Microsoft has to allow for unscheduled breaks in its exams, which relieves strain on working students through the often lengthy process.

It was possible to request a break in advance in the past, but leaving the keyboard without prior agreement was definitely prohibited. Even with some certification exams are taken online in some areas, surveillance has resulted in compliance with the rules.

However, starting next weekit will be possible to press the pause button (in the icon alone – the caption says “Take a break”) and leave your screen for a few minutes.

There are, however, some caveats. Microsoft has built five minutes into the exam duration to use as a break, which means the exam duration will not change but there will be fewer questions. Breaks can be as long as needed, but that clock will keep ticking.

Once a pause has started, you cannot go back to questions you have already viewed. It’s also not possible to pause in the middle of a lab or in a set of problem-solving questions (where you indicate whether the presented solution solves the problem.) That’s fair enough, really.

Before taking a break, students will also be prompted to review previous questions and be reminded of how long and how many questions remain.

The register asked Microsoft if these rules also apply to online exams and will be updated when the company responds. It would be disappointing otherwise, especially since Microsoft claims that unscheduled breaks will be available in “most” exams.

Microsoft engineer Michael Bazarewsky, for his part, seemed pleased with the news.

The move is welcome, even if a bit late. Other exams allow breaks, although some still do not. Cisco’s online proctored exams, for example, do not allow breaks during the exam “for whatever reason” [PDF]and the exam will be terminated if the student leaves their computer.

AWS Allows Unscheduled Breaks at a Test Center but does not allow participants to stand or leave the view of the camera for any reason during an online proctored exam.

Reaction to Microsoft’s decision is largely positive, with users describing it as “good news” and accept the compromise of not being allowed to return to previous questions in the event of a break. ®