A few months ago the IT Certifications Council, an industry group in which I participate, conducted a survey on “Attitudes Around Cheating.” This was not a Microsoft-specific survey, so the respondents were those who had taken all sorts of IT Certification exams. We got a pretty good response to our 15-question survey; the most surprising outcome was the sheer number of verbatim responses we got to some questions. Clearly our certification candidates across the board feel security is a vital part of a testing program. As a group, we will use these answers to help improve and strengthen our respective security programs.

Some of the positive outcomes that interested me most:

  • The majority of respondents agreed that cheating by any method is test fraud.
  • Most respondents are aware that the exams themselves are considered the property of the company issuing the exam—not the test provider. This means Microsoft owns all of our tests, not Prometric or Certiport.
  • The policies on cheating are clear to most respondents.
  • The majority agreed that certain methods, such as sharing answers, copying, taking notes into the exam, paying someone to take an exam, and using fake documents constitute cheating.
  • Most thought that cheaters should be harshly dealt with.
  • More than 80 percent felt that cheaters devalue one’s certification.
  • About two-thirds believed companies have effective programs to reduce cheating

Among the answers that surprised us:

  •  A majority said they would report a cheater, but didn’t know how. We as a group clearly need to publicize that more effectively. (Have I mentioned mlsecure@microsoft.com?)
  •  A vast majority did not feel discussing an exam should be in violation of an agreement. (See my earlier blog post on this subject). What I glean from this is that discussion and help amongst colleagues is a valuable part of the study experience and shouldn’t be discounted.

Let me clarify what we mean by “discussing an exam,” because I think the question, the way it had been worded, might have been confusing. I’ve said before that it’s one thing to study together before the exam; this is fine. It’s another to tell someone what’s actually on the exam. That is where candidates get into trouble. It’s the divulging of confidential exam information that is a violation, not group study. That’s one of the reasons we prohibit instructors from proctoring exams.

Last, we got more than 1000 verbatim responses to our question: “What other methods do you suggest to combat cheating?” I find that so encouraging that people have an interest in this. I will be pouring through all the responses for inspiration.

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