Why Candidates Cheat


Last month I talked about the use of brain dumps and why they are a bad idea—and got a lot of great responses. I’m glad to see the enthusiasm for that topic, even from those who disagreed with me about the nature of brain dumps as legitimate study materials. I will acknowledge what some of you pointed out: that addressing this subject on a Born to Learn blog is like preaching to the choir. Still, if anyone reading had any doubts or confusion about brain dumps, and I helped clarify, I achieved my aim.

To that point, why do people choose to use the materials (legitimate or otherwise) that they do? There are many reasons, of course, and getting to the heart of those reasons is one facet of managing an anti-piracy program. To combat cheating I need to understand the motivations behind cheating.

Understanding our test-takers is one step. Last year, I collaborated on a white paper with the IT Certifications Council (ITCC) on “Securing Certifications” (full paper here.) Below is an excerpt on the types of test-takers we identified (referred to as “candidates,” because they are candidates for a certification).

Candidates and Test Takers

Before issues surrounding test security can be resolved, it is important to understand how the ITCC categorizes candidates and others who take tests. The ITCC has identified three main groups of test takers:

IT Professionals

  • This group represents the majority of certification candidates who are honest and have done the requisite learning and studying for their exams. They are proud to earn a certification and highly value those efforts.
  • IT Professionals are most affected by cheaters and test abusers because the integrity of their hard-earned certifications is compromised. These candidates must feel that their hard work is valued; to do so, the certification industry must demonstrate a commitment to combating cheating and recognizing the value of a truly-earned certification.
  • Honest candidates will support anti-piracy actions designed to combat software and content theft because they want to preserve the integrity of certifications.

Misinformed Individuals

  • These candidates may cheat because they are misinformed. Most may not understand that the materials and methods they used had violated an exam agreement. They also may not understand the consequences of their actions.
  • Brain dump sites in particular can be very misleading for these individuals, because the sites disguise themselves as official materials. Proxy-testing offers can be very tempting as well, especially for those candidates who did not pass an exam the first time or who find it difficult to make it to a test center.
  • Misinformed Individuals are either tempted to find shortcuts in test preparation and test taking because it is easy to do so, or they otherwise become victims of nefarious business practices.


  • This is the smallest group, and is comprised of candidates who intend to cheat the system and who have no regard for the consequences. They actively seek exam answers or brain dump material; they participate or pay for proxy testing; or they find other ways to cheat during the exam.
  • A lack of education is not a culprit in this category; rather, these candidates will find the means to obtain a certification or steal exam answers despite the ramifications.

This does not fully address all the reasons for test-taking behavior, both good and bad, of course—this is just one element. My goal is to make sure the first category remains the largest group, that the second group is transformed into the first, and that the third group—the cheaters—are removed. I want candidates to feel good about the certifications they work hard to earn; and making sure they are not compromised by a select few is one way to make sure that happens.

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

Kerri Davis

  • Garrett Stevens
    | |

    Another great post Kerri, thank you for your hard work!


  • Deepak Puri
    | |

    I read the earlier post and comments on it just now and am quite disappointed.

    Try putting yourself in their shoes for just a minute.

    Has anyone ever thought of the person who is actually going for brain dumps? What is going on in his/her mind? Do they intend to be a cheater or enjoy stealing? I will tell you the reason, there are several reasons, but i will just focus on one or two, the reason is the Microsoft system is flawed ! Here are some points to focus on, if you care:

    1) Why is it that technology versions are released so frequently that it completely irritates not just companies & clients but I.T professionals as well? And its not that they are bug free, bugs are pouring out like anything anyways. What happened after .Net 1.0, there came 1.1, 2.0, 3.0, 3.5. 4.0 and now 4.5. I still know of companies running on .Net 1.0.

    Sql Server used to be in good hands, version 2000 then 2005 release after 5 years, after that? 2008, 2008r2, 2012, Companies are comfortably running still version 2005. I haven't even touched wf, wcf, wpf, c#, mvc, versions here.... is everyone on crack or they simply not care. Students also don't care anymore they think why should we waste money on a $3000 course when we get away with $50 dumps. The problem is not the technology release but too frequent technology releases which dosen't give the impression Microsoft is on top of things but Microsoft really dosen't care. Which doesn't come as a shock to anyone anymore.

