My Security+ (SY0–601) experience with Pearson Vue

CompTIA Security+ Logo

Disclaimer: This article is not to bash or degrade, but to merely provide recounts from my experience with Pearson Vue and provide feedback on improvements that could be made to enrich the end user experience.

A normalcy in our society is to dedicate hours — months to a specialty that would prove beneficial for our professional development. When ripened, we reap the fruits of being studious by sitting for certifications which seals confirmation of said knowledge. However, before confirmation, we use a partner that serves as primary vendor of test proctoring. There are no competitors to drive value in the marketplace, which leaves the only partner Pearson Vue as the standard (in regards for CompTIA). In essence, we are provided two methods for examination:

1. In person: We are to arrive at the location in a convenient area of a partner who lends their facility as testing grounds. They provide the infrastructure and rules of engagement, we simply show up and take the exam. There typically is a representative that monitors the room that houses the test takers. Their job is to ensure no form of cheating(actions that violates the agreement between the proctor and test takers) takes place.

2. Online: We take the exam remotely, using our own machine from a location of our choosing. The only guidelines for test takers are to:

— Use a laptop with a camera to be monitored.

— Have a clear workspace. Sometimes they will ensure you don’t have any hanging pictures behind or in front of you (at proctors discretion).

— No electronic devices within arms reach and ensure TVs, monitors, etc. are unplugged.

— No other individuals in the room with you when taking your exam.

— Stay within the field of view the camera for the duration of the exam

The proctor provides all remote participants with a test engine software that locks the computer until the participant completes the examination. The OnVue software prohibits any outside activity, keystrokes and mouse clicks. More-so, it’s another measure of surety that the participant doesn’t find a loophole in the system to cheat.

In most situations, the majority of test takers opt for the in-person exam because it’s easier to show up to someone’s facility , use their computers and leave once finished. Although the online proctoring allows you to essentially take the test from your home, there are hurdles we have to factor in that could contribute to a negative experience:

  • Weak Internet signal
  • Computer Failure
  • Environmental concerns (people walking in during examination, etc.)

The question that isn’t asked is, what happens when you fulfill your obligation to ensure you have a smooth exam experience, but the proctor is where the root cause issue lies?

The Experience

Early Saturday morning (circa 12:00am cst), I logged early into the OnVue testing engine to sit for the SY0–601 (CompTIA Security+) exam that started at 12:30am cst. The mandatory system prerequisite check was conducted prior to ensure a seamless testing experience. Upon beginning, the proctor performed the obligatory room scan to ensure my environment aligned with Pearson Vue’s online testing guidelines.

After providing a signal to start the exam, I immediately ran into an obstacle dealing with one of the performance based questions (PBQs). It seemed to glitch and freeze, not allowing for any keystrokes to be made. The only plausible function available was the whiteboard, which I heavily relied on during this encounter. Unable to fully leverage the chat function within the testing engine, I found myself attempting my best rendition of sign language for someone to call me and when that didn’t work writing out “I am unable to perform any actions” on the whiteboard.

After waiting eight plus minutes, the proctor arrived to inquire about the symptoms witnessed during the exam. After explaining myself, I was encouraged to exit the testing engine and re-enter with the same access code. I found this puzzling, because the lingering fallacy once you leave the exam, you’re not able to resume progress. However, true to the statement — I was able to access the exam again with the existing access code. The exam picked up exactly where I left off with the time remaining when I made my initial exit. Although I was able to re-access the test, there was a huge problem that still remained — the software was still glitching during the PBQs and disabling any other actions being performed.

At this moment — my frustration is looming, easily taking me out of my zone. Now, I have to conduct the same series of troubleshooting steps (exit the exam and re-enter). After the fourth time of making the attempt, I decided to be more strategic in how I would approach the exam. I decided to complete the multiple choices questions and save the PBQs until the end of the exam. This plan allowed me to maintain focus and answer as many questions as possible before the timer ran out. Surprisingly — I didn’t run into any issues conducting the multiple choice portion, which by process of trial and error let me know that I wasn’t crazy and something was wrong with the performance based questions. After all the multiple choice questions were accounted for, I focused the remaining time on the PBQs, but to my dismay I ran into the same issue as before, yeah that’s right — the test engine went right back into 5'o clock gridlock.

