Having mastered the subject matter, the final preparatory step is to understand how the exam will be presented. Make no mistake: A Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) exam will challenge both your knowledge and test-taking skills. This section starts with the basics of exam design, reviews a new type of exam format, and concludes with hints targeted to each of the exam formats.
Every MCP exam is released in one of two basic formats. What is called exam format here is really little more than a combination of the overall exam structure and the presentation method for exam questions.
Each exam format uses the same types of questions. These types or styles of questions include multiple-rating (or scenario-based) questions, traditional multiple-choice questions, and simulation-based questions. You might also see visual question types such as select and place questions (which require you to drag and drop elements on the screen) and hot area questions (which require you to click on an appropriate item on the screen). It's important to understand the types of questions you will be asked and the actions required to properly answer them.
Understanding the exam format is key to good preparation because the format determines the number of questions presented, the difficulty of those questions, and the amount of time allowed to complete the exam.
There are two basic formats for the MCP exams: the traditional fixed-form exam and the adaptive form. As its name implies, the fixed-form exam presents a fixed set of questions during the exam session. The adaptive form, however, uses only a subset of questions drawn from a larger pool during any given exam session.
A fixed-form computerized exam is based on a fixed set of exam questions. The individual questions are presented in random order during a test session. If you take the same exam more than once, you won't necessarily see exactly the same questions because two or three final forms are typically assembled for every fixed-form exam Microsoft releases. These are usually labeled Forms A, B, and C.
The final forms of a fixed-form exam are identical in terms of content coverage, number of questions, and allotted time, but the questions are different. You might notice, however, that some of the same questions appear on, or are shared among, different final forms. When questions are shared among multiple final forms of an exam, the percentage of sharing is generally small. Many final forms share no questions, but some older exams might have a 10% to 15% duplication of exam questions on the final exam forms.
A fixed-form exam also has a fixed time limit in which you must complete the exam. The PrepLogic software on the CD-ROM that accompanies this book carries fixed-form exams.
The score you achieve on a fixed-form exam, which is always reported for MCP exams as either "Pass" or "Fail," is based on the number of questions you answer correctly. Internally, Microsoft tracks exam scores on a scale of zero to 1,000, but the actual score is no longer shared with the certification candidate. The exam's passing score is the same for all final forms of a given fixed-form exam.
The typical format for the fixed-form exam is as follows :
The exam contains 50 to 60 questions.
You are allowed 75 to 90 minutes of testing time.
Question review is allowed, and you have the opportunity to change your answers.
An adaptive-form exam has the same appearance as a fixed-form exam, but its questions differ in quantity and process of selection. Although the statistics of adaptive testing are fairly complex, the process is concerned with determining your level of skill or ability with the exam subject matter. This ability assessment begins by presenting questions of varying levels of difficulty and ascertaining at what difficulty level you can reliably answer them. Finally, the ability assessment determines whether that ability level is above or below the level required to pass that exam.
Examinees at different levels of ability see quite different sets of questions. Examinees who demonstrate little expertise with the subject matter continue to be presented with relatively easy questions. Examinees who demonstrate a high level of expertise are presented progressively more difficult questions. Individuals with both levels of expertise might answer the same number of questions correctly, but because the higher-expertise examinee can correctly answer more difficult questions, he or she receives a higher score and is more likely to pass the exam.
The typical design for the adaptive form exam is as follows:
The exam contains 20 to 25 questions.
You are allowed 90 minutes of testing time, although this is likely to be reduced to 45 to 60 minutes in the near future.
Question review is not allowed, providing no opportunity to change your answers.
Your first adaptive exam will be unlike any other testing experience you have had. In fact, many examinees have difficulty accepting the adaptive testing process because they feel that they are not provided the opportunity to adequately demonstrate their full expertise.
You can take consolation in the fact that adaptive exams are painstakingly put together after months of data gathering and analysis and are just as valid as fixed-form exams. The rigor introduced through the adaptive testing methodology means that there is nothing arbitrary about what you see. It is also a more efficient means of testing, requiring less time to conduct and complete than the traditional fixed-form methodology.
As you can see in Figure 1, a number of statistical measures drives the adaptive examination process. The measure that is most immediately relevant to you is the ability to estimate. Accompanying this test statistic are the standard error of measurement, the item characteristic curve, and the test information curve.
