Salary Survey Extra is a series of dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our annual Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.
There's no two ways about it: Cheating on a certification exam is wrong. It's not just morally wrong, either, but can actively damage certification programs and IT certification as a whole. Aside from a host of collateral effects and unintended consequences, the direct result of cheating is that cheaters are often unqualified and unprepared to do the very things that their credential says they can do.
Almost everyone in IT would probably agree that cheating happens — the problem does exist. And most if not all certification programs have their own protections against cheating and work with exam providers to prevent it. So if there's no moral gray area, and if certification vendors actively guard against cheating and try to catch and punish cheaters, then why do people cheat?
For the first time in the long history of our annual Salary Survey, we decided to ask people who actually get certified whether any of them have ever cheated on an exam. We also tried to unpack some of the mindset that leads to cheating by giving people the option to identify their rationale: If you did cheat, then tell us why. Here's what we learned:
Q: Have you ever cheated on a certification exam?
No — 96.8 percent
Yes. I needed to recertify and didn't have time to study. — 1 percent
Yes — 0.8 percent
Yes. I did it because of [fill in the blank]. — 0.5 percent
Yes. There were no negative consequences and I don't see the harm. — 0.4 percent
Yes. I was in over my head but I needed a job. — 0.3 percent
Yes. I did it to expose flaws in the system. — 0.2 percent
It's evident at a glance that most people who take certification exams either don't cheat or would never admit to having cheated. Less than 4 percent of all survey respondents say they have cheated on an exam. Some are content to leave it at that: 0.8 percent of those surveyed say they have cheated on a exam at some point, but didn't feel compelled to provide any context.
Pressure to recertify explains the decision for a full 1 percent of survey respondents. Those people are saying, in essence, "I needed to recertify, I'm busy, I sidestepped the issue." Some who cheated suffered no negative consequences and basically think the negative impact of cheating is overblown. A bare handful either cheated out of a perceived need to get a job, or espouse the semi-noble motive of having cheated to reveal how easy it is to cheat.
In the middle of that list are the 0.4 percent of all survey respondents who admit to having cheated at least one time, but wanted to explain their actions themselves. What follows is a sampling of some of the answers to come from that group. As you'll see, some people most likely told the truth, and others essentially said, "Nunya bidness."
"I didn't realize what had been given to me to study from until I took the test."
"There are dragons, and winter is coming."
"My peers encouraged me to cheat."
"Fear of failure."
"One time I received a practice exam that turned out to be the real exam. That is bad because it doesn't test you and allows for no self benchmark/improvement."
"I did it for the kicks!"