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Completing a Coursera Specialization for Free

Coursera provides continuing education just like Udacity and offer the full learning experience that I am accustomed to, including lesson videos, reading materials, projects, discussion forums, and graded projects which are peer-reviewed. I recently completed the Full-stack Web Development in React specialization from Coursera, all for free. It’s called a specialization because it is made up of three courses below each with their own certifications and which takes 4-6 weeks each to complete: 1. Front-End Web UI Frameworks and Tools: Bootstrap 4 2. Front-End Web Development with React 3. Server-side Development with NodeJS, Express and MongoDB I started the program in December 2021 and finished it in June 2023 however. The intent of this post is to explain how I was able to fund the entire specialization for free. In December 2021, I read on social media that Coursera allowed for one free course per year if you were a student and had an email address from a partner school. I gave my stu

4 Things You Must do When Taking a Proctored Exam

This was my proctored-exam transcript last night when I took the AWS Solutions Architect exam (SAA-C02) as part of my recertification because it expires every 3 years. This was a remote proctored exam through PSI and should have been easy because this wasn’t the first time I used their service. For whatever reason, last night’s experience was so bad  that an exam that started at 10:45pm didn’t finish until early morning 2:15am. 

Some things that you could do to avoid what I went through:

1) Test your computer 24 hours before start time

This was my fault and I should  tested sooner. I did start preparing foe the prerequisites as early as 8pm and thought I had enough time to complete everything as it was the same computer I used three years ago when I got certified with AWS. However, I found that since the last time I took this exam, my hardware changed (different web cam, different speakers) and I installed more software like Docker that the proctoring software (PSI Secure Browser) didn’t like. I was getting DNS errors and had problems closing these executables it didn’t like. I didn’t know what phone number to use until I got far enough into the the test routine where a pop up appeared saying my proctoring service ended for this exam and to call a support number. This is when my heart started racing a bit and panic started setting in as it was getting close to go time at 10pm. I called support and Philippines picked up. They were very professional, courteous, and used anydesk.exe to take control of my computer to get me past the prerequisites. I had to call them twice after that to help me completely submit my exam and by then it was 2:15am.


2) Clear your desk of all debris

You sometimes get lenient proctors like the ones I typically get at Georgia Tech during finals. The PSI proctor I got last night unfortunately was very rigid and took a long time to get me checked in. I had to empty out all the books, pens, papers, desk speakers, land phone, and I even had to crawl under my desk to remove the unplugged USB drives (x3). Each time I did that I had to show via the webcam and because my webcam cable length was limited, it was hard to do this multiple times. One advise is to get your test area in order as I must have spent a lot of time clearing things out. 

3) Buy a better webcam

I borrowed an old Logitech USB webcam from my brother and the quality wasn't that good. The proctors I have had previously couldn't quite make out the name and photo on my drivers license and I end up having to send a photo of it to them. Last night's proctor had an interesting way of confirming my ID. They wanted to hold a glass of water in front of the webcam and drivers license to magnify the image and as you can imagine, this took many iterations to get right as I wasn't sure what the proctor deemed good quality. They didn't talk as well and kept all the correspondence via chat so it was hard to know how far to move the webcam and drivers license around the glass of water to provide better magnification. The webcam USB cable was also not very long so I couldn't easily pan 360 or provide a full view of the desk. It was even more difficult to show what is under the desk as I had to climb under and snake the webcam under in order to get a good view. Get a webcam with longer USB cable to avoid multiple retakes.

4) Do not hit "Exit" at end of exam

I used up all the time provided for the exam by reviewing many questions I flagged as questionable. At the end I of this grueling 130min-exam, there was a popup at the end to Exit or Continue. I exceeded the 130min allotted time and it was asking to "Exit" because I finished the exam or to "Continue" to get more time allotment. I stupidly picked Exit because I was done and that was a wrong choice. The proctoring software exited and my webcam connection to my proctor ended. I didn't get to submit my exam. I thought my exam didn't get saved and that I would have to redo everything. I called PSI support again and Philippines picked up again. I told them what happened and helped get me connected to another proctor. Once connected with a new proctor, they had me do another room scan and desk scan, had me show my hands and sleeves were empty, showed both my ears to ensure no listening device, and I even showed my glasses to make sure there was nothing special about them. The proctor had to review the quality of the previous videos so far to ensure there was nothing suspicious in any of them. After what seemed like an eternity, the proctor was satisfied and typed on our chat that they would release the exam. Great. The problem was that we had a hard time getting the PSI Secure Browser software to close the check-in popup that was blocking my view of the exam. The proctor wanted to release the exam to me to continue and submit but the check-in popup was in the way. The proctor decided to close the session to close this popup so that I could relaunch the PSI Secure Browser again to hopefully get back to my exam. This didn't work.

I called PSI support again and Philippines picked up. I provided the same ticket number provided to me earlier so that they can quickly get to my issue as it was now 2:00am. technician said it was all good and he sees everything was saved. He said I would just wait 5 days to get an email of my results. I wasn't convinced however because the previous technician also said they saw I completed all questions in the but couldn't see the results so I am sure it is not resolved.  The technician again used anywhere.exe to remote control my computer to see if he can help with the previous popup message. Of course this didn't show up until a new proctor connected. I believe what worked this time was that the proctor did not have send a check-in request from his side to do another room and desk scan, unlike the previous sponsor. This time we stayed on chat and we still had to do some desk sweeps and another 360 room scan. I was getting frustrated at this point and told the proctor that I was done with the exam and only need to submit it. I wouldn't be going back to the questions so there would be no need to do further check-in room and desk scans. The proctor was understanding at this point and release the exam which worked because there was no check-in popup screen blocking our view. I was so thrilled to see that everything was the same way I left it. 

I quickly submitted my exam, answered the survey questions that followed, and unfortunately for PSI, this was not a good time to survey a customer because of the events that took place. I ended up providing many "Poor" responses to the survey questions. The PSI support technicians from the Philippines and the proctors themselves were just following protocol so kudos to all involved. However, I was in no mood to be pulling punches with my responses to the survey as it was 2:15am and I was tired and sleepy. After I submitted the survey, the final screen showed the result of my exam. I crossed my fingers hoping for good news after all this ordeal. 

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Congratulations you PASS

I was ecstatic but too tired to celebrate. I said my "thank yous" to the proctor, closed the PSI Secure Browser, and retired to bed.  I hope these tips help someone with their next exam.


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