Can brain dumps be stopped?

December 24th, 2008 | by Ivan Pepelnjak |

Brain dumps are the biggest threat to the certification industry these days, significantly devaluing certifications that rely primarily on multiple-choice answers. Similarly to the threat-prevention measures adopted by airport security (read the insightful analysis of their behavior from Bruce Schneier, a renowned security guru), IT vendors are responding with high-tech measures.

Some of these measures are simply brilliant; for example, attaching a photograph of the candidate to the exam printout. Others, such as exam data forensics, will probably stop some cheaters, but also generate a lot of false positives. However, brain dumps could be stopped in a very low-tech way: human brains have limited capacity; if you increase the size of the question pool, the brain dumps become useless.

Can you increase the size of the question pool? Absolutely. Terry Slattery has proposed a method by which even a security breach by one of the participants would not compromise the majority of the question pool.

Wouldn’t that cost a lot of money? That’s a relative question. Cisco recently announced that it has issued over a million certifications. The cheapest certification you can get is the CCNA composite exam at $250, and individual exam tests cost upward of $100. If only a small percentage of the certification-related revenue would be reinvested in writing more questions, brain dumps wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

Can you even write that many questions? Once you can’t write new questions, you’ve obviously exhausted the contents of the certification materials, and those materials (training classes, books etc.) become functionally equivalent to the brain dumps. Anyone who can correctly answer all the questions covered by the certification material is by definition certifiable, regardless of how those correct answers were acquired. Obviously, it helps if the questions are written in a way that tests the understanding of the subject matter, not the memorization of useless facts.

  1. 5 Responses to “Can brain dumps be stopped?”

  2. By Nish Vamadevan on Dec 27, 2008 | Reply

    Ofcourse, it can be stopped with a LOT of question, also, In my opinion, a candadate (Professional Level) should be subjected to more complex lab than the ones on the exam.

  3. By Rogman on Jan 9, 2009 | Reply

    How come no one ever addresses that one of the reasons why people would use a brain dump is that certification exams attempt to ask you questions in the some of the most vague ways possible?

    So much so that people who know the material are aoften found scratching their head over what the question is really asking?

    that seems a disservice to me?

    but hey what do I know

  4. By mr.n on Jan 14, 2009 | Reply

    I agree with Rogman, the questions are way too off scope of the actual study material. For instance, you can take any CCIE and test whether he can pass the newest CCNA exams and you will see that even he is having difficutlies.

    My opinion is to do some simple things:

    1) Randomize the question order. If the braindump says that the answer is “C” then you make it a “D” ! Simple.

    2) Use more simulations. Multiple choice questions are good, but simulations are even better:).

    3) Use an AI tool to monitor the progress. I once took a Microsoft exam for fun. It was one of those MCTS exams that noone pays any attention. I found the braindumps from the internet, and learn every one of them. They were exactly 52 questions in the dump. When I took the exam, the questions were 52! Exactly the same. I finished in 3 minutes. Where is the check on that?

    4) Use bigger pool of questions. If someone would want to cheat, and the questions in the pool were 500 or so, the person would find it difficult to cheat.

    Any comments?

  5. By johnadam on Jan 20, 2009 | Reply

    I think Only simulations are the best way to stop brain dumps, otherwise I don’t think that we can stop dumps. The people should realize that this is an unethical way to use brain dumps. However, they should use some practice training and material as provided by certpaper dot com to prepare their exam because the books are not closely match up to the actual exam.


  6. By Net_Warrior on Jan 24, 2009 | Reply

    I think in IT in general the Certs are being devalued, even when someone claims to have one they may or may not be certified. There needs to be a centralized place where credentials can be checked that is a site which is authorative for Microsoft, Cisco, etc. Where I am at we have someone who claims to have MCSE, Net+, VCP, CCEA, and CCNA. But can not do any of the skills that each require. He merely brought in a bunch of papers and they were accepted as gold!

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