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Learning to take exams online

Joining the profession

08:00 Wednesday, 17 November 2021

UK Cyber Security Council

Covid-19 lockdown has brought an intriguing new skills requirement to the IT industry in general and the cyber security industry in particular. And ironically it's a requirement that needs us to learn a new skill in order to… well, learn new skills. The requirement of which I write is online "proctored" exams. Accreditation bodies that had previously resisted the concept of online examinations have had their hands forced by the global pandemic, and they now offer online testing as an option.

On the face of it, online testing is a great idea. First, there's no need to travel miles to a testing centre and sit in a room full of sweaty individuals. But most pertinent is the fact that when you've spent all that time and money travelling (and perhaps even overnighting in a hotel) the test is administered on a PC anyway! It has been known for years that candidates would welcome on-line exams, and now they have become a reality.

Now that this is the case, though, we as candidates need to learn how to take exams online. This might sound slightly odd, since the format of the exam is pretty similar on one's home computer to the experience on the test centre PC. The difference is with the rules around how you behave and what you have around you.

When you visit an exam centre, it is already configured in "examination conditions" - private cubicles with no printed material, only the technology you need, probably some CCTV and an invigilator. You have to identify yourself on entry, you lock your personal tech in a safe place, and there are rules around nipping out to the toilet. In an online exam these conditions have to be met, but you either have to do them yourself (with regard to picking a room with no books around, for instance) or use the technology on hand to do them (such as showing your photo ID on the web cam).

You have to show the proctor (invigilator) around your room using your PC camera, so he or she can check that everything is as it should be. The proctor will watch you all the way through the exam - which means you have to stay in view of the camera at all times. If you are one of those people who mumble the words out loud when reading, teach yourself not to as it isn't allowed. Similarly you are not permitted to cover your mouth or hide your face. You may be asked to roll up your sleeves or empty your pocket to show you have no illicit materials about you, and expect to be asked to take your beanie off to prove that you aren't wearing a Bluetooth earpiece. No mobile phones are allowed, of course, and if you have a wide headband on then you may be asked to take it off, along with chunky jewellery.

None of the above is rocket science, of course. But it's new, and that's uncomfortable to most of us. Thanks to our UK school education we are used to examinations, just not those where you have to show the invigilator around your room with a PC camera and refrain from rubbing your face. It's therefore worth taking a little time to practice; perhaps even get a friend or colleague on a Zoom or Teams call, present them with the rules and regulations of the examination body that runs your exam, and get them to be the proctor.

Ultimately, if you're comfortable with the conditions it will turn down the worry level slightly, which may well be the difference between a pass and a fail.