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MS, Pearson VUE Team Up to Beta-Test Online Proctored Exams

An intriguing email from Microsoft Learning appeared in my inbox on Monday entitled "Introducing Online Proctored MCP and MTA exams (Beta)." I've seen numerous attempts at providing secure exams online over the past few years, including technologies from companies like Kryterion, QuestionMark and SoftwareSecure, but none of them have involved an 800-lb certification gorilla like Microsoft, so this really got my attention.

A little further investigation turns up numerous equally interesting items of information:

1. There are 22 exams covered by the beta, all of which feature exam codes that end in "-OP" which presumably identifies them as "online proctored" versions (see complete list below).

2. Online test takers must work at PCs with cameras and microphones attached and live, so that remote proctors can see and hear what they're doing. 

3. Security precautions are both pretty extensive and mildly amusing. Here's a quote from the Born to Learn blog post on this development:

You’ll be asked to empty your pockets while on camera, provide a close-up on your ears so you can prove you’re not wearing a Bluetooth earpiece, do a visual sweep of your desk and the room…  all things you’d expect a proctor to check if they were there in the room with you. If you ensure that all of the requirements are met before you check in for your exam, the whole check-in process should only take about ten to fifteen minutes. If you have as many Bruce Springsteen posters on your office wall as I do, add another five minutes for the proctor to inspect them all for hidden notes.

And here's a bulleted list of restrictions from the MS Learning e-mail on the topic
    • You'll be recorded -- both video and audio -- for the duration of the exam.
    • You can't take notes during the exam.
    • You can't eat, drink, or chew gum while you take this exam.
    • You can't take a break -- for any reason.

What's intriguing about this is that, if successful, this beta test could translate into a huge leap forward for the accessibility and reach of Microsoft certification testing. It's focused at the "bottom of the pyramid," too -- that is, on the most frequently taken and most popular exams, particularly those that act as gateways to higher-level certifications (for example, the 70-410 and 70-411 exams needed for MCSA: Windows Server 2012 stand as prerequisites for half-a-dozen different MCSE credentials). All this makes the experiment well worth watching (and for those in the market for covered exams who have PCs with cameras and mikes, possibly worth taking) to see what happens. Certification testing as we know it could be on the verge of some very BIG CHANGES! In table 1 below, 3 digit exam IDs are MCP exams, while 5 digit IDs are MTA exams.

Table 1: List of Online Proctored Beta Exams