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Can brain dumps be stopped?

Brain dumps are the biggest threat to the certification industry these days, significantly devaluing certifications that rely primarily on multiple-choice answers. Similarly to the threat-prevention measures adopted by airport security (read the insightful analysis of their behavior from Bruce Schneier, a renowned security guru), IT vendors are responding with high-tech measures.

Some of these measures are simply brilliant; for example, attaching a photograph of the candidate to the exam printout. Others, such as exam data forensics, will probably stop some cheaters, but also generate a lot of false positives. However, brain dumps could be stopped in a very low-tech way: human brains have limited capacity; if you increase the size of the question pool, the brain dumps become useless.

Can you increase the size of the question pool? Absolutely. Terry Slattery has proposed a method by which even a security breach by one of the participants would not compromise the majority of the question pool.

Wouldn’t that cost a lot of money? That’s a relative question. Cisco recently announced that it has issued over a million certifications. The cheapest certification you can get is the CCNA composite exam at $250, and individual exam tests cost upward of $100. If only a small percentage of the certification-related revenue would be reinvested in writing more questions, brain dumps wouldn’t be a problem anymore.

Can you even write that many questions? Once you can’t write new questions, you’ve obviously exhausted the contents of the certification materials, and those materials (training classes, books etc.) become functionally equivalent to the brain dumps. Anyone who can correctly answer all the questions covered by the certification material is by definition certifiable, regardless of how those correct answers were acquired. Obviously, it helps if the questions are written in a way that tests the understanding of the subject matter, not the memorization of useless facts.


  1. Here in Oz we've had identity checks when going for exams forever. In the last few years they've even started taking photos and submitting them back to Cisco to ensure the same person takes the exam each time. And at one point they were even taking fingerprints but they didn't do that the last couple of times I did my recert.

  2. That is all great, but how do you beat the Pass4Sure and Test King babies. It isn't like you have to have someone take a test for you if you know every question and answer that you will be given.

    They should have 5 or 6 simulators on every exam that are pulled from a pool of 100. The simulators should be scored separately and if you get less than 60% on the "written" portion or the "simulator" portion then you fail the whole exam.

    Let them TestKing or Pass4Sure a pool of 100 sims. By the time they memorize all that they might actually know something anyways!!!

  3. @Josh: Let them TestKing 5000 questions :) By the time someone manages to memorize 5000 Q&A pairs, he might actually know a bit :))

  4. Amen to that 5000 questions per exam minimum - hell reword the question 10 ways if you have to, you'll get a higher qualified person as result.

    Darby Weaver

  5. I have found these Certifications exam helpful to those who are looking for shortcuts. Well I tried this 642-845 exam in my last attempt.

  6. This is interesting, I am impressed!

    Medela symphony


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