The Making of a CompTIA Exam

Joel SpragueLike many people, I’ve often wondered what exactly goes into the process of creating certification tests. I was recently invited to take part in one step of the process, and I wanted to share some thoughts. 

I spent last week at CompTIA’s headquarters helping to create content for the Server+ certification test. This test was released in 2001 and is now in its fourth version (released last year). The test itself is vendor-neutral and covers “the most commonly used server and storage systems in the IT industry.”

CompTIA uses subject-matter experts (SMEs) to help maintain and develop their tests, which is why I was there. The exact details of what we did are covered by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), but I can say that overall it was a very educational and enjoyable week. It is clear the exam development team at CompTIA has been producing tests for a very long time, as they have the process down to a science. No matter what questions the SMEs had on the process or what was being looked for, the team always had a prompt, clear answer. The guidelines and process clearly laid out what was needed. The most impressive part was their obvious effort to avoid frustration on the test-taker’s part while still ensuring skills are properly tested.

The SMEs I worked with had a broad range of experience in public- and private-sector jobs. More importantly, all the SMEs and CompTIA staff got along well. Everyone was there to turn out the best product possible, and it showed in how professionally everyone worked together. 

Participating in a SME program such as this is a great way to give back to the IT community. It doesn’t have quite the same time and emotional requirements of personal mentoring, which can be draining on introverts who often work in IT. In addition, it is enlightening to see the testing process from the other side. 

If you ever have the opportunity to work in a SME capacity like this one, I highly recommend it. You can apply to be a SME here or check out the upcoming SME workshops here. Other vendors use other processes, including using employees and staff from corporate partners.

If you are interested, participate. You won’t regret it.

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