. I did not do that, for the same reason. I already dodged a bullet, and I wanted to prove that I was worthy of the forgiveness shown by the system.

While I am glad that it worked out, I suspect that the proctor must have somehow not seen that my camera went dark for a few minutes. I am sure that had she seen it she would have immediately terminated the exam. Whether she got up for a bio break, or was engaged helping another candidate, I know that I was lucky that she did not see it. I thank her and whatever luck was involved for letting me continue, and finishing the exam.

I joked later with my girlfriend that I suspect what happened was that I knew the exam was one that would never advance my career in any way, that it was, one might say, beneath my professional level. Certifications are intended to demonstrate that we know what it is that we claim to know, and this certification is several levels below what I have already demonstrated that I know. So perhaps this gaffe was my subconscious (or the fates, or whatever) telling me: ‘Hey, yeah… you should still be excited and have nerves for this exam… whatever level it’s at!’ Maybe it was just that my diet-affected brain had not had sufficient calories to power it properly that day. Wherever it was from, it worked… my heart did race, and I was excited when I got the passing score.

Conclusion

Never go into the exam room unprepared. This goes not only for your knowledge of the material, but for the exam environment as well. Pearson Vue’s testing engine will do almost everything it can to ensure you are good, but there are some factors beyond what it will monitor, and you are responsible for everything on your end.

The fact that it worked out for me – this time – does not mean that I would intentionally tempt fate again. In a few days I have another exam to sit, and I fully intend to double- and triple-check that my exam area is properly set up. Check it once, check it twice. Check it three times, and only then should you start the exam.

Good luck!

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