    2) Why is it that in the first place these 'Brain Dump' sites are succeeding? Its because their course material or so called dumps are more accurate and complete than Microsoft training courses. Ever thought about increasing the quality of the courses so that a person who actually attends the course gets higher Marks than the person reading the brain dumps? Oh no no no, that defeats the whole point of the flawed system !

    Anyways, have a good day everyone.

  • Deepak Puri
    | |

    Confident IT Professionals do not care about cheating, stealing, quality of courses, versions getting released before courses release etc. crap.

    They deal with anything anytime. Nothing affects them.

  • 6b78e3d3-1bb9-4dcc-9e48-a2e334e8830c

    Kerri I know you have no power over this but in terms of 'cheating' at which I believe I both you and the broader IT professional community disagree comes down to course and study content.

    Neither the course nor the study will help you pass an exam. The courses and the self study materials however market themselves at best as 'preperation for the exam" and at worse "everything you need to pass the exam". Could you tell us what Microsoft are doing to crack down on this ?

    Every single MS course i have been to, no mater appliaction/area and version, I have had the instrutor tell me that you won't be able to pass the exam with just the course, which begs the question if neither the courses and neither the study guides are enough to pass the exams then what is.

    I am not alone in saying that a lot of the material in the exams is neither taught in the course, either as concept or fact or just limited to subject being studied. I have noticed for exam in my Microsoft System Centre Exam that there were 3 questions directly related to an earlier version of SCCM/SMS that was not covered in course or study material. 3 questions for most people could mean a pass or fail.

    As an IT professional, if I read some braindumps and within that it references these and I learn something new then why is that a disadvantage? With the high rate of turnover in IT I wouldn't be suprise if there IT professional that had never used Exchange 2000, SMS server or IIS 4.

    But back to content versus education. Any sane person would be livid if they had a) Paid thousand to attend a course, b) Used the software in the field for a number of years BUT then did not pass an exam because there were questions outside of the subject area and/or not covered in study material and/or so rarely referenced or used.

    Most IT these days is done by experience and Google and that is also something Microsoft training and yourself need to come to the realisation about.

  • Jeff Wharton
    | |

    Experience is what's required to pass an exam.  Anyone who thinks they can pass by doing a 3-5 day course or a bit of self study are kidding themselves and wasting money.

  • bd6d5666-59f0-47a5-bf4b-e01b26717fe5

    Hi Kerri,

    Why do people use Braindumps?  For what I have seen over the past year, here are 2 reasons.

    (1.) - They know how to use the product in their daily worklife and can't pass the certification test. Its needed to keep their jobs.

    (2.) - Some people are just taking shortcuts and feel that they won't get caught.

    I work for DoD as a Contractor and they have the DoD 8570 requirements. Seven of us just got dismissed from the contract because we are struggling to pass the certification exams.  Three of us were on the Network Team, who work with Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 and can't pass the exams.  Personally, I have read the Microsoft Press and Sybex Books for the certification exams and have done online training through SkillPort and another online training provider.

    Currently, I am trying to find a bootcamp for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 in the San Diego/Los Angeles area that doesn't cost a arm and a leg for me to take so I can get back into the workforce as quickly as possible that is covered by the Montgomery GI Bill.  So far it hasn't been easy finding training that is covered by the GI Bill unless I go to a Company BootCamp Headquarters location, which is in another state.

    Right now, I am sort of wishing that I used the braindumps and I wouldn't be having this problem right now.  Unfortunately, the majority of the people that I know at my work location that have passed the exam, all used braindumps and if you ask them to reboot a computer, they can't do it, without you having to hold their hand and walk them through the process as if you were teaching a 3 year old how to tie their shoes.  

    So my issues with Microsoft is they need to put out good study and training material for their certification exams, so people would not feel that they have to cheat. Exam Objectives need to be more detailed and the exam questions need to come from the material that is available and released directly from Microsoft.  The crazy scenario questions that are on these tests need to be available in some form for the test takers to know how the test questions are structured.  I don't mean give us the test questions, but at least something similar so people would be prepared.  That is just my point of view.  

    You should also open up dialog about problems with Prometric. Its a major issue also.  If anyone has any suggestions that would help me with getting my certifications, it would be greatly appreciated.

