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Proctored vs In-Person Exams

Dog waiting for proctored exam to start
Fido had been waiting for 3 hours for his proctored exam to start

I recently sat the AWS Developer Associate Exam and this time I thought I’d try a proctored exam with the folks at PSI exams. In the post-pandemic world, doing as much as we can remotely is the wise thing to do. Why sit in a dark stinky exam room in the city, surrounded by super infector developers, when you can sit the exam in the comfort of your own house safely away from any and all illnesses. If you can do it remotely why wouldn’t you? You can remote in and proctor it. However, while the proctored exam safeguarded my physical well-being, the experience was so poor that my mental stability took a nasty beating.

The Sorrowful Proctored Exam Experience

The day of the exam started well. I rose bright and early and set about making my home office exam-ready. I removed all pictures from my office, put a sheet over my bookcase, and put away all my notes. I got myself a glass of cold sparkling water, settled into my comfy office chair and kicked off the proctored exam. My brain was full, my bladder was empty and my heart was full of proctored exam optimism. What could go wrong?

The first tremor of trouble was that the exam locks your computer up. This is as expected – you shouldn’t be browsing around anyway but it felt a bit unnerving and limiting. Instead, you get a a spinny wheel to look at. This is fine for the first 10 minutes, however after 20 minutes it becomes annoying and after 40 minutes it was really troubling. I was still looking at the same spinny wheel and there was no evidence that the exam hadn’t crashed.

Fast forward two and half hours and I was still waiting in front of a locked up computer. There was no messages, no alerts, no hope, no nothing. I had to abandon it and get my daughter from school. A complete bust.

I then spent another one and a half hours waiting on the help line to discuss the sorrowful situation. The help desk person recommended another go, which I reluctantly agreed to. Then I spent a further hour and a quarter waiting a second time for the exam to start. When it finally did reveal itself, 6 hours after my start time, it turned out there was a problem with my ID and I couldn’t take the exam anyway. Totally my fault but my God, what an unfortunate end to an unfortunate day.

The Sorrowful Proctored Exam Outcome

So overall ….

  • 2.5 hours waiting for the first exam to start
  • 1.5 hours waiting on the help line
  • 1.25 hours waiting for the second exam to start
  • 5.25 total wait time and psychological collapse of the exam candidate

I think my experience was on the extreme end of proctored exam woes but far from unique. Long wait times seem common and Pearson VUE is no better. When I retook the exam at at exam center, the person checking me in said that she often hears that people have had problems with proctored exams. I was not usual.

So my advice is that you should only do proctored exams if

  • you are in a remote location and don’t have another choice
  • you love waiting around in front of a locked computer screen for hours on end
  • you don’t really want to do the exam anyway are are looking from an excuse to bail out
  • you enjoy exam generated discomfort and worry

Otherwise, I really recommend staying old school and turning up in person at a real life physical exam center. It’s a far smoother ride and better all round for your mental well-being.

Photo by Jana Shnipelson on Unsplash


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