Are You Ready? Using Exam Scores
You read a book, and you take a timed #CCENT or #CCNA practice exam, from the book or one of many companies that sell exams. You look at your impressive score on the exam. Are You Ready? What does your score tell you, and not tell you, about your readiness for the exam? Today we’ll start looking at these questions.
Quick Big Picture
No one tool, measurement, assessment, or any other indicator can tell you for sure if you will pass the exam when you take it, other than taking the real exam. Practice exam scores can be useful. Unfortunately, sometimes people rely on their practice exam scores too much.
This post (and a second one of the same topic) breaks down the pros and cons, what exam scores tell you and what they don’t, to give you some perspective. Today’s post focuses on how the score works, while the second post focuses on some of the other items.
(And by the way… don’t forget to give you opinion on this most recent poll!)
Scoring on Cisco Press Exams (PCPT)
For the sake of discussion, I’ll use the exams and exam questions that come with the Cisco Press ICND1 and ICND2 Official Cert Guides as an example type of practice test. Besides being the most likely ones everyone would use, because they come with the books, they show a good contrast for scoring with the real Cisco exams. But a lot of the reasoning here could apply to any practice exam.
The current editions of the Cisco Press ICND1 and ICND2 books come with software called the Pearson IT Certification Practice Test (PCPT). Pearson Education (the publisher of the Cisco Press brand) creates this software and uses PCPT with books as well as with exam products (example: the Premium Edition versions of the ICND1 and ICND2 books, which include extra exam questions compared to the printed book.)
Next, like most exam software, PCPT lets you just answer practice (called study mode), or simulate a timed exam event (called “practice exam”). This post ignores study mode, focusing on the score you get when taking a practice exam.
The PCPT software defines how scoring works, with each practice exam having a maximum score of 1000. Real Cisco exams have a maximum score of 1000 as well. So, you take a practice exam, get a 950 out of 1000, and expect to get a 950 on the real Cisco exam tomorrow, right?
OK, no one’s that naïve, but let’s break it down a little. Again, I’ll use PCPT as an example, but you can think about the same points for your favorite exam product.
PCPT Scoring Basics
PCPT uses a 0 – 1000 point scale that is basically a percentage. That is, if you get 80% of the questions right, you get an 800 on the PCPT exam. Simple enough.
PCPT does not weight questions. That is, every question counts the same. Take three minutes on one of those long subnetting questions, and 30 seconds on one that asks for simple facts, they count the same in the scoring.
PCPT counts the subquestions inside a testlet question as different questions for scoring. Testlet questions give you one scenario, with more than one multichoice question about the scenario. PCPT counts each multichoice question in a testlet as a separate question for scoring.
PCPT gives no partial credit. If you pick one correct and one incorrect answer, you do not get half credit, but instead you miss the whole question.
PCPT does not penalize you for guessing. In other words, PCPT scores an unanswered question just like one that is answered incorrectly.
Scoring on Cisco Exams
Next, compare the PCPT scoring details with the real Cisco ICND1, ICND2, and CCNA exams. The short version: we know very little, and we can guess other details.
What we Know About Cisco Exam Scoring
The score calculation is not published – First, Cisco exams use a 300 – 1000 point scale, with no information about how the number is calculated. That’s right. An 800 may not mean 80%, and likely does not mean 80%.
Testlet and Simlet questions counts as 1 question in the question counter – The exam software on exam day shows an up-counter from 1 to N as you work through the questions. Testlet and Simlet questions count as 1 in that counter.
Testlet and Simlet question scoring as 1 or N questions is not published – Although the question counter counts these questions as 1 question – a useful fact to know when estimating your time when taking the exam – Cisco is silent as far as I know about how they grade. Could each testlet or Simlet sub-question count as much as a single independent multichoice question? Maybe. It’s just not stated.
The final score report is sparse – The score report at the end of the exam gives you some information, but not enough to let you figure out exactly what questions you missed. The impact on scoring is that you cannot guess how Cisco scores based on the final score report.
No penalty for Guessing – Yep, guess away. The exam software even reminds you to answer the questions before moving on, at least for multichoice questions.
That’s pretty much all we know going in, but you can guess some other details…
What we Do Not Know, that Matters
Basically, we do not know a lot about the scoring. You take the test, they give you a number, and you either passed or you didn’t. That’s not meant to discourage anyone, but instead to make sure you’re clear on how it works. But here are some other key unknowns, as long as we’re here.
Does Cisco weight questions? Probably, but we just do not know.
If weighted, how are they weighted? We don’t know.
Does Cisco give partial credit? While likely on Sim questions, Cisco is silent on their certification web pages, best I can tell.
Conclusion: Your Score is a General Predictor, but how General?
For today, I’ll leave you with a conclusion for this part in the series, with a dovetail to the second post about practice exams and exam scoring.
The short, and admittedly predictable conclusion: scores on practice exams cannot accurately predict how you will do on the real exam. It can only be used as a general guideline.
The more practical questions are these: how general is the score? And if you want to rely on practice exam scores as a predictor, is there a way to use your practice exam score be a better predictor than it otherwise would be?
For instance, say you get a score of 750. Does that mean the score generally predicts you will score between 500 – 1000? Not a very practical wide range. Without more details about scoring from Cisco, it’s impossible to know. But, can you do something so that a score of 750 generally predicts you will make a 600 – 900? 650 – 850? 700 – 800?
So, my personal advice so far: do not overemphasize your practice exam scores as predictors of whether you a re ready. However, before you completely forget your practice exam scores, spend 10 minutes thought on the next post’s topics, you can make those exam scores a more useful assessment and predictor, no matter whose exam you use.