How to Play the Exam Game

February 6, 2009 at 10:45 am | Posted in Vendor news | 2 Comments
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We all face challenges in life, and taking a certification test is no different. Just like the ball player that takes the field, you must know what is allowed and what is forbidden in your field of battle: the testing room. Walking into a test center without knowing the rules is like coming onto the basketball court without a jersey and knowing how to score. Your court skills may never come into play if you don’t know when and how to use them.

[Editrix’ note: George, I call a five-yard penalty for excessive use of sports metaphors. Carry on.]

Just like the athletes who train, sweat and push their bodies to the limits before the big game, you must undertake some pre-game preparations:

  • Contact the test center and make sure they can deliver the exam. Sounds obvious, but when an exam is released with new technologies, like simulations or other specialty items, your chosen test center may not be up to par. Vendors will release new technologies but do not confirm that every center can support them. As the test taker, you should always do this homework. It is extremely frustrating to take time off of work, drive all the way to the test center, and find out that the test would not load on the test center’s computers. When that happened to me, my whole day was shot and I had to go through the ordeal the next week.
  • Notify the test center of any learning disabilities. Test centers are required to accommodate you. This could include adjusting the screen size or even increasing the time limit.
  • Find out what amenities the test center offers. Some test centers can provide ear plugs or ear phones to block out noise. You do not want to hear the asthmatic breathing of the person next to you or the constant two-pack a day cough from the guy that tried to bum cigarettes from you in the lobby. Find out if the test center provides lockers or other secure storage for your valuables (most do). Other centers may provide coffee or provide vending machines. All of these things will affect your testing experience.
  • Leave non-essential stuff at home. All you can have in the exam room is your picture ID, a 8.5” x 14” whiteboard, a marker, and if you are lucky, an eraser. You cannot bring in a cell phone, digital watch, bull horn, AM transistor radio, Batman decoder ring, or electronics of any kind. You cannot bring in food, drinks, or even your ID badge from work. (The strict but very nice proctors in my local test center do allow me to keep my Soviet-made wind up watch that loses 6 minutes a day and requires constant readjusting.)

Michael Jordan knows how to play basketball and David Beckham knows how to score a goal. You, too, need to know how to play the game. These rules might seem obvious to some, but they are all questions I’ve heard in my years as a trainer from nervous first-time test takers, or mistakes that I’ve seen made over and over.

  • Show up on time. If you don’t show up within 15 minutes of your appointment, you can be replaced and lose your testing fees. If you don’t think you can make an appointment, then you should reschedule for another time. You can reschedule an appointment as late as the day before your appointment. You do not want to be like the golfer who overslept missed his tee time and got disqualified from the US Open. The shame will haunt you for the rest of your life.
  • Raise your hand if you have a problem with exam delivery. Test centers have cameras, and they do watch you work. Although not every request will be granted by a proctor, they can solve many problems. A proctor can document a test delivery issue or machine malfunction, and allow you to reschedule another attempt at no cost. Or they can adjust your monitor’s resolution, or replace a faulty mouse/keyboard. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
  • Take breaks if you need them. If you stayed up all night preparing for the test by drinking those awful tasting energy drinks or mixing Folger’s coffee crystals and Coca Cola, you may have to go to the bathroom while taking the test. Yes, you can use the bathroom while taking an exam, smoke a cigarette, or get something to eat. A lot of people do not know this! You must present your ID to sign out and sign in. Realize that your break time takes away from your test time — you can take a break, but the timer on the test never stops. Unlike in basketball, there are no timeouts. The clock keeps running.One of my students said that his bladder was going to burst any moment, so he hurried through the test and failed the exam. Another student who was addicted to cigarettes hurried through an exam so that he could get the sweet rush of the nicotine. He passed, but barely. You should never feel rushed to finish a test because of a physical need. It’s smart to go to the bathroom or apply a nicotine patch before you go into the test room, but if you absolutely require a break, then take one!
  • Make comments on the exam content. Some vendor exams allow you to make comments on specific items. If there is a typo in the text or a conceptual issue, let the vendor know. Don’t just complain about it to the proctor or your certification buddies; make sure it gets fixed.

Legendary coach Lou Holtz told his players in the champion game that if you want respect, “act like you have been there before.” He did not want his players celebrating when they scored. He wanted them to act like they have done this over and over. Here’s how to leave the building like a test-taking pro.

  • Finish the exam completely. If you don’t, you are relying on a proctor to close out for you. Your exam score will only be uploaded to the vendor once you complete the entire exam and log out. Do not be like that idiot who spikes the ball before he crosses the goal line. If you do not finish the exam completely, including the post mortem survey questions, you really have not finished.
  • Don’t leave your valuables behind. Uh, like driver’s licenses… don’t ask. My advice is to remember to store your other valuables with your car keys; again, most testing centers have lockers for your use. You will be in the testing room for a while. Believe me, after you finish your test, you will not remember what you had for breakfast, much less remember to pick up your valuables. But when you try to start your car without keys, that should remind you to return to your assigned locker.
  • Show some class. Excessive celebration is never tolerated on the playing field and it is not tolerated in a test center either. The person next to you taking a test does not care if you pass or fail. That person does care if you create a disturbance during his/her test. You can be removed from the test center for whooping a victory cry. You do not want to spend some quality time in the county lockup making new friends because you screamed when you passed your test. (By the way, if you ever have to go down to county, it usually takes about 14 hours to make bail. Don’t ask.) You can have a test score invalidated for causing a disturbance. If you fail a test, suck it up and be an adult about the situation. If you pass a test, show some class and do not celebrate. Sounds obvious to me, but again, I’ve had students who didn’t know this rule of the game.

– Snarky humor, ridiculous anecdotes and sports analogies provided by gmonsalvatge.


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  1. Great tips!

  2. Ha, good read. But seriously, I held my bladder shut for the last 30 minutes of my A+ exam, I didn’t know I could have used the toilet…!

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