Recently I’ve taken two AWS certification exams. One for AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate and another one for AWS Certified Developer Associate.
I’ve taken a number of exams in the past, some for foreign languages, other for technologies. I find the exam structure to be useful for setting learning goals and solidifying knowledge. With AWS specifically it gave me stronger motivation to look and experiment with services which I don’t use on a daily basis.
Because most of the test centers were still closed, I decided to go for an online option and do something I have never done before — take a certification exam remotely. In this post I wanted to share my experience prior to and during the exam and answer some of the questions you might have, if you are considering taking online exams with Pearson Vue. My experience was with AWS certification, but I think it is applicable to other exams offered by Pearson Vue.
Scheduling an exam
Overall I found the exam process to be smooth and well designed. However, I think that the scheduling part might benefit from some improvements.
When I was in the process of booking time I expected a chosen slot to be temporarily reserved for me, for at least several minutes, so that I can fill in the registration form and finalise payment before someone else takes the same slot. Sadly, it was not the case with Pearson Vue.
Apparently, when the demand is high, the same slot can be taken by several people simultaneously. There were a number of times I filled in the information and approved the payment transaction only to get a message back that the time is no longer available.
Perhaps this could have been explained by high demand for those days, or, more probably, by lack of proctors since I was taking the test right at the end of December.
Whatever reason it was, I did more than 10–15 attempts (yes, I’m stubborn) before finally getting my confirmation. And, if, at first, I was very picky about the time and the date, later I was refreshing the page and selecting any available slots within a week without thinking.
Registration for the second exam was significantly easier. So it is possible that there was some kind of hick-up when I was doing it for the first time.
What device to use
It is important to pay attention to all the rules and regulations setup by Pearson Vue for remote exams. Among the most important are requirements to the device which will be used during the exam. Pearson Vue recommends avoiding using a working laptop, since the processes running in the background can interfere with the software used for exams and this can lead to issues.
There is an extra app from Pearson Vue to run a day before the test to see if there are any issues with the system setup.
I had issues using my working laptop, because for some reason I couldn’t allow access to the camera. That’s why I’ve decided to take the exam on my tablet. And here is what you need to know, if you want to use your tablet for the exam — they are strictly prohibited unless you have a physical keyboard and proper operating system in place. What I had was Microsoft Surface Go with Windows 10 Home installed there. In the end it was totally fine. Small screen made my eyes tired, so I’d not recommend it, but if you have no other choice — this is definitely an option.
You can request extra accommodations. I’ve used one which gave me extra 30 minutes of time, because I’m not a native speaker. I didn’t really need that extra time, but I felt more comfortable to have it just in case.
I’ve decided to remove all posters, and hide everything in my room which can be suspected for cheating.
Overall, what I did was moving my table from the window into the middle of the room, covering shelves with an extra curtain I had and positioning my chair in a way that when I look straight I look at the blank wall. I left my table completely empty except for the tablet and a drink.
Drinks and snacks
I wish they didn’t have that rule, but no food is allowed. There was no information about the drinks, so tried to sneak in some cola in a transparent glass, but was told that it is not allowed and I can only bring water. By the way, since you cannot leave your place during the exam, you won’t be able to use a restroom.
Right before the exam
On the day of the exam Pearson Vue recommends joining the session 30 minutes in advance. I did that and during the first 10 minutes I was following easy steps to check in and show that the room is prepared. I used my phone to take and share a couple of pictures. Every step was pretty easy and understandable.
After I was done with the check in, I had to put my phone away and wait for the proctor to join the session.
Proctors are people who help resolving any technical issues, verify that the exam space does not violate the rules and observe examinee during the exam to make sure he or she is not cheating. Proctors don’t need to be aware of examination topic, they help with the exam flow and not its content.
I had a very nice experience with the proctor during the first exam. She was very welcoming, considerate and responsive. She used a voice call to guide me through the steps and asked if I needed anything before the exam started.
During the second exam I found the proctor to be absent, ignoring my questions and just vanishing during the conversation, so I was not sure when our conversation was finished and I was supposed to start the exam. Was a bit weird, but fine in the end.
Hearing other stories it seems that there is no single flow for communication with a proctor. Some enable exam access almost instantly without asking any questions, others will ask minor things (I was asked to show my wrists and to show my table), but you can run into one who will ask you to show the room in detail and also insist that you don’t look around during the test.
Both of the exams I’ve done early in the morning. Since we all work from home, I figured that I have more chances for neighbours to remain quiet and also to skip any food/drinks before with a goal avoid the need for a restroom. Remember that you cannot leave your table during the whole exam process.
Overall, I’ve spend around two hours for the exam, including check-in procedure. But, it is better to allocate more time than that. Proctors might arrive later, so you might need to wait longer before the exam is started.
The most difficult part I found is constantly looking into the screen for duration of the exam. I felt that a possibility to walk, use restroom and just look into the window would make the experience more enjoyable.
After I was done with the exam questions, I had a possibility to review all those onesI was not sure about, make couple of last-minute changes and continue to the results.
Before seeing whether I passed the test or not, I had to answer a very short survey with some general questions. Only then I could see the screen with short exam summary.
I expected to see the score right after I finished the exam, but that information was only available later in the report, which is accessible in certmetrics website.The notification was also sent to my email account. For my first exam I had to wait for the report for several days, for the second it was available during the same day after the exam.
Overall, I found it to be highly valuable to take the AWS certification exam from home. I haven’t run into any technical problems, my proctors were on time and apart from the registration I found the experience to be nice. I was also pretty happy with the scores. I got 947 for the Developer Associate, taking into account that I found it more difficult than Solutions Architect Associate, it was a nice surprise.
Let me know if you have any questions and, if you’re planning to take an exam remotely, I wish you good luck!