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Certification Exams, NDAs, and Responsible Behavior

Certification Exams, NDAs, and Responsible Behavior

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Based on some recent events, I find it necessary to post this as a notification to all those who take certification exams.  This applies to certifications across different vendors, not just Microsoft.

During the opening screens of the exam, before you reach the actual question portion, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) is presented.  Like most exam candidates, myself included, the thought process is to get to the exam content so you can complete the exam, get your score, and get out the door and back to your busy work life.  This is a normal and accepted behavior and I’m not advocating a change on that aspect.

What I am posting about is reading, understanding, and adherence to the NDA.  If you are not sure what it is or what is contained in it, take the time on at least one exam to read it completely.  Essentially, by clicking the Accept button on that screen, you are agreeing to a legally binding document.  So, in a nutshell, what are you agreeing to?

In essence, you are agreeing that when you have completed taking the exam, you will NOT discuss with anyone, at anytime, in any forum, in any form whatsoever, what was covered on the exam.  You are not permitted to discuss the content of the questions in any form.  The only content you are permitted to discuss is what is publicly available in the form of exam preparation guides.  The content on the exam is intellectual property and is owned by the exam provider such as Microsoft.

Exam developers like Cisco, CompTIA, Microsoft, Oracle, etc. spend considerable time, effort, and cost to create certification exams and the content that is required to adequately test candidates on the material necessary to achieve the certification.  This effort helps to ensure that the certification you acquire when passing the exam(s) provides you with a valid measure of your skill and knowledge for that technology. 

By talking openly on what the content of the exam is, you are in essence making it easier for those who come after you to pass the exam without really knowing the content.  You also make it easier for the brain dump sites to get a head start on what the exam covers.   By not discussing the content of the exam with anyone, you help to ensure the validity and value of the certification you just earned.

Certification providers include in the NDA the fact that if you are caught divulging this information, you can lose your credential and become banned from further certifications.  They are within their rights to enforce this although I am not aware of Microsoft doing this in the time I have been here.   If you value your certifications and want them to continue to hold value in the industry, you need to partner with your certification organization to help prevent piracy and ensure that those who achieve the certification, actually deserve it.

Comments and questions welcome.

Gerry

Comments
  • Hi Gerry,

    I totally agree. It NOT just about getting to the exam content and getting done with exam but I believe that all MCPs have a moral responsibility to value the hard-work and the earned wisdom. Giving it away on a brain dump site is like inviting a crowd to share the status that you have earned.

    couldn't agree more!

    /Digvijay

  • Well.... yes and no.

    I'm an MCPD and also passed the CISSP exam last month. Do you know what a CISSP is tested on? 10 domains of knowledge spanning ANYTHING to do with security - from security and design of a physical facility, to encryption algorithms, to firewall configuration, to laws and regulatory bodies, etc...

    How do you study for "everything to do with computer security"?

    I bought several books/study guides; got the Transcender and LabSim tests; and in the end, most of those were useless (except for the official ISC2 CBK book) - as they weren't good indicators of what the exam is about. I studied a lot on things where there wasn't even a single question - and I also ran across a ton of questions on a topic that was covered in 1 paragraph in my books!

    My point is, I am a legitimate exam-taker and I have (what I believe to be) a legitimate requirement to know what I will be tested on, so I can effectively prepare. The "Skills Measured" (see: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/exam.aspx?ID=70-563&locale=en-us#tab2) tab for Microsoft certifications for example, isn't really a fair disclosure of the scope of that exam (imho).

    So yes, as an exam taker - I take the NDA seriously. However, as a exam candidate (pre-exam) - I LOOK for any hints or braindumps people publish, not to "cheat" but to better understand in what way I'll be tested, so I invest my study time wisely.

    If I tell you "I'm going to test you on history tomorrow, be prepared!". Is that American history? European history? From what centuries? In the same way, I don't think it's unreasonable for test-takers to want to get a better idea on the scope and depth of an exam.

    So what can Microsoft and other exam vendors do? Be explicit and practical about what's expected and what will be covered in an exam.

    All my point is here, is that it's not unreasonable for people to want to understand how they will be tested. If you (the vendor) can be more up-front about that, that would address legitimate test-takers like me from seeking out this nefarious content that is out on the web, for these exams! My $.02...

