Microsoft certification during COVID-19 using online exams – You, your space, and your machine
App Dev Managers August Banks, Paul King and Premier Field Engineer John Jacob (JJ) share important tips and information about certification testing from your own home or private location via a proctor.
At the writing of this blog (April 2020) much of the world is in various stages of stay at home orders to ensure the best chances of containing the COVID-19 virus. These orders have required the closing of most testing centers thereby disrupting the plans many people had to complete Microsoft certifications at this time. Fortunately, you have the option of taking your exam in the comfort of your home or other private location by using a proctor.
At Microsoft, many of our technical resources are under a growth mindset which includes continuous learning and certification testing as a part of that process. The Microsoft Developer Support Team has developed this blog post to provide information and tips on how to prepare your environment for one of these exams, things to look out for before the exam, and what to expect during your exam.
The focus of this blog is not to tell you what certification you should take, or how to study for it. If that is guidance you seek please check out the blog of our Developer Support colleague Greg Roe. Greg is a super certification test taker and finisher and has completed 17 exams in the past 12 months. You can see his blog with extremely helpful hints here. Tips and Tricks for getting your Microsoft Certification.
When to take the exam
- Exam dates available all day, even late at night – there are a large variety of exam times available by taking a proctored exam. Proctors are located to accommodate time zones around the world and often are in a different time zone than your own.
Make sure your machine is ready
- Take the system test. There is a system test located here, and you should run it on your test machine well ahead of the test. You will also run it right before the test in case anything has changed. The test consists of checking your webcam, internet connection, and that you can both hear and speak to the proctor at the beginning and during the exam. Do not plan to use headphones as they are not allowed.
- Make sure you have a functioning webcam – The webcam is used throughout your exam so the online proctor can monitor your activity. Be sure the camera lens is clean, and that a good clear image can be seen through it. Consider using a Camera tool in your OS to see what your camera is viewing. During the exam setup you will need to scan around the room with the webcam so be sure you have enough length to do so if it is an external webcam. If using a built-in webcam on a laptop, be sure you can move the laptop screen around to scan the area.
- Be sure your speakers and microphone work. Before the exam starts you will speak and hear the proctor give you pre-exam instructions. These will also be used to talk with the proctor should you need to communicate during the exam.
- Use a wired connection if possible. This one is important if you have any labs to complete through the Azure or O365 portals. We have found that the connection required when dealing with the portal in an exam can benefit if wired. If you have a strong fast reliable wireless connection then you should be fine but wired is preferred.
- Consider using a larger screen if one is available. – You are not allowed to have multiple monitors in your testing area, so if you have a small screen or small laptop consider closing the lid and using a larger external monitor. This is especially key during labs.
Make sure your room is ready
- Put up a testing in progress sign. For those who may share your space, be sure to inform others when you will be taking an exam and that you will need to be completely undisturbed during that time. Perhaps put a sign up to serve as a reminder, and if you have forgetful people around share with them that your exam will be terminated should they enter for even just a moment. Sometimes it is tough to negotiate with a 6-year-old, so be sure to have a good strategy if you have little ones.
- Make sure the temperature is right. Try to be as comfortable as possible by wearing attire appropriate for the temperature in your workspace. Eliminate any need to change temperature controls and turn on/off fans.
- Clear everything else out. Well maybe not everything. Make sure posters, books (books not in reach, and not suspicious positioned should be ok, like books in a far bookshelf), electronic devices with text/graphic displays or one that makes sounds, virtual assistant devices (Google Home, Alexa, etc.,), smart watches, wireless speakers, books, notepads/paper, post-its, writing instruments, detachable mirrors, and whiteboards are cleared from your testing area.
Pro tip: Do not remove your cell phone yet as you will need it to login to the exam. You will put it away before the exam starts.
- If you have pets that roam your area. Be sure to restrict their access to your testing area. If you have automatic pet feeding devices that have recordings be sure to remove them. One example shared was an automatic cat feeder that goes off every 6 hours and says “Doofus, Food Time” 3 times to alert the cat “Doofus” that it’s time to eat. The proctor would not have liked that.
Make sure that you are ready
- No breaks, eating or drinking. You can have a clear unmarked bottle of water, but, plan not to have any other edible or drinking items in your testing area, including coffee or tea. Chewing gum is certainly not a good idea.
- Bio breaks – Make sure you take care of that before you start the test. Unlike testing at many testing centers, you are not allowed to stop or leave the testing area once your exam starts.
- Don’t touch your face – We all have learned much about this guidance due to COVID-19, however it applies to these exams as well. For many of us, touching or covering our mouth as we think out something is relatively normal. This activity is frowned upon by the proctors during the exam. Try to avoid this as much as you can, this includes touching your beard 😊
Checking in to the test
- Have a phone handy. The proctor will ask you for a phone number to communicate with you while you check in. After you have completed the check-in process, you will be asked to place your phone out of reach.
- Have a government issued ID available. You can use your driver’s license or passport. So long as it matches your profile.
- Work area photos. You will be asked to submit photos of your immediate exam area before you speak with the proctor. You will need 4 photos including front, back, left & right.
Pro tip: Wait until you are very close to test time to use the app for work area photos. The app has a relatively short timeout and you many need to take several pictures over again if you do it too early.
During the test
- Waiting for the proctor – Once the exam requirements are met and you initiate the exam the proctor interface (proctorcam) will initiate a session with the proctor. All applications except proctorcam should be closed at this time, so resist the temptation to open something while you wait. The proctor will arrive, usually within 10 minutes to start their pre-exam instructions, verify your identification again and complete a test area inspection. Demand has been high lately and this may take longer. Please be patient. Once the proctor is satisfied that all is in order, they will release the exam to you in the exam interface.
- Exam interface – You can expect the same exam interface that you would get if you were taking the test at a testing center.
- Ping the proctor if needed – If you have a need to contact the proctor to ask a question or alert them of something you can use the proctorcam chat feature which allows that.
- Virtual Whiteboard – On many exams there will be an option in proctorcam to open a virtual whiteboard on your screen. This can be used to work out problems as if you were writing on paper. In our experience this whiteboard was helpful, albeit a little buggy at times.
Finally, be sure to review the testing session protocol which details more specifics on the test procedures and is an excellent complement to this blog post. Overall, many of us are pleased with the online test taking experience and will likely continue to take test in this fashion once a bit of normalcy has returned.
Happy test testing and best of luck on your new Cert!