As a practically-native Seattleite (I’ve lived here since I was 2), I would be remiss in not congratulating the Seahawks on their win yesterday!
For this month’s blog, I thought I’d continue the discussion with an MCT on security in our classrooms, and how vital MCTs and students are to the integrity of our certification program. Today’s guest blogger is “self-proclaimed geek” Christopher Harrison. He is the owner of GeekTrainer and a veteran trainer and consultant on technologies such as SharePoint, SQL Server, and web development using .NET.
I asked Christopher for his thoughts on how our MCTs encounter security questions and concerns in the classrooms.
Kerri: One of the most prevalent threats to an exam security program are sites that steal our exams, making them available for a fee (known as brain dumps). Are most trainers aware that these sites exist, or would know how to identify them?
Christopher: I don’t know of a single trainer who doesn’t know about brain dumps, where they are or how to spot them. It is, unfortunately, something that does come up in class periodically.
Q. Do you get questions from students about using brain dumps?
A. I get questions about brain dumps on occasion. Sometimes it will be something very simple, where the student is looking for information about brain dumps and if they’re a valid way to pass an exam.
Q. Do you find that most students are confused about whether they are a legitimate source for study material?
Generally speaking, students know if what they’re using is legitimate or illegal. One thing about the brain dumps is their “marketing” material generally makes it clear they’re selling you real questions.
If questions about brain dumps do come up in class, I generally try my best to educate my students about how to spot these types of sites. Anything that guarantees passing or doesn’t contain official Microsoft logos should be looked at with a great deal of skepticism.
Q. What do you consider appropriate study material for an exam?
MS Press books make great study materials. One thing that Microsoft Learning has done a great job of in recent years is publishing study guides. Generally speaking those are the books I direct my students to. I also point students at the official exam site, and the objective domain for the exam. I like to point out that to a certain extent Microsoft has told you everything that is going to be on the exam. If you read the list of topics covered and you don’t feel like you know all of the material listed there then you will need to go back to studying.
Q. What do you say when someone wants to use a brain dump?
I generally try to make three points when someone brings up a brain dump. First, I discuss the legality of brain dumps. If a test taker is discovered using a brain dump they can have their certification revoked. [Note from Kerri: Our exam policy confirms this.]
Second, I like to point out that if they’re using a brain dump then what have they accomplished? Anyone can pass a test if they know the answers in advance, so really – what would the certification gained via brain dumps really mean?
Finally, I tell students that this is something I take very personally and seriously as it devalues my certification. One problem with someone cheating the exam is they’re given the exact same certification I’ve worked for, without knowing the material. When people who have cheated the exam are revealed for not having the knowledge the certification says they possess, others wonder what the certification actually means and don’t give it credence. That impacts me.
Q. Do you think it’s fair that Microsoft considers use of a brain dump cheating?
Absolutely. Certification in any technical profession is there to prove you have a set of skills. If people are able to see the questions and answers in advance their skills aren’t actually being validated.
Q. Do you think the prevalence of brain dump sites is getting worse, better, or about the same when you started teaching?
I think it’s about the same. Certification is valuable and people are willing to invest in it as it can advance their career. Unfortunately there will always be a black market for people looking to obtain the certification without having to do the work.
Q. Use of brain dump material is a violation of Microsoft’s exam policy. Would you report one of your own students if you suspected they were using brain dumps? Why or why not?
That’s a great question. I’m honestly not sure. I do know that a student talking about brain dumps does put me into a very uncomfortable position.
Q. Do you know how to report someone you believe is or has cheated?
I do. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. What do you think Microsoft should do about students who use brain dumps?
Quite simply, revoke their certification. Captain Kirk cheating the Kobayashi Maru makes for a nice little plot line in Star Trek, but someone cheating an exam is simply wrong.
Q. Do you think Microsoft is doing enough to educate students on what brain dumps are, or why they shouldn’t use them?
I do. And I think these types of posts are a great way to do that.
Thank you Christopher! You can find out more about Christopher at his blog, GeekTrainer.
Got a tip for me? Let me know at email@example.com.
"One thing that Microsoft Learning has done a great job of in recent years is publishing study guides"
I would not consider this an accurate statement. As of this date, MS Press has not published a complete set of training guides for any MCSE track. Within 6 months, they will have a single MCSE track fully published.
Microsoft exams have always been to pass the minimally qualified candidate and not pass the unqualified candidate. I think Microsoft is doing a wonderful job at doing that.
I too am asked all the time by my students what the difference is between a test a preparation site and a brain dump site. The answer you gave is the similar to the one a supreme court justice when asked to describe pornography, "I know it when I see it."
Where do folks put exam preparation software? Do you put it in the same category as pornography?
If Microsoft want's to but an end to all of these brain dump sites why not create a site that will put all of the "brain dump" sites out of business? The government and industry does it for many exams. For some government exams the government even publishes all of the questions that will be on exams with the answers. If Microsoft did that don't you think that would that put a stop to the "brain dump" sites? And that way you would give material the minimally qualified candidate can study from.
@Doug.Spindler: What you suggest is frankly ludicrous. It might put the braindump sites out of business, but for Microsoft to publish the exam questions and answers basically removes any shred of value that exists for holding the certification. If you want the cert then put in the effort to learn the software and tools. It's not that hard.
As to your "what is a braindump site?" and "I know it when I see it", it's actually a lot easier than that. A braindump has actual questions from the actual exams. That's really the beginning and end of it. So how do you spot them? Some of them are bold enough to advertise that they offer the actual exam questions. Some of them will literally refer to themselves as a braindump. Then there's another category of sites that advertise a guaranteed 100% pass rate, those sites have a high probability of being braindumps. But there are other sites and services like www.certguard.com that exist solely to identify known braindump sites. Just punch in the URL and they'll let you know if they have been identified as a braindump.
While some braindump sites are obvious by advertising actual questions or calling themselves braindumps, but some are less obvious. (BTW I don't use these sites, but sometimes a friend or family member who knows I'm studying sends me links believing they're being helpful). I know Microsoft has a contentious past with Pass4Sure, and their site does NOT say "actual questions."
Microsoft ought to publish a list of practice exam vendors confirmed not to be braindumps to help students who want to use legitimate and legal practice exams.
Great suggestion Dancar. Unfortunately I am limited in what I can endorse.
There are legitimate practice test providers, but Microsoft Learning has a formal relationship with only two: http://selftestsoftware.com and http://www.measureup.com. That said, please note that regarding exam preparation materials, all such materials, including Microsoft Press resources, are developed independently of exam content. Microsoft does not review study materials and is not responsible for their content because our exams are not intended as post-tests of any preparation or training product. Our certifications are designed to measure experience-based skills without bias in regard to the manner in which candidates obtain these skills.
A previous poster mentioned www.certguard.com. They are another resource one can use to look up a site, though like anything you find on the web, you should always check out a site for yourself first in case they have wrong information. And as always, if in doubt, you can email us at the firstname.lastname@example.org alias and we can help you determine whether something is legitimate or not.