  • 6b78e3d3-1bb9-4dcc-9e48-a2e334e8830c

    @Jeff Wharton. Actually it is people like you that make the difference whether a candidate passes the exam. There are too many MCT's that are not up to it. Whether you are one of them or are not Jeff is up to you to decide but I have been to far too many courses where the MCT is a nice person but knows little about the area they are teaching and this from global training companies.

    Many MCT's will nowadays provide you braindumps or sample questions whether they be from a beta test or elsewhere. it is all part of the sale process and to encourage future attendees. Is MS enforcing or cracking down on this practice? I am talking about the big providers (possibly who you work for) not some little shoebox company.

    Now, experience does not ensure passing of an exam. If you are engineer and your systems have been lucky enough to run without any issues then you are in the same boat as you put as someone who has limited study....... my opinion. Take a different angle though, the Exchange exam. Like me you could have worked on Exchange since version 2000, you could have worked on Exchange 2010 since it was in beta, however, if you do not know Powershell and use the EMC as opposed to powershell you will more than likely fail that exam.

    MS is trying to sell and encourage Powershell. That it is so prominent in the exams where there are EMC alternatives suggests that it is using its exams as a marketing tool for Powershell. An engineer or techie exceptionally skilled in Exchange may fail the exam if they limit their use to the EMC and only use powershell when they need to. Should they fail what about that all that experience ?

    Further if some of those Powershell commands are not in the Curriculum material but are in braindumps how will candidates pass ?

  • 6b78e3d3-1bb9-4dcc-9e48-a2e334e8830c


    I have suggestions for you. Do read the Braindumps but use them as a guide for Knowledge you might not have and then read up on and practice it yourself. Braindumps answers have a tendancy to be wrong. The MS official curriculum and self study guides do not contain everything in the exam no mater what any pro MS person will tell you. The boot camps don't really teach you anything they just help you pass the exam and so if that is what you want go for it.  ps. take advantage of double shot offers if they come around.

  • 20c23731-d375-4317-87cc-3e103d1b177c

    Hmm, I had recently gone paid $4000 for a Server 2008 Admin course and I learnt alot of things from the instructor whom has had years of infrastructure planning and his presentations are both interesting, insightful and entertaining. He told the class that we won't be able to pass just by reading the book.

    He said that we have to understand the concepts, theories and also when the opportunity arises, have a feel for the exam before taking the actual exam and not waste money on retests. He stopped short of telling  to use dumps but all of us knew what he meant.

    He also said that there are a lot of people who just study the dumps to pass the exams but do not have any idea of the concepts and theories. These are the types who can easily be weeded out during an interview. So if we know how things work and can explain the theory well, then it shows that we know and have learnt our stuff. The exam was a hurdle that we had to leap over to get that certification to put it down on our resume so that recruiters will look at it.

    Learn as much as you can, install your VMs on a test box, play around with it, understand how stuff works. I'm not advocating the use of a braindump because I think it can help students to get a feel for an exam.

    In the country where I live, there are books called "10 Year Series" for 'O' level students to study to take their GCE O levels, teachers even recommend them.

    I don't see the braindump as an evil cheat tool unless the exam taker just studies it without reading and understanding the theory behind the questions.

  • Deepak Puri
    | |

    People far and wide and Microsoft,

    Listen to

    ecoute89.hotmail.com and


    These two people are telling the truth for the world IT community and not like the rest of the puppets in pyjamas who are clueless or simply lying.

  • Mikhail Pilinoha
    | |

    If you are familiar with the subject you will answer at least a half of questions and guess a quarter more (so you have about 750 points for sure). As Jeff mentioned earlier experience required. Just two examples. 1. At Vista exam there were several simulations where I had to do something I had never done before. But we are professionals ;-)  I managed to fulfill all missions and had fun. 2. One day I had a severe problem with my Network Interface Card. It took up more than two hours to find solution. And I was really happy when I came across this question in a week at my exam.

  • 3b03b526-bb05-44d4-92a6-f2f2b9399820

    I had an entire post typed out when this entry went live, but I deleted it. Now a few days later I'm back to this article and my original feelings remain - I'm really bothered, and yes slightly angered, by the author's view. I understand it's her role to present a unified corporate message, but trying to neatly label people into one of the 3 buckets is flawed.

