How to prepare for an MCSE / MCSA Exam
Tips from someone who has passed 22 MCP exams and failed 3.
With Microsoft Accreditation exams, there are so many variables that you must do your own research. Along the way you will unmask many myths, half truths and out-of-date information. But at the end of the journey you will have a clear picture of what to expect and how to prepare.
Exam Topics for MCSE / MSCA Exams
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Booking a date for your exam is as easy as making a phone call, but this simple task is so important in your overall strategy. Once you make that call and book that exam with VUE or *Thompson Prometric, then something mysterious happens. You suddenly become motivated, nervous, in other works committed to revising for the exam.
* (Were Sylvan Prometric, or Drake to you old timers).
Note: Because of previous scams you really do need your drivers licence or passport when you visit the test centre.
Don’t be afraid to fail
My running total with MCP exams is: passed 22, failed 3. In the early days, I was prepared to take the exam just to measure my standard. A result of 450/1000 meant lots more swatting and a lot less guessing. I can count on the fingers of one hand those who have a 100% pass record once they get to ten exams. (And two of those are notorious liars!) My point, it is o.k. to fail the occasional exam, especially early in your career.
I once got a fabulous score of 960 /1000 for my Windows 2000 Professional exam, everyone congratulated me. But in my heart, I thought : ‘ Guy, you sad person, fancy swatting that last fortnight when I could have been out enjoying myself’. What I like doing is just passing with 800/1000 rather than going for overkill. After all, provided you pass, what does the mark matter 2 years down the road?
Format: Adaptive or fixed
Investigate what format of exam you will be taking, will it be fixed length of 45 questions? Or will it be adaptive with 35 questions? With adaptive if you get the first question correct then the second question is harder, if you get the first question wrong you get easier questions. Why does the exam format matters? It matters to me because with adaptive exams I cannot review questions that I have already answered, but with the normal, or fixed type exam I can check back through my answers.
All my life I have been in and around exams. The best revision tip is get plenty of past papers. Regards exam tests as precious resources and give each question your full attention. Resist the temptation to skim and make inspired guesses, that strategy always leads to frustration when you see that carelessness cost you a correct answer.
Microsoft has a new style of question where you get a split-screen.
The question is at the very top, drag-and-drop items on the bottom left and configuration screens on the bottom right
Here is an example question from a Windows Server 2003 exam.
There is one other type of question, and that is the simulation. In this genre of question the usual a) b) c) d) choices are replaced by a mock-up, for example, an MMC with a DNS configuration. What you have to do is configure the settings according the the question, just as if you were performing the task on your server back at base. I like the idea of simulations, but in the exam cauldron they make me nervous because I am never quite sure that I have done what the question asked. Again, research practice simulation questions.
You are the network administrator for Acme.com. Each network servers runs Windows Server 2003. One of your servers, AcmeSrv1, houses a RAID-5 volume. Routine monitoring reveals a failed disk in the set. AcmeSrv1 is running and users are connecting to shared folders on the RAID-5 volume. You shut down the server and replace the failed disk. Now you need to ensure that the RAID-5 volume is redundant.
What should you do?
A. Import the foreign disk. Click the failed region and then select ‘Repair Volume’.
Note that the answers are multiple choice. The above ‘Radio button’ style questions, where you only need one answer, are relatively easy. However, other alternatives include ‘Check Box’ questions where multiple answers are required. In my experience you are always told how many boxes the answer requires, e.g. Choose two answer from the following list.
A) Initialize disk
Answers: A and C
What suits me best is to take a block of exams together. Sometimes I even take two exams on the same day, certainly 3 exams within a week. My reasoning, is because there is overlap in topics between exams. For instance, every exam has an element of permissions and security. So, once I learn the topic thoroughly and am ready for any exam. The other side of this coin, is 6 months later I have forgotten what ‘Traverse folder’ means, so I would either get the question wrong, or have to go over old ground before taking the next exam.
With practice, you get into the way of reading the questions: very, very slowly and carefully, and after while I get the knack of spotting the keywords. In the above question, the important words are ‘Reactivate Disk’ and ‘Repair Volume’. The Acme company, the administrator the names of the server are just background noise. Cut to the chase, identify the crucial phrases.