Alternatives to visiting testing centers are being put into place for IT professionals seeking accreditation.

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer

March 30, 2020

4 Min Read
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Getting back to work in the midst of the pandemic can mean pursuing IT certifications that are crucial for many professionals. With communities limiting activities outside of the home and social distancing guidance in place, traveling to a testing center to take an exam is likely not plausible. At a time when many organizations have turned to remote operations, technology association CompTIA is finding ways to continue its training and certification programs.

CompTIA offers curriculum and certification exams on infrastructure, security, and other IT segments. The outbreak of COVID-19 has made in-person exams not viable as the populous tries to stem the tide of infection. That has not diminished the need for IT professionals with in-demand skills. In response, CompTIA is extending the expiration dates for exam vouchers and developing remote options to conduct the exams. Vouchers with expiration dates from March 17 through April 30 of this year are extended to June 30. For vouchers set to expire between May 1 and May 31, the date was extended through July 31. 

The idea of offering remote examinations was already in works, says Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA, though current circumstances have accelerated such efforts.

“The decision to do this has been a longtime coming,” he says. “We’ve been looking at remote, proctored options for quite some time.” Making the certifications exams available remotely presents some challenges, Thibodeaux says, because they are more extensive than multiple choice. “They include complex simulations, called performance-based items, within the exams,” he says. “We needed to develop something inherently more sophisticated.”

CompTIA turned to education company Pearson to help facilitate a solution to this issue, Thibodeaux says. The exams are scheduled to be available remotely starting in mid-April. The inconvenience of having to visit a testing center can discourage professionals from pursuing certification, he says, even without lockdowns and quarantines. That reluctance compelled CompTIA to explore remote resources before COVID-19 surfaced.

“It’s always been our intent to deliver these exams when, where, and how people want to take them,” Thibodeaux says. This change fits into a strategy to make all exams and education materials more readily available, he says. Proctored certification exams can be a bit too complicated to run on just a smartphone. Verification of identity and monitors for cheating or stealing of exams questions are necessary. “With remote proctored exams, the person needs a camera, a microphone,” Thibodeaux says.

Before they start the exam, applicants must give a panoramic view of the room to show they do not have any notes or a person helping off camera. Audio levels are also monitored. Each proctor may be watching up six to eight screens at a time. “The proctor can have a two-way dialogue with the individual,” Thibodeaux says, “through audio means or chat.” That can be to request the repositioning of the camera for a better look at anything suspicious. The goal is to mimic the security at a testing center, he says.

Current circumstances could drive a watershed moment for online proctored, certification exams, Thibodeaux says, noting that in general earlier attempts from others did not gain much traction. “This is a situation that will push a real sea change in the learner’s behavior,” he says. “We hope this expands the universe of people who take these exams.”

Such credentials can be attractive on résumés and the studying process can keep relevant skills fresh in mind, Thibodeaux says. CompTIA ran more than 315,000 certification exams in 2019 across 225 countries and territories, he says. Such credentials can be of particular importance to professionals in infrastructure and cybersecurity, he says, because they demonstrate a body of knowledge that might otherwise be difficult to demonstrate. Coders, in contrast, can show a portfolio of coding work. Certain technology roles in government sector may require certification before a professional is considered. “The Department of Defense requires people in information assurance positions to have a number of our certifications to even do their jobs,” Thibodeaux says. “They extend these requirements to contractors as well.”


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About the Author(s)

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth

Senior Writer

Joao-Pierre S. Ruth has spent his career immersed in business and technology journalism first covering local industries in New Jersey, later as the New York editor for Xconomy delving into the city's tech startup community, and then as a freelancer for such outlets as TheStreet, Investopedia, and Street Fight. Joao-Pierre earned his bachelor's in English from Rutgers University. Follow him on Twitter: @jpruth.

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