Salary Survey Extra: Have you ever cheated to pass a certification exam?
Posted on
June 2, 2022

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 These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

Once in a while, even certified IT professionals cheat to pass a certification exam.

In 1994, at a chess tournament in the Spanish city of Linares, 17-year-old Hungarian chess Grandmaster Judit Polgár squared off against 31-year-old Russian Grandmaster Garry Kasparov. Kasparov won. Except that he straight-up cheated in the middle of the match. On his 36th move, Kasparov placed a knight, removed his hand from the playing piece, and then changed his move.

In competitive chess, you can undo a move up until the moment that your fingers are no longer touching the chess piece. After that, you're stuck. Garry Kasparov was stuck with a bad play ... until he moved his piece. Polgár — who was only 17 at the time, don't forget — did not challenge the move, but she did direct a disbelieving look at Carlos Falcon, the match referee.

A Spanish television crew confirmed that Kasparov had removed his fingers from the knight, and even showed Falcon video evidence. Falcon declined to declare a forfeit and Kasparov, who said he didn't realize he had stopped touching the knight, remained the victor. Sometimes cheaters get away with cheating even after they've been caught.

Does that mean you might as well cheat the next time you're taking a certification exam and just hope for the best? Far from it.

This is the fourth year in a row that we've asked Salary Survey participants whether or not they have ever cheated while taking a certification exam. Most of those surveyed say they have never cheated. Somewhat surprisingly, however, nearly 1 in 5 survey respondents admit they have cheated at least once. And gotten off scot-free? We've never needed to ask a follow-up question before. Maybe that should change.

Cheating, of course, is not without its consequences. Kasparov, a brilliant player by all accounts, now has a weird asterisk on his career chess record. 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 overall devaluation of certifications and many other collateral effects.

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

Q: Have you ever cheated on a certification exam?

No — 81.7 percent
Yes. I needed to recertify and didn't have time to study. — 9 percent
Yes. There were no negative consequences and I don't see the harm. — 3.4 percent
Yes. I was in over my head but I needed a job. — 3.8 percent
Yes. I did it to expose flaws in the system. — 1.2 percent
Yes — 0.6 percent
Yes. I did it because of [fill in the blank]. — 0.3 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. On the other hand, in the past the lowest number we've ever registered on the "I have never cheated" front is 94.5 percent, in 2020.

Two years later, apropos of nothing that we're aware of, a whopping 18.3 percent of all survey respondents felt some sort of compulsion to come clean. Some of them didn't have anything more to say about it: 0.6 percent of those surveyed say they have cheated, but didn't say why.

For 9 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.

"HR wanted [the certifications] fast."

"I was once given a 'practice exam' that turned out to be the real exam. Since then, I only buy practice exams with [verified] sellers like Boson."

"I guessed some of the answers as there is no negative marks."

"Technically, COMPTIA says that "memory dumps" are against the test policy. But there's no way I was going to be able to commit OC speeds to my long term memory. I kind of vaguely remember the speeds, but not really. I'll just look it up if I ever need it. Which I probably won't because I have no intention of ever working in WAN/Network Engineering. There's a lot of stuff like that on the Net+ that people just learn for the test. But in real life, they'll just look up if they ever need it."

"There was no absolute certainty of passing the exam."

"[I cheated out of] ignorance of what test prep tool I was using."

"Requested by my past company."

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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