The standard error, which is the key factor in determining when an adaptive exam will terminate, reflects the degree of error in the exam ability estimate. The item characteristic curve reflects the probability of a correct response relative to examinee ability. Finally, the test information statistic provides a measure of the information contained in the set of questions the examinee has answered , again relative to the ability level of the individual examinee.
When you begin an adaptive exam, the standard error has already been assigned a target value below which it must drop in order for the exam to conclude. This target value reflects a particular level of statistical confidence in the process. The examinee's ability is initially set to the mean possible exam score (which is 500 for MCP exams).
As the adaptive exam progresses, questions of varying difficulty are presented. Based on your pattern of responses to these questions, the ability estimate is recalculated. Simultaneously, the standard error estimate is refined from its first estimated value, toward the target value. When the standard error reaches the target value, the exam terminates. Thus, the more consistently you answer questions of the same degree of difficulty, the more quickly the standard error estimate drops and the fewer questions you end up seeing during the exam session. This situation is depicted in Figure 2.
As you might suspect, one good piece of advice for taking an adaptive exam is to treat every exam question as if it is the most important. The adaptive scoring algorithm attempts to discover a pattern of responses that reflects a level of proficiency with the subject matter. Incorrect responses almost guarantee that additional questions must be answered (unless, of course, you get every question wrong). This is because the scoring algorithm must adjust to information that is not consistent with the emerging pattern.
A variety of question types can appear on MCP exams. Examples of multiple-choice and scenario-based questions appear throughout this book and the PrepLogic software. Simulation-based questions are new to the MCP exam series.
Simulation-based questions reproduce the look and feel of key Microsoft product features for the purpose of testing. The simulation software used in MCP exams has been designed to look and act, as much as possible, just like the actual product. Consequently, answering simulation questions in an MCP exam entails completing one or more tasks just as if you were using the product itself.
The format of a typical Microsoft simulation question consists of a brief scenario or problem statement, along with one or more tasks that must be completed to solve the problem.
It sounds obvious, but your first step when you encounter a simulation is to carefully read the question. Do not go straight to the simulation application! You must assess the problem being presented and identify the conditions that make up the problem scenario. Note the tasks that must be performed or outcomes that must be achieved to answer the question and review any instructions on how to proceed.
The next step is to launch the simulator by using the button provided. After clicking the Show Simulation button, you see a feature of the product presented in a dialog box. The simulation application is likely to partially cover the question text. Feel free to reposition the simulation or move between the question text screen and the simulation by using hotkeys, by using point-and-click navigation, or by clicking the simulation launch button again.
It is important to understand that your answer to the simulation question will not be recorded until you move on to the next exam question. This gives you the added capability to close and reopen the simulation application (by using the launch button) on the same question without losing any partial answer you may have made.
The third step is to use the simulator as you would the actual product to solve the problem or perform the defined tasks. Again, the simulation software is designed to function, within reason, just as the product does. But don't expect the simulation to reproduce product behavior perfectly . Most importantly, do not allow yourself to become flustered if the simulation does not look or act exactly like the product.
Two final points will help you tackle simulation questions. First, respond only to what is being asked in the question; do not solve problems that you are not asked to solve. Second, accept what is being asked of you. You might not entirely agree with conditions in the problem statement, the quality of the desired solution, or the sufficiency of defined tasks to adequately solve the problem. Always remember that you are being tested on your ability to solve the problem as it is presented. If you make any changes beyond those required by the question, the item will be scored as wrong on an MCP exam.
Given all these different pieces of information, I now present a set of tips that will help you successfully tackle the exam.
Generic exam-preparation advice is always useful. Tips include the following:
Become familiar with the product. Hands-on experience is one of the keys to success on any MCP exam. Review the exercises, the Guided Practice Exercises, and the Step By Steps in the book.
Review the current exam-preparation guide on the Microsoft MCP Web site. The documentation Microsoft makes available over the Web identifies the skills every exam is intended to test.
Memorize foundational technical detail, but remember that MCP exams are generally heavy on problem solving and application of knowledge rather than just questions that require only rote memorization.
Take any of the available practice tests. I recommend the one included in this book and the ones you can create by using the PrepLogic software on the CD-ROM. Although these are fixed-form exams, they provide preparation that is just as valuable for taking an adaptive exam. Because of the nature of adaptive testing, these practice exams cannot be taken in the adaptive form. However, fixed-form exams use the same types of questions as adaptive exams and are the most effective way to prepare for either type.
