Scott Alan Miller

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


I have been working on getting myself certified in the IT industry since 1997 and currently hold more than 110 certifications. I take the certification process pretty seriously. I have worked in career path counselling helping other professionals direct their studies and certification paths to help further their careers or to pursue personal goals. During this time I have become familiar with a large number of certification authorities and testing methods. I would like to take this opportunity to talk about the Brainbench assessments and why I feel that they are as important as they are.

The Brainbench assessment system differs from its main competitors in the fact that it is offered online. Traditional certification exams require the student to take the exam at a proctored location which results in exams that are very expensive. It also creatres an exam environment that is very unlike the real world. In the real world, professionals seldom know the answer to every question off of the top of their heads. No, instead in the real world a professional will often rely on a large amount of at hand reference material to provide the resources necessary to accomplish a task. Has anyone ever worked with an IT professional or even an engineer, for that matter, that does not work in an office full of books, magazines, etc. And what professional doesn't do Internet research before answering any question. Professional do, of course, need to possess a large amount of basic knowledge about the jobs that they do. I in no way wish to dispute this. But the real strength of any professional lies not so much in the work that can be done without using additional resources but in the ability to leverage those resources effectively.

The Brainbench exam excels in testing the ability to quickly and effectively research a question. The Brainbench allows a student to use any books, magazines, notes, the Internet or any other resource that the student may have at hand (although human interaction is NOT allowed.) This, I feel, allows the test to show a more complete picture of what a student is able to do in the real world. This testing process is especially beneficial when combined with testing from other assessment organizations such as Microsoft, Novell, CompTIA or Cisco.

The Brainbench, in order to allow for their resource allowments, makes their tests exceedingly difficult covering much material often not tackled by their more pedestrian counterparts. This creates an exam that not just allows but expects the test taker to be looking up information that they could not possibly - or at least not probably - have memorized. This is a good equalizer to help to eliminate passing scores only from people who are well suited to "memorizing test answers" that appear so often out of the competitive testing camps.

Another strength of the Brainbench exams is their scoring and ranking system. While other testing authorities generally steer clear of giving hard scores to test takers, the Brainbench gives scores based on a simple 5 point scale with a 5.0 being perfect. A 2.75 or better is passing. And any score above a 4.0 will grant you a Master's ranking. This system is really nice because it allows for some discernment between those who simply pass the test and those that do exceptionally well. In addition to providing Master's and Non-Master's ranking, Brainbench also supplies a ranking by geographic region to allow test takers to see how they are performing compared to their peers.

Brainbench provides detailed feedback post-examination. This detail includes ranking performance areas where the test taker has excelled and those areas where he or she has performed poorly. This assessment section can help the student to focus on weaknesses to increase overall knowledge and understanding of the material.

One caveat to the Brainbench system is that the certifications expire. Originally set to a one year expiration term, the certifications now last for three years. This system seems to be valuable as it forces test takers to regularly recertify. The downside is that old technologies become less and less useful to certify on and many professionals will choose to let these certifications fall away, which is unfortunate. It is also difficult because with each passing year there are more and more certifications to maintain and new ones to take. When combined with other methods of learning and certification, this can become a significant burden over time. A professional with a wide range of skills may feel the need to regularly maintain thirty or more certifications. This is a tremendous number for most people to manage. Microsoft, as well as other independant assessment organizations, will often allow a professional certified on an old technology remain certified on the old technology and require only that new certifications be taken to be certified on new technologies. But at Brainbench, to maintain a Windows 95 Administrator certification, a professional would have to take that same test every three years to maintain the status. This can also make putting these certs on a resume problematic.

Brainbench has more benefits over traditional testing methods. For one, they are more truly vendor independant than CompTIA and their tests reflect a far better understanding of the material that they test. And they also provide the industry's widest array of test subjects. For many specialists, Brainbench may be the only way to obtain any type of recognition in a highly specialized subject area.

Brainbench also offers "Job Role Certifications." I suggested this to them some years ago and perhaps they implemented this feature based on my recommendation. But more likely not. Job Role Certifications are certs based upon accumulating several other certs to make a single, large cert. This would be analagous to the infamous MCSE which requires approximately seven MCP tests to achieve. Brainbench offers more than 600 Brainbench Certified Professional certifications and approximately 45 Job Role Certifications built out of those 600 BCP's.

Not all Brainbench certifications are IT industry specific. In fact, they offer a number of ceritifactions in management, scientific areas, office skills, etc. There is likely to be a certification appropriate for just about anyone.

Brainbench offers their assessments not only in a traditional "pay by test" format but also through subscriptions. Annual subscription service is the recommended method for IT professionals who will likely want to work extensively with the service year after year. Annual subscriptions start at only $99 and are a very good value. Even if the exams will not be used to enhance the resume, they can be an invaluable learning aid.

In conclusion, I feel that the Brainbench assessment system is one of the most valuable in the IT industry and I hope that other IT professionals will take advantage of it.


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