COVID-19 has certainly shaken our world but if you are anything like me, you try to make the best of difficult situations whenever possible. In this case, I figured I might as well get some certifications lined up if I could manage it. Of course, that begs the question – how do you manage a Microsoft certification exam online? Most of my colleagues had taken their tests onsite and therefore could not offer their experiences to help me prepare. Despite this, I did have a colleague that gave me valuable advice and made the experience so much easier. Now that I have obtained this experience, I can and will share in case you are planning a virtual exam as well. To be fair, Microsoft does give you the rules when you sign up for the online exam. Click here to see more. This takes care of the “what NOT to dos” – nobody in the room with you, no watch, no phone, no eating, etc. It is important to read through this THOROUGHLY in order to ensure your exam results would not be invalidated by your kids wanting a hug! That said, what should you do to prepare (logistically)?
Choose your test taking location wisely
Yes, this seems obvious but let me explain. You likely have an office setup by now whether you always work from home or you have recently started. Like all of us, you have probably set it up with papers, files, notes, pens, pencils, snacks, headphones, etc. – all the creature comforts you need to enjoy your day at the desk. Guess what? None of those items are allowed – not even those lovely large external monitors. Do you really want to pack that all up? Perhaps so if that’s your only choice. But if you have options, I recommend finding another location in your home where you can be isolated, plug in your laptop and avoid disrupting your office nest. Again, that may not be possible for you in which case, you will need to set aside time to prepare your area thoroughly. My choice was a table in the living room that I could roll my office chair up to with my laptop near a wall with an outlet. It worked brilliantly.
Prepare your surroundings
Just because you are away from your desk does not mean you are done preparing your space for the exam. Anything in arms reach or visible is still a no-no. Move any papers, pencils, phones, etc. to another room. Also make sure that you cannot see any whiteboards, bulletin boards, etc. INCLUDING a ground floor window. You will be asked to take pictures of all four views of your space and while I thought I did a good job, I was asked to close the blinds on my window since I live on a ground floor. My plan for my friend with cue cards was foiled again! Finally make sure you have your identification handy. You don’t want to have to stop and search for it mid-check in.
Prepare your creature comforts
Depending on the Microsoft certification exam, you may have an opportunity for a break. However, that must be an extremely long test as mine was slated for 3.5 hours and no breaks were allowed. That means you must stay put in front of the camera for the entire time you are taking the exam. That could be an issue if you are squirmy, hungry or have a small bladder! I made sure to eat a good meal prior – hearty but healthy so as not to get sleepy during. You’re allowed a beverage in a clear bottle, so I filled my glass bottle with water. I wore layers so that I could easily adjust if I got warm or cold. Make sure to remove your smart watch, set to do not disturb and put it on the charger. Finally, I made sure to get in one last restroom break just before checking in. Speaking of creatures, it is also important that other “creatures” in your home are prepared as well. I live alone so other humans were not a factor. Microsoft is very specific about this though. If anyone walks into the room when you are taking the exam, it is invalid. So have a conversation with your family, roommates, etc. and ideally lock the door when you are ready. In my case, I have a friendly but demanding cat. He likes to meow for food or demands to get on my lap at the most inopportune times. I gave him a meal and provided him a little bed close by so that I could pet him as needed and he behaved beautifully. If your pet isn’t as easily manipulated, you may need to find them another location in the home as well. Although he may disagree with who manipulated whom!
Prepare your technology
Again, Microsoft gives you plenty of information but if you’re like me, you often have multiple browsers, applications, etc. up and it can be time consuming just to close everything. Also, I realized upon check in that even though I closed my Teams, my notifications were still on. I had to scramble to turn those off as well. I also chose not to use my phone and instead ran everything through my computer. Regardless of which you choose, be sure to silence your phone and set to do not disturb so that once you are done with check in, you can place it out of reach and won’t be distracted.
Give yourself 15 minutes to check in
More time means less stress if you need to address any issues. You can check in up to 15 minutes prior to your test taking appointment time so why not take advantage? When you log in, the wizard takes you step by step. You will be asked to take photos of your identification, front and back. I believe you can send photos with your phone, but again I used my laptop camera and it worked fine. You will also be asked to take photos of the room, facing your workstation, facing you, and facing right and left. Finally, you sign off on the agreements and wait. My proctor chatted me and asked to call. This is when he asked me about my window. Other than that, it was quick, painless and I was ready to begin.
During the exam
To be honest, this may vary between Microsoft certification exam types, but my exam (MB-200) provided a notepad and calculator available should I need it. This was nice to learn and would have helped me relax as I was concerned about not being allowed scratch paper. I tend to write things out to determine solutions often. Also, each section was very clear on the number of questions and what you could review, change, etc. Some sections were short and once you “submitted” your answers, you could not return. Some questions were unable to return immediately once you navigated to the next. The final section was longer, and you were able to review and even share feedback at the end. Throughout the whole exam, I could see myself only on the camera in a small box at the top. This was nice as I could be sure to stay in frame when I reached for my water for the occasional sip.
After the exam
Probably the best part of the exam is the final submission. Time to celebrate completion and hopefully, passing! Just like the in-person exams, you receive the results immediately. Of course, you don’t get to know specifics about the questions, but you do get to find out how you did in each area. Also, by preparing the way I did, I was able to grab my laptop and roll on back to my regular desk, dock up and get back to work without missing a beat. Well okay, I did take a restroom break. Good luck on your virtual exam, safe from the Corona critters!