Look on the Microsoft MCP Web site (www.microsoft.com/traincert) for examples and demonstration items. These tend to be particularly valuable for one significant reason: They help you become familiar with any new testing technologies before you encounter them on an MCP exam.
The following generic exam-taking advice you've heard for years applies when taking an MCP exam:
Take a deep breath and try to relax when you first sit down for your exam session. It is very important to control the pressure you might (naturally) feel when taking exams.
You will be provided with scratch paper. Take a moment to write down any factual information and technical detail that you have committed to short- term memory.
Carefully read all information and instruction screens. These displays have been put together to give you information relevant to the exam you are taking.
Accept the nondisclosure agreement and preliminary survey as part of the examination process. Complete them accurately and quickly move on.
Read the exam questions carefully. Reread each question to identify all relevant detail.
On a standard exam, tackle the questions in the order in which they are presented. Skipping around won't build your confidence; the clock is always counting down. On an adaptive exam, ofcourse, you don't have any choice.
Don't rush, but also don't linger on difficult questions. The questions vary in degree of difficulty. Don't let yourself be flustered by a particularly difficult or verbose question.
Building from this basic preparation and test taking advice, you also need to consider the challenges presented by the different exam designs. Because a fixed-form exam is composed of a fixed, finite set of questions, add these tips to your strategy for taking a fixed-form exam:
Note the time allotted and the number of questions appearing on the exam you are taking. Make a rough calculation of how many minutes you can spend on each question and use this to pace yourself through the exam.
Take advantage of the fact that you can return to and review skipped or previously answered questions. Record the questions you can't answer confidently, noting the relative difficulty of each question, on the scratch paper provided. When you have made it to the end of the exam, return to the more difficult questions.
If session time is remaining after you have completed all questions (and if you aren't too fatigued), review your answers. Pay particular attention to questions that seem to have a lot of detail or that require graphics.
As for changing your answers, the general rule of thumb here is don't! If you read the question carefully and completely and you felt like you knew the right answer, you probably did. Don't second-guess yourself. If, as you check your answers, one clearly stands out as incorrectly marked , however, of course you should change it. If you are at all unsure, go with your first instinct.
If you are planning to take an adaptive exam, keep these additional tips in mind:
Read and answer every question with great care. When reading a question, identify every relevant detail, requirement, or task that must be performed and double-check your answer to be sure that you have addressed every one of them.
If you cannot answer a question, use the process of elimination to reduce the set of potential answers, and then take your best guess. Careless mistakes invariably mean additional questions will be presented.
You cannot review questions and change your answers. When you leave a question, whether you've answered it or not, you cannot return to it. Do not skip any questions either; if you do, the item is counted as incorrect.
You might encounter simulation questions on either the fixed-form or adaptive-form exam. If you do, keep these tips in mind:
Avoid changing any simulation settings that don't pertain directly to the problem solution. Solve the problem you are being asked to solve and nothing more.
Assume default settings when related information has not been provided. If something has not been mentioned or defined, it is a noncritical detail that does not factor into the correct solution.
Be sure that your entries are syntactically correct, paying particular attention to your spelling. Enter relevant information just as the product would require it.
Close all simulation application windows after completing the simulation tasks. The testing system software is designed to trap errors that could result when using the simulation application, but you should trust yourself over the testing software.
If simulations are part of a fixed-form exam, you can return to skipped or previously answered questions and change your answers. However, if you choose to change an answer to a simulation question or even attempt to review the settings you've made in the simulation application, your previous response to that simulation question is deleted. If simulations are part of an adaptive exam, you cannot return to previous questions.
You might encounter select-and-place questions on either the fixed-form or adaptive-form exam. If you do, keep these tips in mind:
You must always drag your answers from the answer objects section to the answer field section. If you drag an answer object from one answer field directly to another answer field, it will not count as a correct answer.
Although you can review a select-and-place question, the answers will be cleared if you do so, and you'll need to answer the question all over again.
You might encounter hot area questions on either the fixed-form or adaptive-form exam. If you do, keep these tips in mind:
Remember, it's your final mouse click that counts on a hot area question. Be sure to click your answer area immediately before moving to the next question.
Although you can review a hot area question, the answers will be cleared if you do so, and you'll need to answer the question all over again.