It is now 2:45am cst — I am three questions away from being finished, but can’t complete the exam due to the error occurring with the PBQs. I had the notion to exit the testing engine, re-enter and submit an impartial exam, but that was the frustration getting the best of me. Instead , I got the attention of my proctor and explained what was going on. He attempted the routine troubleshooting steps by suggesting exiting and re-entering the exam, however I declined and explained I’ve performed that multiple times and wasn’t interested. I mean — when you think about it, why should I do that when the PBQs obviously aren’t going to work? He stated that a support ticket would be opened on my behalf with Pearson Vue, and I would most likely be issued a retake, but would have to sit for the entire exam over again.

At this moment — I truly didn’t care. If I had to retake the entire exam, I would for two reasons:

  1. I spent more time attempting to troubleshoot, than I did taking the actual exam.
  2. The vouchers for this test are not cheap!

It is now 3am, and my energy has dwindled down from the gargantuan battle from the OnVue testing engine. There hasn’t been clear confirmation on the status of my test, but I am certain of my level of defeat. At this point, I could only hope I would receive an email which would provide some sense of clarity. That did not immediately happened, so I called it quits and went to sleep.

However, later in the day (around 12:00pm cst) I received a generic email from their tech support apologizing about the difficulties experienced and provided me with the case number I sought after. The letter stated:

At this time, our records indicate, the exam was near-completed when the issue arose, we found the results were processed. You may access your score via your web account.

After reading the email to its entirety, I failed to see anything that mentioned giving me a test retake. My mind is racing, because my exam was revoked my inconclusive results shouldn’t have processed. Disappointed in the news received, I decided to log into the portal. Prior to checking my score, I took the scenic route and tried to see if I would be able to book another exam. In amazement, when I attempted to book another exam, I was greeted by the alert

“Exams that have been passed, can not be retaken”

Immediately, I rush to the score history tab on the site and opened the downloadable .pdf file and observed that I passed! At this moment, I screamed at the top of my lungs with my obligatory “LET’S GO!” phrase to signify my happiness.

After dealing with all the roller coaster emotions I finally yielded the result I hoped for, a passing score. What made things even sweeter was even with the PBQs not completed I passed by a large margin. Although my score was satisfactory and I was joyous, it didn't last long. I found myself dwelling on the idea, What if I failed? The results of my exam would’ve hindered on finishing the PBQs, would Pearson issue a retake? These type of thoughts keep me up at night, but to extreme diligence and prayer, I passed.

Room for Improvement

Instilled at a young age, my parents let me know not to complain without providing a solution (of some sort). Which is why I wanted to end on a more positive tone with a bit constructive feedback:

Technical difficulties happen, but since there are participants who opt to take their exam remotely — please equip the proctors with a better field of view. Using the chat function when a problem arises is decent, but if the user keyboard doesn’t allow for keystrokes to be made, its rendered useless. In addition to proctor screen viewing, there should be an alert to inform them when it’s a problem or if there is failure with the software. Doing so affords the testing proctors notice and allows them to take the appropriated actions. We’ve fulfilled our obligation by studying and paying for our exam voucher, we don’t want to be responsible for troubleshooting also.

This post wasn’t to complain, but point out a flaw that exists which in a major vendor that has a stranglehold on the testing proctor industry. Hopefully, this message doesn’t fall on deaf ears and is relatable to anyone whose dealt with such an experience.

We spend precious time devoted to developing ourselves (whether personal or professional) with success hindering on a 90–100 question exam. We don’t need the added stress of faulty software!

Thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Carlintheclouds

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Carl Hayes

Carl Hayes

An avid techie, hip-hop music enthusiast and photo taker. If it involves a terminal, there is a high chance you will find me in it.