It’s been 20 years now since the first certification exams became available from Microsoft. And while I haven’t been with the program right from the start, it’s still been what feels like ages since I passed my first exam. It was a bit more than 13 years ago, on January 29th, 1999: “Implementing and Supporting NT™ 4.0 Workstation”. It took me another 4 months to take the other exams required to finally become a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) on May 5th. Since then certifications and title names have changed, and I’ve returned to test centers from time to time to keep up with my certifications.
See my certification transcript here. You’ll need my Transcript ID and Access Code, which are:
Transcript ID 658545
Access Code ExamsAreFun
Personally I can say that while I might not have gotten all the jobs I’ve had since being certified only based on my certifications, they certainly helped open doors. Being certified in a technology doesn’t mean you’ve invented it, but it certainly proves that you’ve spent some (considerable) time working with the product and know your way around it. You never know which areas are being tested in detail, so you’re forced to prepare for all of it.
My personal approach to taking an exam usually is involves the following steps:
- Make sure you really know the product, including aspects that you don’t use in your daily job
- Head over to Microsoft Learning, sign in with your Live ID and
- Find information about the exam in Microsoft’s Training Catalog, and put some extra effort in the areas mentioned in the “Skills Measured” tab
- If you’re not sure you’re ready see if there’s an assessment test available for your exam. There are some available for free, more can be bought from an official Practice Test Provider. Current providers are MeasureUp and Self Test Software. See also Microsoft Learning’s information about exam preparation, including more tips like getting training (instructor led or self-paced) and additional online resources.
Once at the test center and ready to take the test, here’s what I do:
- Visit the bathroom before signing in
- Sign in, hand over my wallet, keys, phone etc.
- Sit down and start
A few things that might help you during your exam:
- Pace your test. For example if you have 45 questions and 120 minutes time this means around 2.5 minutes per question. Maybe you want to do a review at the end, say 15 seconds per question, which means roughly 12 minutes for review. Therefore we have 108 minutes for the first pass, which is still 2.4 minutes. If you see that you need a long time, approaching 2 minutes, for a question: Mark it for review and go on to the next. Whether you already put in an answer (i.e. “I think it’s ‘B’ but I’m not sure”) or not depends on you – I sometimes leave the answer blank so when I get back to it in review I’m not influenced by the answer already given. Of course this means that if I run out of time the question will not get me any points.
- The point of skipping a question that you can’t answer right now is that you might answer two other questions in the same time correctly and not run out of time to answer questions where you would have known the answer. And who knows, you might get some information in another question that helps you answering the original question that you skipped for the moment …
- Special tip for design tests: Here you usually have a case study, interviews with key stakeholders and then based on case study and information given during the interviews a few questions to answer. Start with the questions, and then read the case study and finally the interviews. Of course that’s not how it’s done in real life, but having the questions already in the back of your mind will help you pick out the relevant information from the case study and interviews.
- Don’t look left or right, and don’t try to talk to other test takers. There’s no point, really, since even if they’re taking the same exam their questions will not be the same. Since you’re being monitored during the exam such behavior might even lead to your being banned.
My take on “brain dumps”
Ever since the first competition in the history of humanity (I suppose two Neanderthals throwing rocks), people have tried to cheat. Depending on the importance of the competition, the effort put into cheating has increased, as well. I suppose that’s one way to look at the importance of Microsoft certification – if it wasn’t important, there wouldn’t be that many websites dedicated to cheat. Personally I’ve never seen the point in using a brain dump. First because even if I pass the exam using a dump I still won’t have the knowledge needed to work with the product in my job. And second because in the time it takes to memorize the hundreds of questions I can as well sit down and take the real exam.