Thursday, July 5, 2007

In Re Examsoft

I had to delete my original 4th of July post because some hoser hosed it up. What a hoser, eh? And it forced me to add the funky image/text verification step to the comment submittal process. Whaddya' gonna' do, eh? Life's full of wrench throwing monkeys.

Speaking of spanner hurling primates.... A comment to the aforementioned hosed 4th of July post asked about the danger of Examsoft being hosed by Microsoft's auto update feature (not a bug, mind you). The source of the potential problem is the Windows Registry file. Most of you know that the Registry is the Rosetta Stone of the Windows operating system. When the laptop is started, the firmware in the BIOS throws the balls in the air, so to speak, and the operating system catches them and starts juggling. Some of the balls include the hard drive, the memory, the hardware and the software. And there's a lot of software to juggle with Windows, which is why it has a reputation as being somewhat unreliable (a feature, not a bug).

Every time a change is made to the Registry, Windows juggles the balls differently based on that change. It might be a minor change and it might be a not-so-minor change, or it might be a change made incorrectly or one that conflicts with another part of the registry. Think of involuntary manslaughter, a legal act done with criminal negligence. You'll know exactly what I'm talking about if this happens to you.

When Examsoft runs, it restarts the computer in secure mode, because the folks at the various State Bar Associations want very much to make sure that you/me/us aren't able to access the other files on our computer as we take the exam. Examsoft makes certain changes to the Registry to accomplish this goal. If any changes are made to the entries that Examsoft places in the Registry, the program detects this and assumes that you tried to circumvent the security of the process. It's a strict liability offense, and you're hosed.

Microsoft's auto update feature, (again, not a bug,) makes wholesale changes to the Registry. Installing/removing/modifying existing programs makes changes to the Registry. Many features (not bugs) of the Windows OS make changes to the Registry. If one of those changes inadvertently changes a critical Examsoft entry, you're hosed. It seems like a long shot, but it happens. People get to the Bar Exam and Examsoft won't start because something like this happened on their system. They're... well, you get the picture.

Bottom line, (and this is Examsoft's recommendation) until after the Bar exam, don't make any changes to your computer that are not absolutely, positively necessary. And that includes allowing Windows to auto update itself. You won't be missing any critical updates (not for long, anyway) and you'll avoid a big pothole that might force you off of the paved laptop superhighway and onto the rock-strewn dirt road of handwriting.

That's too much detail and I've taken too much time in explaining it but it might help someone. And you should restart Examsoft in secure mode every week or so before the exam just to be sure none of the stuff I just talked about has occurred.

This has been a public service announcement.

Examsoft's FAQ

(Hoser defined)


calbar blondie said...

GP: Would this explain my computer going into hibernation mode several seconds before they said "BEGIN" in February? It went back up miraculously, but there was temporary heart failure there for a few minutes. What about the Norton Anti-Virus updates?
Thanks for the good info.

The Grand Poobah said...

You can modify power usage settings through the Power Settings option on the Control Panel. I've set mine so that nothing times out when it's plugged in, and I've also disabled the Hibernation mode.

You'll also want to disable your wireless adapter the morning of the exam. Examsoft won't let your system communicate with the outside world when taking an exam. But the wireless network searches for a connection constantly, and that takes CPU cycles. This manifests itself as a cursor that pauses every 4-5 characters when typing and when using the arrow keys.

That's not critical, but it sure is annoying. The wireless adapter can be disabled temporarily through the Network Adapter component in the Hardware section of the System option in the Control Panel. Clear as mud? Great. Now let's tackle Cold Fusion.

Go to Control Panel/ System/ Hardware/ Device Manager/ Network Adapters, right-click on your wireless adapter then select "disable". Then do the same thing after the exam and select "enable" so that Examsoft can upload the exams.

Simple, eh? Right. Now, about that cold fusion thing.

The Grand Poobah said...

And... I've seen laptops lock up during the exam such that they have to be shut down and restarted. Examsoft starts right back up where it left off so they've apparently anticipated that problem. Hibernation mode is a little different than a restart because the OS simply saves the current state of the system to a file then restores it when you wake it up. That's much less destructive than a restart because when it hibernates, everything is saved, including what you've been typing and where you are in any program that happens to be open when it goes into hibernation.

The Grand Poobah said...

Regarding the various anti-virus program updates, these programs typically only update the virus definitions database. That's the list against which they compare what they found on your system to see whether that object is a virus, or whatever.

The anti-virus database updates pose very little threat because there are no (or negligible) changes made to the registry during this process. Again, the key is not allowing programs to access to the registry. The Microsoft Auto-Update process can be disabled through the Automatic Updates option in the Control Panel. Simply select "Turn off Automatic Updates", and ignore the otherwise prudent warnings until August.

Mike Benschneider said...

Hey Poobah
I took the Colorado bar in February, and passed the first grading but failed the second by 3. My computer crashed on Examsoft with 1 1/2 hours left on essay day. The girl next to me got the "virus detected" message just before hers went down. We believe that we downloaded a virus with Examsoft. Could it be?

The Grand Poobah said...

Hey Mike,

Anything's possible. But it's highly unlikely.

It's more likely that the anti-virus software on the computer saw Examsoft as a virus. Examsoft does many aggressive things to a computer in an effort to ensure a secure testing environment. Anti-virus programs watch for programs that try to take over some function of a computer. I disable everything I can before the exam in my effort to diminish the chance that some software conflict like that could occur.

It's the same problem we had back in the early days of computing when manufacturers tried to create virtual operating systems that ran within incompatible operating systems. They worked, kind of, for a while, but the whole kludgy mess inevitably created memory and resource conflicts that resulted in ugly system crashes.

The optimal environment for Examsoft is a computer with a fresh OS on a hard drive that's had a recent low-level format.

So, no, the problem was probably not with Examsoft. And even if it was, good luck getting around the liability release that we all sign when we use the software.

Anonymous said...

July 2012 Post. Examsoft still has problems, the multiple choice program will move forward to the next question and you thought you were on the question/# before to answer. The program moves the prior answers forward as well. Thus your results for your test are not good. One Professor had some m.choice questions with 5 answers to select from but exam soft showed only 4 on my test, but not on all tests. Where are the answers submitted to for download, Examsoft? Do our answers then go to Examsoft? Can our answers be manipulated by anyone at Examsoft or any professional hacker? Schools are ignoring the information about Examsoft for fear of student litigation. In the meantime students are not achieving their scores and worse, passing the BAR?!

Anonymous said...

my experience with examsoft yesterday - it should not be marketed if the virus scan thinks its a virus. I use avg as it is free and reliable examsoft worked before with avg when i took.the cal. Baby bar, this time it was so screwy that i quit using it on the 3rd day and wrote. My writing is horrible no law professors will read it so imagine the bar readers. No words to describe my experience. I am sure i am sure i am on the fail list. I dont think i should have to put my computer at risk by diabling avg which only lasts until reboot which examsoft does and reactivates. I also did 2 mock exams one with tech support. Also, i could not copy and paste. Oh well, anyway thanks. Pissed in calufornia.