Certification Testing During the Pandemic

As an instructor of information technology and cybersecurity certification prep classes, my students have all expressed concern about taking the certification exam.  Ideally, a student reads the text, takes the classes, uses a good practice exam for testing preparation, and when it all comes together, schedules an exam, takes and passes the exam.  There is a perfect moment when test taking is optimal.  If you wait too long, either through over-preparation or fear and trepidation, the moment passes.  The hard won information begins to escape our brain, and passing the exam becomes more difficult as time passes.

In March all of the exam centers were closed due to the outbreak of the corona virus.  Many testing centers are now open again, and it is possible to schedule an exam.  I took a CompTIA certification exam on Monday July 27.  Yes, thank you, I passed.

My experience at the Testing Center was about the same.  I’ve used this testing center before, it is independent, not a Pearson Vue owned center.  The major difference this time was the requirement to wear a mask through the test, and the considerable effort by the staff to make sure the white boards and pens we used were sanitized after use for the next test-taker.

The Pearson Vue COVID-19 requirements for test takers can be found on their website.  Basically, if you have been exposed recently, are exhibiting symptoms, or are sick yourself, you should reschedule your exam.  The details including country specific requirements are on the website, and worth a read.

On that note, I did receive an email from Pearson Vue advising me that my exam was cancelled and I should reschedule.  I received the email at 9:20 am, 20 minutes after I had STARTED THE EXAM, and did not read it until I got home from the exam.  Moments of consternation while I checked to see if my exam a valid, but it seems so.  Apparently signals were crossed.  The Pearson Vue website offers this advice about cancellation.  The emphasis is mine:

How will I know if my exam is canceled?
You will receive an email cancellation notice and you will either receive a refund (if paid to Pearson VUE) or an extension as determined by your exam sponsor. You can also log in to your Pearson VUE account to see if you can still see your upcoming exam appointment.

If you are still able to see your upcoming exam appointment, please expect your exam to go ahead as planned, but with additional health and safety measures in place.

My advice, if your exam still shows up on the calendar of your testing center, go and take the exam.  There’s a high probability if they are open for business, that you can take your exam.

Another important side note.  If you received a training voucher as part of a paid instruction class, these vouchers typically expire within 90 or 180 days.  Due to the closing of the test centers in March and the cancellation of so many exams, these expiration dates have typically been extended by the certifying organizations, such as CompTIA, (ISC)2, and EC-Council.  You should check on the status of any voucher you hold.

Scheduling the Exam

This is tricky.  First, as states open up out of quarantine, or close back into quarantine, the status of the testing centers can change with the executive order by your governor.  In my experience, I had to schedule my most recent exam about a month out, that was the soonest I could schedule the exam.

As research for this article, I looked at scheduling another CompTIA exam (CySA+), and one from (ISC)2 (CCSP).  Because I already hold the CISSP, (ISC)2 would not let me schedule for that exam, so my experience may not be typical for the CISSP.

The bad news is that finding a training center offering your exam may be the hard part.  Because the training centers are using only half of their available seats to permit physical separation, there are fewer available seats.  I don’t think all the exams are being offered right at all of the testing centers right now.  For example, the CCSP exam was available to me on two days THIS WEEK, and then was not available at any of the 5 testing centers I checked through the rest of the year. Also, the CCSP was NOT OFFERED at many of the testing centers, which seems to indicate that some exams (like the CISSP hopefully) are being given priority.  This was also my experience with the CySA.  There were a few dates available in early August, but nothing in September to year end, and not all testing centers were offering it..

My theory about the open near-term dates are that those openings represent cancellations or reschedules by other testing candidates.  Take your shot if you are ready.

Online Proctored Exams

CompTIA is offering the option of taking an online proctored exam.  Basically, you take the exam  at home or work, online under the observation of a remote proctor.  Your computer needs to have decent Internet bandwidth, and a microphone and camera in order to use this option.  I found PLENTY of available dates, so this might be the way to go right now,

(ISC)2 is NOT offering online proctored exams at this time, so find a test center and see what is available.  Hopefully there are more dates and testing centers for the CISSP than I found for the CCSP.  You may need to look into next year, or travel some distance to find a center that is open and scheduling.  If your governor closes your state again, check for test centers in adjoining states.  Who doesn’t like a road trip?

That’s my review of the situation today (7/28/2020).  But the situation is dynamic, and things could be different at a moment’s notice.  For all my recent CISSP students, all I can say is schedule the exam as soon as possible, and give it a go.  CompTIA students currently have better options.  If you are testing in a different program, be sure you understand how their system works during the Pandemic.

Good luck, and stay safe.  Please provide comments about your experience, so I can include the information here.

Informative links


About the Author:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at http://wyzguyscybersecurity.com

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