  • Hello Gerry,

    discussing questions with peers isn't the biggest issue, I guess (though I don't do it, I don't need much competition =) ). Do you really think braindumps' "vendors" scan thee internet looking for such discussions? No, they just get someone with a camera registered for an exam. Or, say, they have their own exam facility. So, even when I see someone discussing questions and answer... The most I do is: "guys, remember of NDA". The only way to lessen (not eliminate, because there are dumps even for CCIE labs!) braindumpers activity is PBT. I was participating in a pilot for it - it is wonderfull and has built-in dumps (documentation is available in labs ;) )!

    2rseder: I'd recommend you stop using any dumps.

    1) With MS exams if you really know the stuff - you'll pass.

    2) Dumps usually contain huge amount of errors in answers. Explanations are wrong even more often.

    3) By using dumps you lose the feeling of "Yeah, I've done it!!!". You just didn't check if you really know the technology, even if you really do. =) Don't spoil your pleasure of receiving good mark.

  • Hi Gerry,

    Thanks for the Post and I wholeheartedly agree.  Too many people think that all they need to do is pass the exam, and then learn the technology if/when they deploy it.  Too many times I have "cleaned up" a mess left by someone who was "certified".  Don't get me wrong, it generates more business for me, but i constantly end up defending my own industry certifications which I have worked long and hard for over a number of years.

    @rseder: I agree that the information contained in the "skills measured" on the MS Site (and those of other vendors) aren't overly specific as to which information is going to be covered in their exams, but they DO provide the necessary information for you to learn the technology based on topics.  It's not about writing and passing the exam, it's about understanding the technology for real world application.  If you MUST know how the exam may be structured or the types of questions you may find on the real exam, please find under the "preparation materials" tab right next to "skills measured" to 2 certified partners for exam preparation.  SelftestSoftware as well as Measure-UP.  These two tools, above and beyond the e-learning site, Technet, white papers, MS-Press books and any Trainer-Led Microsoft Official Curriculum availability are normally sufficient for you to adequately evaluate your preparadeness for exams your are planning to take.

  • In 2007, in the call "Protecting the Value of Certification", MS Learning clarified what is and what isn't a violation of the NDA. Is that still applicable? Or have the NDA rules changed?

    I saved a PDF from that session - here's what slide 9 says:

    The NDA. Can I answer...

    1. How many questions did you see about about x in your exam? Yes.

    2. How many questions are in the exam? Yes.

    3. How long (time) is the exam? Yes.

    4. What specifics can you give me about the exam? No.

    5. Can I post or share questions if it is not word for word? No.

    6. What is it like to take an exam? Yes.

    7. How are they graded? No.

    8. What is the passing score? Yes and no...

  • Interesting about #5 there...I know you cannot reproduce questions word for word, and you'd probably get in trouble for giving someone the gist of a particular question, but where do you draw the line?  I could easily create exam questions that are very similar to exam material but that are sufficiently different to not be Microsoft's IP.  In fact, that's what many of the prep test companies do.  And I suspect that a number of dump sites operate on the notion that they can change the material just enough to make it not a violation of Microsoft's copyright.

    So what's the official word on that?

  • I work recruting people for IT Jobs. and i have the sad view from dumps...

    In the past, I just pass the technical interview if the candidate have the certification. But after a lot of bad surprises. Now the candidate can have CCIE certification, i will ask him for change a IP in a cisco router...

    A 1 year ago i meet a MCSA Security and he don't know what a gateway is...

    Now about the skill measured on certification i say 1 thing:

    If you study you will pass.

    I do this and always work for me.

    If you are a CERTDUMPER, plz look another profession, u harm us all.

    Dumper Professional = Low quality professional = Low paycheck. Think about it...

  • RSDER

    "So yes, as an exam taker - I take the NDA seriously. However, as a exam candidate (pre-exam) - I LOOK for any hints or braindumps people publish, not to "cheat" but to better understand in what way I'll be tested, so I invest my study time wisely."

    I cannot understand your point here, if you look the DUMP you see the question and that`s it.

    After see the question, U need study what ? You already knows the aswers of questions.

  • Please let me clarify...

    I have zero interest in passing any exam by cheating. All I am saying is, when you go to take an exam, it is a fair question for me to better understand WHAT I will be tested on. I'm paying money for them to test me - don't I have the legitimate right to understand the scope of the exam?

    For someone who has done windows development for years, do you think you'll pass the MCTS windows exam? Probably not, because it covers things like localization and accessibility - two topics that a wide majority of desktop developers have never run across. So for that person, do you think it's illegitimate for them to want to understand the scope of the exam?

