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Can a Microsoft Certification be Revoked?

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While the chances of a Microsoft official standing next to you while you make an egregious error and yanking your certification out of your hands are nil, the chances that Microsoft will not take too kindly to cheating on certification exams is a sure bet. Brien Posey explores the question of revocation and Microsoft’s policies.

Several years ago, a close friend asked me to help them sort out a problem with their Exchange Server. While working on the server, I made a mistake that was so stupid that it caused my friend to comment that it was a good thing that nobody from Microsoft was around because if they had seen what I had just done, they would revoke my Exchange Server certification on the spot. My friend was joking, of course, but this incident raises an interesting question. Can Microsoft really revoke a certification?

Prior to writing this article, I had never heard of a confirmed incident of someone’s Microsoft certification being revoked. The only credible reference to a possible revocation that I can ever remember hearing came from the instructor of a SQL Server certification class that I attended.

Although I can’t remember the instructor’s exact wording, he cautioned students about using Brain Dump sites to prepare for certification exams. Besides being notorious for containing incorrect information, the instructor said that getting caught using brain dumps was grounds for having your certification revoked. My instructor went on to say that he had heard credible rumors that Microsoft even operated some of the brain dump sites and used the site registration process as a way of catching those who might use such information to prepare for an exam.

Admittedly, I never bothered to check out my instructor’s claims. At the time, I simply concluded that if brain dump sites often contained incorrect information and if using them could potentially get you into trouble with Microsoft then using them wasn’t worth the risk. After all, there are plenty of legitimate study aids available for most of the Microsoft certification exams. Even so, I always kind of wondered in the back of my mind whether or not my instructor’s claims were true.

In 2011, I wrote an article for this site about finding reputable study materials for Microsoft exams. As I wrote that article, I repeated my former instructor’s cautions about using brain dump sites. As I did, however, I wondered about the legitimacy of the claim that brain dump sites often contain incorrect information, so I decided to check it out.

Since I didn’t want to do anything to potentially jeopardize my relationship with Microsoft I stayed away from any sites requiring a registration and only looked at sites that I could visit anonymously. Since I am something of an Exchange Server expert, I looked at the brain dumps for the Exchange Server 2010 exams on several sites. What I found was that the first half of my former instructor’s claim was true. Some of the sites that I visited had better quality information than others, but I had absolutely no trouble finding inaccurate information on the brain dump sites that I visited.

After having satisfied myself that the first half of the myth was indeed true, I was curious to find out whether or not Microsoft really did take measures to catch those who visit such sites and whether your certifications really could be revoked for such misconduct.

This proved to be more of a challenge than I expected. Even though I know a lot of people at Microsoft, I couldn’t find anyone who was willing to talk about brain dumps. Since I wasn’t willing to mess around with the various brain dump sites to see if Microsoft would bust me, I assumed that there was nothing more that I could do to satisfy my curiosity and basically forgot all about the matter.

A couple of months ago I was working on something completely unrelated and stumbled onto a rather interesting (and entertaining) blog post from Microsoft. According to the post:

The “What were they thinking” posts contain several amusing stories of those who were busted trying to cheat the certification process. The site contained at least one reference to someone being “permanently banned from the Microsoft Certification program,” but I couldn’t find anything about certifications being revoked. Even so, the blog gave me an idea. Microsoft goes to such great lengths to keep the lawyers happy that surely they had a page outlining their official policies regarding certification exams. I quickly located the page; it contains quite a bit of irrelevant information, but it does contain a section on candidate bans. Here is Microsoft’s official policy as copied directly from the page:

As you can see, Microsoft has a number of different rules regarding an exam candidate’s behavior. More importantly, however, the first paragraph clearly states that a candidate can be “permanently prohibited from taking any future Microsoft certification exams” if they are caught breaking any of the rules. In addition, this same paragraph indicates that “candidates may be decertified from the Microsoft Certification Program, and test scores and certifications may be revoked.”

So there it is in black and white. Microsoft does have the right to revoke certifications. Of course the reasons given for potential revocations revolve around cheating on certification exams rather than making a stupid mistake while configuring a server as my friend so callously alleged.

So what about brain dump sites? For now, I think that the rumor of Microsoft operating their own brain dump sites will have to remain an urban legend. I wasn’t able to find any information to either prove or disprove this rumor. Even so, Microsoft does clearly look down on the use of brain dumps. In fact, the above excerpt from Microsoft’s certification exam policies makes reference to “using unauthorized material in attempting to satisfy certification requirements (this includes using ‘brain-dump’ material and/or unauthorized publication of exam questions with or without answers).”

When I read that particular statement, I had to wonder if this was just something that Microsoft had added to their policy to discourage the use of brain dumps, or if they actually had a way of catching brain dump users. After all, I had visited numerous brain dump sites while researching the previously mentioned article, and none of Microsoft’s lawyers came knocking on my door. But then again, I hadn’t used any of the brain dump information to pass an exam.

While researching this article, I stumbled onto a really interesting article from Network World entitled “Microsoft Cracks Down on Certification Exam Cheating.” Although the article was from 2008, it still seemed relevant and it answered a lot of questions.

According to the article, Microsoft uses statistical analysis of a candidate’s exam answers to catch cheaters. In the article, Peggy Crowley—the manager of Microsoft’s anti-piracy program at the time that the article was written—actually went on record as saying that “With our data forensics we can actually tell when people have been using brain dumps.” The article also said that things like “unusual response times or aberrant responses can indicate fraud.”

Conclusion

Between Microsoft’s policies for certification exams, the content posted on Microsoft’s “what were they thinking” blog, and the 2008 Network World article, I think that there is little doubt that Microsoft can and does take measures to catch exam cheats and certifications can clearly be revoked as a result.

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