Advancing Life & Work

Certification Exams – The steps we take to ensure quality and relevance


You don’t need to be around certifications very long before you start hearing comments like, “where do these questions come from, I swear they pull them out of the thin air!” Or “who creates these questions, I think they were written in the pub!” If you are an outsider to the development process you may have actually asked these and other similar questions. The truthful answer is that exam questions are not pulled from thin air, nor are they written in a pub! There are a number of steps we take at Hewlett Packard Enterprise to ensure the quality of our certification exams and relevance to the job role. 


We start with the goal of a certification exam. Here are some guiding principles:

  • The exam must distinguish between those who have mastered a specified level of competence versus those who have not.
  • The exam must set a clear demarcation between the sufficiently skilled, minimally qualified candidate, and those with less skills for the given job role?
  • The exam should measure skills, knowledge acquisition, and good judgment gained through experience and not simply become an end of course test.
  • The exam should be able to determine problem-solving skill that reveals experience as well as knowledge and skill coming from a class.

We must satisfy the answers to these questions because they are considered “high stakes” exams. High stakes exams have an impact on an organization or candidate’s professional advancement . The process helps us make these legally defensible exams.

To build exams like these we start with a competency model. A competency model details tasks a professional uses when performing their jobs. These models include separate levels to match the given experience level to the required ability in the role. So, models are built for the given job roll and skill level.

Typically, we bring together 15 to 20 subject matter experts (SME) for a workshop to identify all the skills and tasks required in the job role. These SMEs are qualified professionals that are actually performing the tasks in their daily jobs. We also consult with SMEs on the solutions that HPE sells and delivers. As an output of the workshop, we establish a minimally qualified candidate (MQC) statement for each job role, and then build an exam blueprint that identifies what is tested. The MQC is what links the minimum qualifications to properly perform the role for any given candidate. It helps us design the exams so that each level has clear distinction and the candidate that passes such an exam we know to be at least qualified at that given level (minimally).

The exam development is driven by a team of highly skilled psychometricians and exam writers. Psychometricians build exams and interpret their results to assess an individual’s skills. They perform other duties as well, but essentially they are experienced in industry standard exam development processes. The psychometricians work with top subject matter experts to build exam items that are relevant, according to the SMEs, and at the right level, according to the MQC which is based on the job role. They follow the development with a rigorous technical review that includes non-English readers and speakers to ensure it will be translatable and understandable globally. They then go through an Angoff process to set the cut scores.

But their job is not complete when the exam is released. For a period of time psychometricians review the exam to see how it is performing and remove and adjust exam items to improve overall quality.

Through these processes and practices, we will continue to produce relevant and high-quality certification exams.

I encourage you to continue to work toward your first certification, or if you currently have one moving forward to the next level or discipline, knowing that the HPE exams you take have developed with relevance and quality in mind.

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About the Author


Jim Lucari leads certification solutions enablement in Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s WW Sales Enablement organization. He is responsible for sales and technical certification exam development and program operation, certification course development, certification architecture and framework, translations, HPE Press publications, and remote lab operations. Jim has been in IT technology work for over 30 years with experience primarily in networking and storage technologies. He has 20 plus years of experience in training development and certification.