Don't Do This: Part 2

Don't Do This: Part 2

Kerri Davis - MSL Anti-Piracy PM

Let’s continue our discussion of ways to unintentionally violate our Exam Agreement (found here). A couple of months ago I talked about discussing the exam answers. To clarify, I want to make the distinction between studying with colleagues and friends before the exam, and divulging information you learned after having taken the exam. The first is perfectly fine—assuming you’re not revealing confidential information, which is what violates our agreement. Discussing what is on the test itself once you’ve taken the test is the behavior that could get one into trouble. I think everyone understands that.

Now, for example number two of ways to unintentionally violate our NDA.

Example 2: Using unauthorized materials in an attempt to satisfy Exam requirements (this includes using brain-dump material and/or unauthorized publication of Exam questions with or without answers)

Everyone knows not to bring cheat sheets into a testing environment. (Well, they should.) This is why at the testing center, you may be asked to empty your pockets, submit to a security wanding, and asked to put all your items in a locker. It’s pretty difficult to argue having answers or notes on you during the test is okay.

But what not be as clear as a violation is what one uses to study. I’ve talked about brain dumps before and how confusing they may be as legitimate study materials. Unfortunately people do use them to study for the test, not realizing to do so is a violation of our exam policy. I know this because sometimes I get inquiries from those who failed, wondering why they didn’t pass, because they studied using “[X] brain dump site.” Again, it’s just a matter of making sure everyone understands that using such sites is an actual violation, not just a poor study practice.

The same is true for materials obtained from anyone who attempts to sell or give away answers or questions to the test, no matter how they procured them. Using those materials violates our policy.

Interestingly, I sometimes get mails from folks who recognized answers on a test and they want to let me know. They didn’t realize they were studying from a disreputable source until they sat for the test and realized the answers were the same. Recognizing that this is an issue, they’ll let me know, and sometimes have even asked to re-test so that they can legitimately pass. This speaks to the integrity of our examinees, and I appreciate such tips so I can take action against those sites.

Got a tip for me? Let me know at mlsecure@microsoft.com.

Related info: Microsoft certification exam policies

Comments
  • Andrew Bettany
    |

    Hi Kerri,

    It seems from your post(s) that the incidence of cheating is high enough for Microsoft to blog about it and that there is a huge amount of ignorance by test takers about whether brain dumps are allowed/right/wrong.

    Also to be clear, this is not solely a Microsoft certification issue, all exam programmes suffer from *some* cheating.

    I am unsure from your article how effective your current counter-measures are being.  It would seem that once a test-taker has turned to the "dark-side" it would be unlikely that they would change their tactics. How can this be tackled?

    One of the problems I have witnessed in the certification program (especially for newbies) is that there are "approved" and "rogue" exam/test question providers. Approved providers such as MeasureUp even get a special logo program from Microsoft.  Rogue outfits such as BrainDumps and the old TestKing of course do not, but both offer test questions (on the face of it a newbie could believe they are using approved study materials).  However both will appear whenever a student searches online for 70-640 exam practice tests/questions.  

    For the first article (and previous postings regarding this topic) I was concerned that raising this topic (at all) in a popular learning forum will produce an increase in web searches/usage for braindumps. Plausible though it is, highlighting that cheating is wrong will not alone stop cheating.  It may even draw some learners to try cheating. Is this an unfortunate side effect of talking about cheating?

    The security checks at test centers you mention are only as effective as the Prometric test centre administrator. (Whom in most cases will have no direct relationship at all with the exam vendor).

    In a time when the exams have become more rigorous, harder to pass and valuable I am not clear on how the items raised in your blog post will counter the problem.  Please could you highlight this aspect in a future blog post?

    Regards

    Andrew

  • ecoute89.hotmail.com
    |

    Well said Andrew. I would go one further and say ALL course providers are providing resources, hints and sample questions to pass the exam. I say this because it is true of the 4 international providers I have used and true from reading about other users experiences from around the world in various forums........ including this site. It is rare to find an MCT that draws the line.

