Saturday, November 17, 2007

How do you prepare for Microsoft Exams?

I started managing networks before there were certifications. Novell Netware was the defacto server OS back in the day. Yep, 1983 was when I was first exposed to Netware, which had just been announced. Did you know that Netware used to be called Sharenet? We installed ARCNet topology in those early days.

In 1995, after more than ten years of managing Netware servers on 10-Base2 (thin coax) and Token-Ring networks, it became clear that Novell was losing ground quickly to Microsoft with NT 3.5 on 10-BaseT. I started installing and supporting NT just when I was getting serious about pursuing certification on Netware.

Instead I began to prepare for Microsoft certification. This was back in the days when there was only one Novell cert - CNE, and one Microsoft cert - MCSE. Even though there are millions of Microsoft Certified System Engineers now, becoming an MCSE is not an easy thing. There are six major exams at $125 each, each one with 40 to 60 difficult questions.

After supporting NT for about five years, I received over 200 hours of Microsoft Approved training from a Certified Technical Education Center (CTEC). After long days at work, I took classes almost every evening for three months which cost thousands of dollars. The only problem is that it did not prepare me for the exams like I thought it would.

Microsoft exams are a tricky mixture of academic and real-world scenarios. I had the real world experience but could not always explain the academic reasons behind why something worked a certain way. My learning style is hands-on and always has been. Put me in front of the console and I'll figure it out, but ask me to explain it, especially in non-technical terms and I sometimes struggle.

So I started looking for some tools to help me pass the MCSE exams. Any Google search will reveal dozens of websites offering study guides and practice exams to help you pass the MCSE tests. I confess that I used 'braindumps' to pass my NT 4.0 exams. Braindumps are web sites where those who just took the exam will post the questions they remember and their answers.

Of course, the disadvantage to braindumps is that the questions are not always remembered accurately and the answers will sometimes be wrong. When I updated my MCSE training in 2005-2006 I very much appreciated the fact that in addition to the additional 200+ hours of classroom training, the instructor would use questions from TestKing training materials.

I started taking the Server 2003 exams last year and have been thinking about investing in some TestKing test preparation material. That's why I was pleased to respond to an offer from uCertify to evaluate their study guides and test exams. I assumed their questions would be like Testking questions, many of which come right from actual exams.

According to Roger Stuart at uCertify, "We do not provide actual exam questions, instead we encourage the users to learn and practice with lots of challenging questions in an environment that simulates the actual exam. Our PrepKits consist of study notes, articles, how tos and exam tips besides the questions. So I think that they should not be compared with Testking, but they will definitely help you pass the exams."

I'm contemplating whether to invest the hours in using their materials. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Lots depend upon your aim for prepration. If you just trying to find out how well you can memorize thing testking is good, they provide actual questions you memorize it and test your skills on how well you retrain in exam, but will you learn new skills in process. I doubt it. I do not have much experience about uCertify. But what the hack you got free product to evaluate, just spend 15 minute and decide it. I usually do not use any products but rather go through exam objective make my study plan and try to do learn stuff. Sound boring ya. I know I failed few times.. but as I said its depend upon whats your aim. Even If I got 50% in exam. I know where I truely stand and What I still need to learn.

Tim Malone said...

To anonymous: Thanks for the encouragement. You're right, what have a got to lose? I'll check it out and see if it looks to be worth my while. Yes, I confess that with Testking it is mainly a matter of memorization. I was bummed after I failed an exam last year after I thought I knew the material. There's no doubt about it in my mind - the Server 2003 design tests are harder than most. That's amazing that you use nothing but the exam objectives and your own study plan. I'm impressed. Thanks for the comment.