    So if ever I do use a Transcender or LabSim exam (which I pretty much find useless, by the way) - it's just to make sure I'm not "surprised" by anything I see. So if I all-of-a-sudden get a question on something I haven't studied, I take that as a clue that I better study it. THAT is the benefit I find in pre-exam research. I'm not looking for answers, I'm looking for QUESTIONS that take me by surprise.

    Instead, if exam providers were clear on the scope of the exam, that wouldn't be necessary. If the WCF exam said "Know how to create a service, host it in IIS, apply WS-Addressing - including the configuration syntax" - well, that's pretty clear and specific.

    What's great about that approach, is that's hard to fake. You really do have to "know" how that is setup in order to pass exam questions on it. When they are purposely vague, that DRIVES the market for dumps and "simulation" exams, and all that.

    I'm just suggesting there is a better way.

  • RSEDER

    I am from infrastructure and what i can say about the infra exames is:

    If you study you will will pass.

    All questions is in exam scope. You need to study all!

    Some you will don't know others u will.

    If the WCF exam say too much information it will limit the scope of questions or will create a exam to large to all of question of the scope.

    And the "Market" always will be drive to the easy way, the people always want the fast results. Its sad but true...

    But the point is. The dumpers is bad to all serious professional of this area.

    In my country they banalized the certification. You can see a Job opportunity to support desktops asking for a MCSE certification, paying $ 900,00 for monthy...

    This is what the braindumps do. Give certification to brainless people and lower yours paychecks....

    My vision of the market:

    The Microsoft technical area is banalized at all, everyone can go to google and ask for "Installing Exchange 2010 How-To" and install a exchange for ex. Have millions of sites with how-tos, tutorials. And a half brain noob can setup a network with a lot of features "Next -> Next -> Finish" and with dumps they can get a certification. The sad about it ? He don't know nothing... If something goes wrong he don't knows

    how he fix. But wait he can go in a forum and post a noob question and someone will do the job for him....

  • Hey guys, quit it. Technical interview simply is a must. It is even better that there are dumps: if I see MCSE in a resume, I ask a candidate some question from it. If he don't seem to know the material... Well, the interview is over: he is liar and dumper, I don't need such a person. If a guy thinks he can consider himself certified preparing by real questions - he just spoils himself, not me. I'm ready to prove my knowledge every day and every minute. I wish you the same =)

    2Rseder: Do you mean that a developer who works closely with a technology for several years may not pass the exam? In IT Pro world (which I am personally from) if you are working with a product for a year or two then every TS exam is passed for sure: I don't even prepare now for most of my exams. If it is different for developer's certification, then it is definitely bad. Is it so?

  • I've worked in IT industry for 15 years now.

    I've interviewed guys who had MSCE's and ask haldf a dozen simple but ackward questions to gauge their knowledge - been readdy to stop interviews at question 1 and told them to leave - a bit harsh but they'll learn from that hopefully!!!

    Some jobs/interviews require no technical tests, some I've though had 4 or 5 online tests in a secure room giving you a percentile score at the end and great sense of saticfaction that you knew your topics. I've even been asked hands on to fix an Exchange Issue on a Server just to see where I was going to start looking - after checking eventlog, services and queues - I was promptly told to stop asked a few questions on what I was looking for and after my explanation was then informed there was no issue - their mode of operanda was weird but very effective - and oddly enough turned out to be a great place to work.

    Technet and the main Microsoft Website itself is what I tend to use for all my exams now - its the best resource and the most up to date.

    IMHO Braindump sites will always exist despite our attempts to get rid of them and I would agree that MS Exam Topics are a bit vague but I would also suggest that with any exam I have ever sat you never really know what's going to be asked and for some people that's the rush of sitting exams and passing them.

    Just my thoughts....

  • After reading Gerry's comment, I just wonder why Microsoft doesn't stop the braindump sites. Some of them are available for many years and everyone know to find them. Still, despite the fanfare of MSL like Gerry's, MS doesn't take these sites down. This must be on purpose. I guess that MS needs the braindump sites for people to pass exams so that their bosses/clients can buy more new software. And Gerry's remarks are just some mist to hide the reality of MS's business practice.

  • Can you post the contents of said NDA since as you pointed out, most people hit next/start as much as possible?

  • Chris, I think it is published already:

    www.microsoft.com/.../exam-policies.aspx

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