    Braindumps serve a very important role that is purposely ignored by Microsoft and all its partners (Sybex, Trainsignal, et al). As was posted by another commentator, you could spend thousands on MS Press books, videos, and hands-on in-class training and still fail. Why? Because the exams are far removed from the material found in these official, so called "legal", sources of information. So why is it Microsoft pushes these ineffectual founts of knowledge? The answer is it's easy money. They know there is a segment of the population who will ante up (and take loans if needed) and purchase all of the recommended books and courses on the belief that they will be well prepared to write the exam.

    This is patently false.

    Real educators by legitimate colleges and universities have recognized that collaboration and information sharing is how humans learn best. Slapping an NDA and threat of legal action against people who dare to discuss (note: not steal, but simply discuss) an exam goes against the fundamental nature of learning. But again remember my thesis: certification is not meant to educate, but to generate profit. How else to explain why professors have no problems placing last years exams in the public domain for all to study and learn from, where as Microsoft hides behind legal tactics and PR pieces such as this one.

    Continuing on the theme of information sharing, how is it Microsoft field engineers turn to such collaborative tools like Google and their own internal databases to solve a problem, yet when it comes to studying and training such techniques are verboten? It's because when the engineer is earning money for Microsoft it does not matter how they solve the problem, but when a student is learning it matters a great deal where they get their info from.

    Here's a wild idea: if you want to greatly diminish braindumps, why not sell educational material that accurately reflects the exam content AND write your exam questions in normal English rather than "Microsoft-speak"? It amazes me that even with the collective knowledge of the internet, at times they are stymied trying to figure out what it is Microsoft is asking for when braindump questions are reviewed. That speaks volumes to the lengths at which Microsoft purposely obfuscates their exams (a cynic might say it's so that the fail rate remains high and they can collect more money on re-tests and training material).

    Microsoft also presents a trumped up view on the importance of certification. Nothing could be further from the truth. Technical managers do not care which cert du jour your hold, but rather on your real world skills and the ability to do the job. HR managers on the other hand, who are not technical, use them as a coarse means of (unfairly) weeding out job candidates. You don't need a Venn diagram to see the two do not correlate.

    Just as the author opened by stating she's preaching to the choir, so to is this response a bit of wasted effort. I suppose agreeing to disagree is the best we can hope for.

  • 49d6ab17-c8a1-4c25-b765-7edf0a257311

    I totally agree with the view that MS should not make secret questions and why are you not allowed to talk about the questions? It is after all about how you place a cdrom in a cdrom drive and click nex next. And do you need to know powershell to configure win8? The exam should be a check for if you have learn the material not if you have learnt other material. And yes my manager wants me to take the exam but pay extr he will not. I will also take exams to show that despite my high age I can learn new stuff.  

  • Arekd
    | |

    I think most of you guys don't understand idea of certification. If you have hard times to pass it you need more experience and more time\material\lab exercises. I recently passed two exams 70-410 and 70-411 from Windows server 2012. I couldn't afford for official courses. I was preparing for 6 months, spending countless hours on TechNet (there was no official materials!) and my lab. I made almost 400 pages of notes. I managed to pass both in second attempt (thanks for second shot Microsoft). I learned a lot preparing to them.  I still don’t feel I’m expert but I have very solid background. We already have too much ‘paper’ specialist on the market :/ Please, don’t make exams easier and fight with all this dumps which degraded your whole certificate program.  Take example from Red Hat and make some simulatations where you have to solve or configure some settings on virtual machine.

  • Deepak Puri
    | |

    @Arekd: Writing 400 pages of notes takes 4 weeks not 6 months. I am not criticizing here my point is it varies. If you had the material to study from it would take you 1/3 the time you took. This is my point ! Microsoft should give out the Material i.e. a simple e-book not hidden in the forums but publicly available where they are launching the technology and/or training courses such that MCT like us can teach them properly to our students in a week or two and let these students be the market leaders and representatives of Microsoft. Beat the Braindump sites by releasing such material that makes the sites useless.

    Its as simple as that.

    @ mrdisco1.hotmail.com: Very well written. People like you should be running Microsoft and not jokes like Balmer who thought iPhone when first released would fail no question about it.

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