    Now lets get realistic. If braindumps are bad then lets destroy the internet, burn the libraries and lobotomise the masses. I just can't understand why MS is so hostile to people sharing their experience and their knowledge. Why is it that EDU's, whether universities, colleges or smaller all around the world are moving to an open course model with emphasis on value add but MS is not ?

  • KevinM
    |

    @ecoute89:  I think that you have to make a distinction between the types of information that is being shared.  Is it wrong to make the following statement:

    "In Windows there are often two ways to configure or manage OS/application components: via the GUI and via the command line/PowerShell.  If you're preparing for an exam make sure that you know both ways, because you may get a question on a technology that you know, but all of the answers may reference the command line method when all you know is the GUI, or vice versa."

    That seems like pretty good advice to me, and it's general enough that I can't imagine it being a violation of the NDA.

    I've taken courses in the past that have had general suggestions along the lines of "knowing how to use and configure 'some technology' would be something good to know for the exam".  Well, of course.  If you look at Microsoft's exam descriptions and the knowledge domains tested, surely you'll see that 'some technology' listed as something that is in scope for the exam.  I found this to be somewhat common in certain cases where the technology in question was something that pretty much nobody in the business world ever uses but is nonetheless a feature of the product that Microsoft wanted us to know (i.e., who configures a Windows server to act as a network router when you can just buy a router appliance from Cisco?).  Microsoft has gotten a lot better about making their exams more relevant to real-world use scenarios, but even on the 70-414 exam (Server 2012 Advanced Infrastructure) I encountered questions positing unrealistic scenarios that bordered on ridiculous.  In any case, general direction like that wouldn't seem to be a violation of the NDA either.

    Similarly, there's nothing inherently wrong with practice exams and practice questions, so long as the questions are not the actual questions taken from the actual exams.  It seems like there's really only a handful of legitimate practice test providers out there (MeasureUp and Transcender being the two big ones), though there are companies that provide CBTs that do include legitimate practice exams, and I have yet to encounter an exam question that I had seen on a "practice" test.

    I think it's a bit hyperbolic to say we need to destroy the Internet to protect exam intellectual property.  I think that in most cases it is pretty obvious when a provider is providing illegal content ("Guaranteed to pass or your money back!!!"  "Actual exam questions!!!).  Beyond that, as long as you're not discussing specific exam content you should be more than safe.  Just use some common sense about it, and when in doubt don't share the information.

  • Andrew Bettany
    |

    A few years ago Microsoft/Prometric tried the Live Virtual Machine testing. I wonder whether we will return to those days? Also will exams ever be "open book" or allow the use of the Internet for researching the problems - just like in most real world environments.

  • KevinM
    |

    I seem to recall that someone was experimenting with "open book" type certification exams, but that the trick was to make it so you had to have a pretty good idea what you were doing or else you wouldn't have the time to be able to research what the answer should be.  To be honest, I couldn't imagine trying to write exam questions for this scenario.  Writing good exam questions for the current format is difficult enough.

    I did like the idea of the VM-based testing, but the implementation was terrible.  I'm not sure if that was all Prometirc or if Microsoft shared some of the blame, but I'm a big fan of pointing the finger at Prometric these days.  Most of the testing centers that I've dealt with in the past evidently feel the same way, since all of them have dropped Prometric altogether in the past month.  I live in a metro area of about 1.5 million people, and I have to drive 2 hours away just to take a Microsoft exam.  That ought to tell you everything you need to know about Prometric.

    I suppose that some of the testing centers might have shared some of the blame as well.  If you're doing testing on VMs across the Internet, you definitely need a decent level of connectivity.  I wouldn't be surprised that if part of the issue was testing center operators who may have historically skrimped on connectivity, or couldn't justify the added expense that this sort of testing might entail.  Microsoft exams are already the least expensive certification exams around.  Factor in all of those free Second Shot retakes and you've got to believe that the rates that testing centers are getting paid by Prometric might make some of them question the value.

