August 11, 2008
The buzz about the beta exams from the Oracle Certification Program has also generated a very interesting question - "What is a beta exam?" and several other related questions around it.
In a typical software development and deployment life cycle, a beta phase arrives when a select group or individuals are chosen to test the software which is assumed to bug free by the developers. The intent here is to identify any glitches that are in the product before it is released commercially. A beta period can last for weeks or months or even years (like Google's GMail which is still is beta!)
For certification exams, a beta exam is the final tune-up for the exam before the exams are available to the public. In some cases it contains all the questions in the question pool for the test. Beta exams thus feature double or triple the number of questions asked in a production release. The reason is that if a question turns out to be too hard and everyone misses it or if its too easy and everyone gets it right, then the question may be dropped from the production release of the exam. In a way, a beta exam is the final test of the exam questions.
For Oracle certification exams, beta Exam numbers begin with "1Z1" while the production exam number start with "1Z0". Since, both versions have the same suffix, the beta exam for R12 Sys Admin Fundamentals:1Z1-206 would be released as 1Z0-206 in the production version. So, a quick way to identify if it's an Oracle beta exam is to look for "1Z1" prefix. For a complete list of beta exams available now, click here
Beta exam are usually available worldwide and one can register on the Prometric website. Exams are delivered at Authorized Prometric Testing Centers and are proctored exams. Beta exams are a test of skill and endurance. There may be 180-220 questions to be answered within 3 to 3.5 hours. For the production exam, there may be 60-90 questions to be answered within 1.5 to 2 hours. It's a race against time and one may not have as much time to spend on each question of a beta exam as one would have during the production version. Needless to say, there would not be much time (if any) at the end of the exam to review the answers.
Feedback for beta exam questions are highly encouraged. One can include comments on specific exam questions while working through the questions or one can mark specific questions and return to add comments at the end of the test. There's also a brief confidential demographic survey administered at the end of the exam to 'calibrate' the test scores and for statistical analysis.
A candidate is scored only on the questions that are chosen for the production version of the exam. While it takes about 8 weeks for the production release of the exam after the beta testing period closes, an additional 2-4 weeks is required to receive the exam results from Prometric. The good news about passing a beta exam is that is it the same as passing a production exam. For example, if one were to pass all the beta versions of the exams required within an Oracle Certification path, one will earn your Oracle Certified Associate, Oracle Certified Expert or Oracle Certified Professional credential as the case may be. One need not take the production version again to get certified. For each certification track, there is a hands-on course (HOC) requirement that needs to be fulfilled. The course/s can be taken before or after writing the beta exams since there is no pre-requirements for beta exam registration. However, attending a course and then attending the corresponding certification exam is a more logical order.
The beta exam cycle may be a six months cycle covering the following stages -
1: Pre-registration - when the beta exam is announced but testing has not started yet
2: Open - when beta exam testing dates are available
3: Closed - when beta exam testing period is over
4: Post-beta review - the intensive process when the Oracle Certification Program team analyzes the beta exam questions and select the list of questions for the production release.
Beta exam benefit both Oracle as well as the Oracle certification candidates. Oracle Certification program team gets a statistically significant number of test takers to validate the questions, improve the exam content and maintain its superior value. Certification candidates get the opportunity to get certified at a significant discount (discounts are often 50%-75% of the production release registration fees) and get the privilege to announce themselves as one of the first in the world to be certified on that exam track!
The above discussion is based on the blog editor's experience, conclusion and understanding of the beta exam announcements and its contents. Every blog reader is encouraged to write to the Oracle Certification Program team at firstname.lastname@example.org for any clarifications and an 'official' response to any of their questions.