NDA, the ITCC, and the responsibilities of test-takers

May 5, 2010 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Vendor news | Leave a comment
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(Editor’s note: John Shapiro, Vice President of Sales, is today’s team blogger.)

I believe it was an old American Express commercial that used the tagline “Membership has its privileges.”  While that can certainly be the case, more importantly, membership also has its responsibilities.

Transcender is a subsidiary of Kaplan IT Learning.  A couple of years ago, Kaplan IT became one of the charter members of the Information Technology Certification Council (http://www.itcertcouncil.org/).  This organization’s mission is to enhance the value of IT certifications. Transcender supports this mission wholeheartedly and enthusiastically (yeah!). At the heart of that statement is a collective desire by stakeholders in the IT certification business to make sure that we meet three vital goals:

  1. maintain the integrity of tests (i.e. reduce cheating)
  2. promote the value of individuals who have work/studied/sweated hard to achieve their certification
  3. help companies that hire IT professional understand that certified candidates are on the ball, understand the technology, and can be of great value to the company.

How do we do this at Transcender? We work to provide technically accurate test prep material that covers the published objectives without ever disclosing live questions. We support industry groups who promote certifications to employers, and support efforts to develop new certification methods (like performance-based testing) that better reflect a candidate’s real-world skills and work experience. And we strive to educate consumers (not just our customers, but all test takers) about the consequences of unethical test behavior.

Now, let’s talk about NDAs. All vendors have them in one form or another, and we’ve touched on this topic before. And, although we’ve had this particular post in the works for a while, there have been a recent flurry of reports across the industry that make it even more timely.

If you haven’t encountered the industry term “braindump” before, it refers to pirated live exam content sold online. Of course, people who buy braindumps think they’re paying for the correct answers as well, but there’s no guarantee the person who pirated the information even knows the technology; we’ve seen ludicrously incorrect examples come across our desks. (See our Top 5 Reasons To Avoid Braindumps.)

While buying a braindump is a blatantly obvious way to participate in NDA violations, there are others. Braindumps can also be forums where people post about specific questions they encountered on a test. This behavior might seem innocuous (or at least to fall into a gray area), but it’s very specifically prohibited by all NDAs (see the Citrix Candidate Conduct Policy for more examples of prohibited actions, and see Robin’s NDA post for links to other vendor NDAs).

There are some very real consequences to using braindumps and otherwise working against the integrity of the testing experience that can permanently affect your career – and the careers of others who depend on the value that certification adds to their job. Please, before you throw money (and possibly your reputation) down the drain, educate yourself about non-disclosure, braindumps, and safe exam study. If you’re not sure what does or does not constitute an NDA violation, you can always ask! Vendors are more than happy to answer specific questions on the issue.

Until next time,

–John Shapiro

NDA: We Disclose All

October 7, 2008 at 8:02 am | Posted in Study hints | Leave a comment
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A while back in Trika’s post about Microsoft’s anti-test-piracy meeting, someone asked how the NDA applies to study guides and test prep providers. Because many (if not the majority of) certified IT professionals are genuinely worried about certification fraud, this person was concerned about the similarities between some vendors’ test prep materials and live exam questions, including our own.

As we write the practice exam, we have two main goals (well, two besides accuracy, because that’s always first. And, after I’m involved, rigorously correct punctuation. But besides those):

  • Does our exam cover all the vendor’s content from the test preparation guide?
  • Does our exam represent the format in which the vendor asks the questions?

I believe the second part is where people can become confused. Because we focus on preparing you for the entire exam experience, our practice test items can look a lot like “the real thing,” because we don’t want you figuring out how to work, say, a drag-and-drop on your first live exam; we want you focused on the content. So rest assured that while our tests might “look” real, they disclose no live exam questions (or, in Douglas Adams terms, they produce a beverage which is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea).

As a followup to Robin’s post, I put together a comprehensive list of the common certification vendors, their general exam and certification policies, and their individual non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), where available. In many cases, the vendor also outlines the penalties for certification fraud, and answers explicit questions about what may or may not constitute “violating” the NDA.

Big List O’ Vendor NDAs and exam policies

Cisco Certification Exam Policies
http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/le3/le11/learning_certification_exam_policies.html

Click here to see the rest of the list of vendor NDAs and exam policies.

“Just what the heck is that legal document I have to sign to take a test?”

October 6, 2008 at 9:41 am | Posted in Study hints | 1 Comment
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I recently received a rather disgruntled e-mail from a customer, stating that he didn’t see a single item from our practice test on the live exam. My initial reaction was happiness – we work hard to not violate the vendor Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) when we assemble our tests. It was quickly followed by concern over the customer’s expectations. After e-mailing back and forth with the customer, explaining the theory behind our tutorials, he began studying the tutorials in depth instead of passing them over after answering a question correctly. He said later he was surprised at the amount of useful information they contained. (For more information on why this technique works, see the blog post entitled The Secret Path to Knowledge and a Better Exam Experience.)

Thinking back on this exchange, I realize that many certification candidates may have unrealistic expectations of a legitimate practice test vendor. Our job is to prepare you for the content you will see on the test. But we straddle a fine line – one between serving our customers’ needs, and ensuring that we do not violate the NDA. You should never expect to see the exact same questions on a practice test and a live exam. This is a direct violation of the NDA.

But you may wonder just what an NDA is. An NDA is that little agreement you “sign” just before your live exam starts. If you’ve taken a certification exam, it’s that screen that looks like a legal document that you probably do not take the time to read, but it is very binding. By clicking the I Agree button, you are saying that you will not violate the policy in any manner. While NDAs across vendors vary, they all include guidelines about NOT sharing test content with the public that includes removing notes, taking pictures, and so on. Punishment for violation of the NDA varies, but it can lead to losing all of your current and future IT certifications.

Now all of us have seen or heard of braindump sites (or companies that call themselves practice test vendors) that claim that you can memorize their test questions and answers and pass the test easily. You probably even know someone who has used them (but of course, have never used them yourself).

Nothing frustrates me more than to have someone compare Transcender’s products to these sites. They have nothing to do with legitimate test preparation. These sites directly violate the NDA; some of these sites have even been prosecuted by certification vendors. Their products generally are just the questions, options, and (someone’s opinion of) the correct answer. (Some of these braindump tests have passed over my desk, and let me tell you, the companies just care about making a buck; they don’t care about accuracy. I have often seen the wrong answer marked as “correct.” But how are you going to complain after you’ve used their product to cheat on a test?)  They usually do not include tutorials or references. They don’t tell you the why or how of an item. They are just a way to cheat and cheapen the value of the IT certification.

This is such a big topic that it can’t possibly be addressed in one post, but we have a series of articles planned about what IT certification fraud is, its impact, and the countermeasures that vendors are taking (including targeting the consumer – that’s you!).

Until next time
-Robin

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