Salary Survey Extra: Have you ever cheated while taking an IT certification exam?
Posted on
June 1, 2023

Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

If cheaters never prosper, then why do IT professionals cheat on exams?

God gets a lot of credit for deciding the outcome of sporting events. Usually the attribution of divine intervention is indirect: This or that player who made a game-deciding play will publicly thank God for their success. And then we have one of the most famous goals ever scored during a World Cup soccer match, the "Hand of God" goal.

The player who scored the goal was Argentinian superstar Diego Maradona, who somehow put in a header in the 51st minute of a scoreless quarterfinal match against England on June 22, 1986, in Mexico City. Maradona scored despite standing 8 inches shorter than opposing goalkeeper Peter Shipley, who was attempting to secure a pass back from teammate Steve Hodge.

The "Hand of God" goal (which is not even the most famous goal Maradona scored in the historic clash) gained its distinctive nickname from Maradona's post-match explanation that the goal came about "a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God." Far from just being humble, however, Maradona was coyly refusing to answer a direct question from sportswriters.

That's because it was widely suspected at the time, and has become generally accepted since, that Maradona used his hand, not his head, to knock the ball past Shipley and into the goal. It would have been cheating for Maradona to use his own hand, but there's nothing in the rules about whether God can or cannot touch the ball with hand or arm.

Does that mean you should deflect credit to God if you're ever accused of cheating on an IT certification exam? It probably depends on how you feel about getting struck by lightning.

This is the fifth 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 4 survey respondents admit they have cheated at least once. And gotten off scot-free? We've never included a follow-up question before. Maybe that should change.

Cheating, of course, is not without its consequences. Maradona, a brilliant and supremely gifted athlete by all accounts, was sent home from the 1994 World Cup after failing a doping test. He blamed an energy drink provided by his trainer ... an explanation that might have been deemed more credible in the absence of a prior accusation of cheating.

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 — 74.2 percent
Yes. I needed to recertify and didn't have time to study. — 11 percent
Yes. There were no negative consequences and I don't see the harm. — 4.3 percent
Yes. I was in over my head but I needed a job. — 6.4 percent
Yes. I did it to expose flaws in the system. — 1.9 percent
Yes — 1.5 percent
Yes. I did it because of [fill in the blank]. — 0.7 percent

As mentioned 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, we'd never registered a "No" percentage lower than 94.5 until last year, when only 81 percent of respondents said they've never cheated. And now this.

Slightly more than 25 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: 1.5 percent of those surveyed say they have cheated, but didn't say why.

For 11 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 espoused 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.

"Accidental, recognized some practice questions on the exam, must have been given a brain dump.  Was disappointed in myself and am more careful where I look at practice questions now."

"I didn't know the practice test I was using was a brain dump.  I found out during the exam when I recognized questions."

"I didn't realize the practice questions I found were actual exam questions and answers."

"Previous employer suggested it at the time."

"I was young and didn't know better."

"It was my third time."

"Not being aware the materials I was using were a dump."

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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