    At any rate, I'm all in favor of the development of "un-braindump-able" exams.  Also, I'm firmly in favor of Microsoft going back to Pearson Vue, in case you haven't noticed. :-)

  • pbulwan
    |

    Andrew, I would not agree that blogging about braindumps might itself increase cheating. I think everyone fairly preparing for an exam sometimes stumble across those sites, as they are often high in search results, sometimes higher than legitimate sources (which might be something worth taking care of).

    But my intuition tells that it can be found out with quite high accuracy whether someone had known the question before the test or not. Time spent on individual questions, including new questions in the exam, comparing wrong answers pattern. If the risk of being detected and banned from the program was higher, I think people would think one more time before cheating. Good luck with it :-)

  • cheong00
    |

    I can understand why it's bad for using Exam question "with" answers, but don't quite get why it has problem for simple get the questions.

    For people who taken exam and failed once (or more), they'll see a few questions the same in their retake anyway. (At least that's the case when I took my once-failed 70-680.

    I think it'll be beneficial to exam taker to get an idea on how detailed the question will be, especially for someone like me who is in both developer and IT support role, the line to know "when to stop is enough" is very blur to us.

  • Somebody Somewhere
    |

    Red Hat has "un-braindump-able" open book exams.  While you don't have access to the internet, you have full access to system documentation, which is usually the best resource you can find online.  They even test you on your ability to use the documentation.  I much prefer that format to memorizing factoids that have nothing to do with my ability to administrate the system.  Having access to technet, and a VM would be perfect.

  • Andrew Bettany
    |

    Hey Pawel (pbulwan), I do not agree.  If you think that "everyone" knows about braindumps etc (since you say they appear high on the search engine) then next time you sit an exam, do a quick survey poll outside the test center and ask how many of the test takers a) knew about braindumps b) used braindumps c) was this their first exam.  I think you may be suprised by the results. Yes there is some knowledge out there but mainly for those people who have "been around a bit", or like Kerri states - they stumble on them and assume that they are ok to use for exam preparation.

    I often teach Microsoft technologies and I maybe get one or 2 learners out of a class of 8 who bring the topic up.  Would I volunteer the information as a discussion point - like in this blog post? Hell no. Discussing cheating *can* lead to it to be though of as acceptable or very tempting, especially after a couple of failures.  

  • KevinM
    |

    @Cheong00:  Having access to the actual questions is essentially no different than having access to the questions + answers.  If you have the questions in advance, then you can simply research them and memorize the correct responses.  While that might be a tad more work than just memorizing a braindump that comes with answers, the end result is identical:  a person has passed the exam who has only demonstrated their ability to memorize answers to specific questions, rather than demonstrating knowledge and expertise with the systems.  Besides, once the questions are in the wild it's a short jump from there to someone providing answers.

    @Andrew Bettany:  To be honest, I've always been shocked to hear trainers say that they would never volunteer the information that braindumps exist and that they are forbidden by the terms of the NDA.  To me that's equal to sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the reality around you.  If even only 1 out of 8 of your students have ever heard of them, you can pretty much guarantee that the entire class will be aware of them by the end of the week.  People will hear about it via word of mouth.  People will find them while searching for prep material (quite innocently and accidentally, I assure you).  The job of an educator is to educate people and prepare them for what's out there.  Deliberately ignoring that something exists in the hopes that by keeping people ignorant you will be protecting them is a strategy that has been repeatedly proven throughout human history to be doomed to failure.  What you don't know CAN hurt you.

  • ecoute89.hotmail.com
    |

    @KevinM

    Kerri has stated in the past that Braindumps are no no full stop. It does not matter if they have exam questions in them that are taken straight from the exam of made up questions. it does not matter if they have pointers.

    With regards to your first series of comments it is quiet low for someone who has worked, lived and breathed the tech to fail an exam because they don't know how to do something in GUI but know how to do it in Powershell. Alternatively know how to do something in the GUI but not Powershell. I've left feedback before that this is nothing but MS marketing pushing its way into exams.

