AWS announced on the 28th August 2019 that the entry-level certification – AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner – was now available to be taken remotely from the comfort of your home or office.
This certification is comparatively recent, having been released in December 2017, and would be redundant to anyone who had already sat an Associate-level certification or above. For this reason I hadn’t bothered to trek to an exam centre to sit it, but this new release gave me the chance to lazily knock it off the list in the ongoing quest to “catch ’em all”. Here’s my experience:
The first thing to note is that the announcement doesn’t immediately make it clear how to begin the process, and on logging into my Certification Account wasn’t much help. After some poking around you discover that is is only the Pearson Vue provider who offer this remote exam and NOT PSI. To register, select the “Schedule New Exam” button, and select “Schedule with Pearson VUE” next to the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner exam. On the Select Exam Delivery Option page, choose the option “At my home or office.” Online proctoring is not available in China, Japan, and South Korea.
Whilst the exam purports to be available 24×7, this is still constrained by the availability of online proctors, who invigilate (monitor you) during the exam. In my case, I logged on at 10am in the morning and the first spot available to me was 8.45pm that same evening – so I booked it!
Now the fun begins! Pearson Vue deliver the exam through a piece of software called OnVUE. Before booking the exam they encourage you to download and pre-test the software to ensure it will work on your system, and that you’re able to comply with the various requirements of sitting the exam remotely. Aside for some technical specifications of running the software, here’s what you’ll need:
- A laptop or desktop computer
- Mobile phone
- Reliable internet connection
The pre-test of the software is identical to the steps you must undertake in the 15 minutes before your allocated start time for the exam. The steps are as follows:
- Enter the access code provided by PearsonVUE when downloading the software.
- Enter your mobile telephone number to receive a text message with a link to ‘ProctorCam’ – a service which will ask you to take pictures of:
- Your face
- The front and back of your government-issued ID
- Your desk when standing from the front, from the back, to the left and to the right. Essentially a 360 degree view of the room you’ll sit the exam in.
After this is complete, the test will check your system to ensure there isn’t any forbidden software running (in my case Malwarebytes had to be turned off) as well as closing any browser windows to help ensure you can’t cheat. In the pre-test you’re then asked a single test question and the test is complete.
In the real exam, it instead gets serious – your webcam is turned on with a notice to inform you that it’s recording and your provided details are being checked by a proctor. In my case, a proctor connected after a couple of minutes and spoke to me. They were very polite but very firm in checking the area around my desk to ensure I had no paper, no phone, no stationary, no clutter – basically nothing at all. I had to pan my camera around (after complying by throwing all of my usual desk clutter onto the floor) to satisfy the proctor. I also had to unplug my scanner, and be seen to physically disconnect the cable of my second monitor. I had to remove my wristwatch, and show my wrists and hands to the webcam to demonstrate I had nothing written on them. Additionally I had to take my headphones off during the exam but I was allowed to put them back on should I need to speak to a proctor.
Finally, I was allowed to sit back down and attempt to perfectly align my face in the centre of my camera in order for the exam to be released to me. This took a couple of minutes as my face wasn’t quite perfectly set! Eventually the exam got going, and from this perspective it was like any other exam sat in a test centre. Multiple choice answers to standard questions whilst selecting ‘Next’ to move on to the next one. 100 minutes allowed for the exam and 65 questions total.
However after around 5 questions in, a different proctor suddenly connected to my session and asked me to once again confirm that I had no paper or notes nearby, and also to ask if I was able to physically move the second monitor which I’d earlier disconnected. Once again I got up and panned my camera around, and was able to move my second monitor out of the way to their satisfaction, and then I was allowed to get back on with the exam – but only after being reminded that I wasn’t allowed to move or even read the questions out to myself aloud.
So, feeling enormously self-conscious the entire time, I sat as rigidly as possible without moving my head from dead-centre of my camera – fearful of even panning my eyes down to the ‘Next’ button at the bottom of the screen, just in case it was thought I was looking down at some secretly-hidden notes, and completed the exam as quickly as possible.
Without being too boastful, I completed the 65 questions in less than 25 minutes, submitted the exam without reviewing any answers (which is an option), answered a few standard survey questions about my experience, and was informed that I’d passed – the score and results apparently being uploaded to my certification account in a few days. This is a curiosity of AWS exams recently that the score and result aren’t delivered immediately (which it used to be) as I can’t think of any technical reason this would be the case.
But there you have it – an exam completed remotely and I didn’t have to leave the house. But was this more convenient than having to go to an official proctored test centre? Well… not really if I’m being honest. The requirement of having to take so many pictures, clearing out the whole area of where you’re sitting, and feeling under the spotlight much more so than usual in an exam rather negated the convenience of being able to do it at home.
Of course, for certifications to have any merit, AWS must do all it can to try to eliminate cheating and stopping impersonators sitting the exam for you. So all of the measures described above are perfectly reasonable and were as effective as they could be. But could I have still cheated somehow? Sure… even being on webcam wouldn’t stop a determined cheat from putting some kind of notes somewhere – or by cleverly manipulating the testing area to have someone offer you advice. It’s for this reason I suspect we’ll only see this remote option offered for the lowest level of certification. Cheating here would be a lot of effort for a relatively modest qualification – so I believe this offering is a nice balance between convenience and credible risk of impropriety by the candidate.
More importantly, I think this is designed to encourage both technicians and managers to get an easier initial footing on the AWS certification ladder – after which graduating up to the Associate, Professional, and Speciality exams in official test centres will be a lot easier.
Speaking for myself – if I was sitting one of the 3 hour Professional exams I’d find it a lot less stressful to calmly sit in a real exam centre than worry about whether the online proctor thinks my home desk’s cup-coaster is a secretly-encoded cheating aide!
If you’re studying for the Cloud Practitioner Certification, I will, as always, highly recommend A Cloud Guru for their excellent standard of teaching and preparation for the exam. Check out their AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner 2019 course here.