Salary Survey Extra: Have you ever cheated to pass a certification exam?
Posted on
June 10, 2021

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 These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

We all know (hopefully) that it's wrong to cheat on a certification exam. But some have cheated anyway.

Cheaters do sometimes prosper: Just ask Lance Armstrong, who still has a net worth of some $50 million. The Houston Astros cheated their way to a World Series victory and are still the formally acknowledged 2017 Major League Baseball champions, despite having coughed up some draft picks and paid a chump change fine of $5 million.

Perhaps more to the point, that's just plucking the low-hanging fruit from the tree of publicly acknowledged and self-confessed cheaters. People cheat in various ways and at various times and for various nefarious purposes and get away with it all the time. Does that mean that only chumps play by the rules?

Far from it. This is the third year in a row that we've asked Salary Survey participants whether or not they have ever cheated while taking a certification exam, and we're pleased to report, for the third straight year, that almost no one responded in the affirmative.

That doesn't mean that no one at all is cheating, or that no one at all is lying about having cheated. Just that an overwhelming majority of anonymous respondents with no particular incentive to fudge their responses said, "I don't do that."

Cheating, of course, is not without its consequences. Lance Armstrong used to be worth $125 million. And in the IT certification world, the direct result of cheating is that cheaters are generally unqualified and unprepared to do the very things that their credential says they can do. To say nothing of the devaluation of certifications and many other collateral effects.

In addition to asking survey participants whether they've ever cheated on a certification exam, we've also tried to get some information about why cheating happens. What was the motivation that led to the cheating? Here's what we learned:

No  95.8 percent
Yes. I needed to recertify and didn't have time to study.  1.6 percent
Yes. There were no negative consequences and I don't see the harm.  0.9 percent
Yes. I was in over my head but I needed a job.  0.8 percent
Yes. I did it to expose flaws in the system.  0.4 percent
Yes  0.3 percent
Yes. I did it because of [fill in the blank].  0.2 percent

As disclosed above, the first thing to note about cheating is that most people in the IT certification world either don't cheat or would never admit to having cheated. Just 4.2 percent of all survey respondents felt any compulsion to come clean. Some of them didn't have anything more to say about it: 0.3 percent of those surveyed say they have cheated, but didn't say why.

For 1.6 percent of survey respondents, the pressure of recertification drove them to cheat. Some who cheated didn't suffer any blowback from cheating and don't see why it matters. A few 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.

We also gave survey participants the opportunity to explain themselves in their own words: 'Yes, I cheated, but here's why.' What follows is a sampling of some of the answers to come from that group.

"The exam questions are based on specific content only shared during instructor-led courses. Don't have time to sit a 5-day course for every product just to answer 30 percent of the exam questions. They don't test my skills, just whether I read the footnote on some class handout."

"(I got) help from a teacher for one question that I didn't understand."

"My company needed the credential to renew partner status."

"(I got) pressure from company and didn't have time to do the correct preparation."

About the Author

Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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