Online Certification Exams in the Work-from-Home Era

(ISC)<sup>2</sup> is getting into the world of online certification exams.

When I saw the (ISC)2-related news item in the latest Certification Watch (Vol. 25, No. 6) I wasn't sure whether I should be appalled or amused. It's absolutely true that (ISC)2 is in the process of conducting a second pilot for online exams for the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exam.


It's running from Feb. 28 to March 7, after which exam results will take another 8-to-10 weeks to be returned to participants. You can read (ISC)2's list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) regarding the online testing pilot program, if you like. For me, it raises far more questions than it answers. Let me explain ...


Proctoring Exams in the Age of COVID and Work-from-Home


Unbelievably, it seems that (ISC)2 is still figuring out how to proctor online exams, more than a decade after early pioneers and cert-sponsors have been making online exams routine. The organization's explanation is that they want to "make our certification exams as accessible as possible while maintaining our security standards and the integrity of our certification programs."


That's all well and good, but with most certification exams lready available online, (ISC)2 is a little late to show up for this particular party. In fact, the FAQ states that "participants can expect the full certification process to take up to 16 weeks." I'm guessing that means results should be forthcoming around June 20 (16 weeks after February 28).


And the organization clearly states that "any determination regarding potential online proctoring as part of a regular (ISC)2 offering will take place after the conclusion of this assessment."


What's Involved in Taking an (ISC)2 Exam Online?


A special sign-up at Pearson VUE is described in the afore-linked FAQ, using exam code CISSP_OP (where I would guess the text after the underscore stands for "online pilot"). In addition, they must use the ISC2ONLIN promotion/voucher code to register for the online version of the CISSP exam.


(ISC)<sup>2</sup> is getting into the world of online certification exams.

The exam is being offered on a first-come, first-served basis, so it's entirely possible that by the time you read this article — which is intended to discuss the coming-of-online-age for — (ISC)2 rather than promoting exam sign-up — all the seats will be taken. I'm OK with that, and I hope you are, too, dear reader.


And for what it's worth, the online version of the exam costs $749, so it's a pretty hefty charge on its own (and the same as what you'd pay for a public, proctored, in-person version). Interestingly, breaks are NOT permitted during the online exam, either — kind of a drag for an exam that lasts for three hours in its latest (English-language only) version.


My advice: be sure to visit the restroom just before the exam period gets underway and make sure you've got water and snacks handy. Note further: The online exam is available only to candidates in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Singapore.


Online Test Space Requirements


(ISC)2 requires that CISSP candidates show proctors their testing environment, which it stipulates "must be a clean room." Candidates must perform a 360-degree work area scan to show proctors where they'll be sitting while they take the exam. Further, (ISC)2 indicates that "if there is a problem with the testing environment, the candidate will be asked to correct it."


Candidates can wear only a medical bracelet during the exam. If the test PC has more than one monitor, the candidate can leave only one monitor plugged in. Televisions "must be turned off and covered." Any other "prohibited items" must be removed from the testing environment.


If a candidate fails to meet any of these requirements, then "the candidate will forfeit the examination appointment and/or exam result" where "forfeited examination appointments are not eligible for refunds of any examination fee." Wow! That's pretty serious, if you ask me.


Here's Hoping That (ISC)2 Gets Things Figured Out


(ISC)<sup>2</sup> is getting into the world of online certification exams.

Right now, the pilot program is underway. I hope that (ISC)2 can get things under control, and learn how to do what so many other cert sponsors have already done — namely, deliver exams online in a way that both works for candidates and lets (ISC)2 protect exam content, integrity, and security.


Right now, the exam protocols seem to me to be a little on the extreme side. But hopefully, experience will teach (ISC)2 how (and what) kinds of conditions they must maintain, as well as which ones they can relax (if only a little) to foster a truly "accessible" online exam experience.


Time will tell — but time is also a wastin' as far as providing an extremely popular cybersec exam in what is almost certain to become its most commonly-delivered format.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.