    I in fact used myself in that scenario for SCCM and Exchange which I have been using since the early versions, both admin and engineering. I was just amazed to see questions in the SCCM 2012 exam that refer to a command line from SMS days that is no longer required. In the exchange exam being asked only about Powershell when it is also available through the GUI. if you have done these exams you know which questions I am referring to.

    There is nothing wrong with resources that help you pass the exams. Don't do real questions but do everything else. And Kerry man up to the marketing area and keep the exams professional and independent.

  • KevinM
    |

    @ecoute89:  The reason that they are pushing more questions that cover command line/PowerShell methods of managing systems and software is because that is the direction that the software is heading.  It started with PowerShell and Server Core in Windows 2008, then in 2008 R2 they added hundreds of new cmdlets to extend PowerShell functionality.  With 2012 they added even more cmdlets, and have made it much easier for people to deploy Server Core systems by allowing you to remove the full GUI after installation and configuration (if you chose not to deploy at Server Core to begin with).  The stated direction from Microsoft product teams has been to continue to push towards Server Core installations and PowerShell for management functionality (blogs.technet.com/.../windows-server-8-server-applications-and-the-minimal-server-interface.aspx ).  There has been speculation that eventually the server GUI will go away, though that doesn't appear to be in the immediate future.  At any rate, best learn it both ways...it's hard to considered yourself a certified expert if you only know it half-way.

  • ecoute89.hotmail.com
    |

    @KevinM

    If I go to Sun, Novell, RHE or any other 'Nix certification I am not going to be marked wrong because I know how to do something in cmd but not GUI or visa versa.

    60-70+ percent of machines that make the internet are non MS, based of NIX. That doesn't even include those that utilise core infrastructure from Amazon, Rackspace or other cloud providers............. Are you really saying that those people are half way (certified) engineers, half way system adminstrators, solution architects etc. because they might not use Powershell and might use a gui instead ?

    Your statement suggests that someone with years of experience, been using the product since beta and knowledge out of their posterior is a 'half way' cert because they don't wish to use Powershell whilst there are GUI options? Someone who passes a 2012 exam because they did a course learnt PS commands is not a 'half way' cert.....

    Command line and Powershell interfacing is not new KevinM. This is just MS trying to sell a concept it borrowed from Nix and BSD. Nothing wrong with borrowing but forcing people to use it by putting it in exams is just wrong...... and again to your comment - learning Powershell cmdlets does not instantly make for the better. What would be the number 99% (who knows) of the functions are done through GUI or CMD. Does that 1% of things that can't be done through the GUI make one cert better than another.......... really ?

  • KevinM
    |

    @ecoute89:

    I know the command line is nothing new, I've worked in IT for 20+ years and have been using PCs since the days of MS-DOS and CP/M.

    I'm not saying that someone who only knows how to use the command line (like in Linux/Unix) is only half an engineer.  I'm saying that someone who is getting certified on Windows and doesn't know how to use the command-line and PowerShell probably as well as the GUI shouldn't be able to earn the Microsoft certification, because those features are key to being able to correctly deploy and manage Windows systems.  There is a great deal of functionality in Windows that is ONLY exposed via command-line, there is no GUI equivalent for many commands.  The STATED MS-preferred direction for Windows server deployments going forward is GUI-less.  One day the GUI may even go away for servers.  If you only know how to use the GUI then you ARE half a Windows admin.

    Regarding a previous comment of yours, I just re-read and was able to figure out what you're getting at:

    "Kerri has stated in the past that Braindumps are no no full stop. It does not matter if they have exam questions in them that are taken straight from the exam of made up questions. it does not matter if they have pointers."

    If it doesn't have actual exam content then it's not a braindump.  How can a practice exam full of "made up questions" be a braindump?  It's very clear what is forbidden, and that it sharing actual exam content, either in the form of providing direct questions and/or answers, or giving people specific knowledge about specific test content.