My PMP Journey: Bad News, Good Advice, and the Dire Warnings You Should Heed

January 25, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Posted in PMI, Study hints | 2 Comments
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While I do manage projects in my daily work, I’d never thought of myself as an actual project manager. Being a take-action, Active Directory kind of guy, I primarily develop Microsoft practice exams and leave products like Project+ and CAPM to the professionals (aka Robin Abernathy). But last year several of my co-workers began suggesting that I take PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP) exam. Then my supervisor softly “suggested” that I take the PMP exam. Even my sister, a project manager, got in the game and encouraged me to take the exam. Furthermore, my sister said the exam was easy and did not take a whole lot of work to prepare for.

Well, she was wrong.

Since I am a veteran trainer, exam developer, and test-passer, my initial plan of attack was to fill out the application, take a practice test to identify gaps in my knowledge, do self-study to close those gaps, schedule the exam, take the exam, and pass it. BOOM! PMP-ville.

The Bad News

Not so fast. First, it took forever and a day to detail all of my project work experience for the application. Yes, you have to document 4,500 hours of project management experience (7,500 hours if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree). They also require 35 hours of formal project management training, which I didn’t have. The training materials was not actually a problem, as I was able to take a Skillsoft e-learning course that my company offers, but I did have to stop and find time for 35 hours of training in my schedule.

Once I finished the training and completed the application, back in June 2012, I got the go-ahead from PMI to schedule my exam. Next, I tested my existing knowledge by taking the Transcender PMP practice test. I failed that practice test miserably, and I emphasize: miserably.

I appealed to my friends and Dr. Internet for advice. One friend suggested a book that turned out to be a lifesaver: PMP Project Management Professional Exam Study Guide by Kim Heldman. Meanwhile, Dr. Internet suggested that I read the book chapter by chapter, then go through some practice tests after I’d finished the whole thing.

The More Bad News

Great plan, except for the part where it didn’t work. I would read one chapter, then another chapter, and then life would get in the way. I would put in one week of good study, then put the PMP info down for about 10 days. Unfortunately, a lot of the information that I’d studied seemed to float away. This process continued all the way through fall. By the time September rolled around, I was still not able to pass the practice tests that came with the book. Worse, the actual PMP exam is four hours long, but I had to take lots of breaks to finish each practice test. I just could not sit through all 200 questions. I felt like I was in high school taking the SAT test again. Augh!

I soon figured out what everybody and their mother has already posted on the Internet: you need to know every process, every input for that process, every tool and technique for that process, and every output for that process. By the way, there are a whole lot of processes. I tried to memorize them with repeated reading, but was never successful.

Finally, I tried using the audio CDs that came with Heldman’s book. Since my office recently relocated to East Tumbleweed, I had plenty of driving time to listen to someone else describe each process. Although this sounds like this would be outlawed by the Geneva Convention as torture, it actually helped a lot. I was able to memorize most of the processes and their information in this way. More importantly, I was able to do significantly better on the book’s practice tests, and started to make headway on the Transcender practice test as well.

The very last thing I did to prepare was to actually read the PMBOK guide. Not exactly a page turner, but it had to be done. I wasn’t too far into the PMBOK when I realized that Heldman’s book has done such a great job of explaining the abstract terminology with real-life examples, that I didn’t need to spend a lot of time with the PMBOK itself. I might owe dinner to the buddy that recommended Heldman’s book.

The Dire Warnings

Scheduling, or rather the impossibility of RE-scheduling the PMP exam, was no walk in the park. I strongly suggest that you do not schedule your exam too many months in advance. In fact, you might want to make sure your test date is carved in stone. If you need to reschedule your exam within 30 days of the exam date, you will have to pay a $70 fee.  Worse, if you need to reschedule within 48 hours, you lose the entire testing fee ($405 for PMI members, $555 for non-PMI members). Ouch! Just be mindful, if you schedule the exam months in advance, life might get in the way, and you will risk losing your $70.

MoneyDownTheDrain

All warnings aside, I do recommend you set a goal date. I decided on the date that I wanted to take my exam and scheduled the exam only a few days out from that date.  Set a target date for when you want to take the exam, and then try to schedule the exam two weeks out from the target date.

The test center where I took the exam reminded me of the gulag in the movie “Stripes” where the East Germans held John Candy, Judge Reinhold and the gang, before Bill Murray and Harold Ramis busted them out.

Stripes

The lighting was so bad that I could barely see what I was writing on the scrap paper they gave me. As promised, the exam had 200 questions and blocked out four hours. My sister said that it would only take me two hours, tops. As I may have mentioned before, my sister was wrong. It took nearly the whole four hours for me to finish. It was comprehensive and really a tough exam. After staring at a screen for four hours, I could barely see to drive home.

Finally, the Good Advice

The exam was not impossible. Looking back, there are some things that I would have done differently. For starters, former Transcender team member Jennifer Wagner gave some really good advice on the application process in her blog post from 2009. Like she mentions, you should start documenting your project hours as soon as you start thinking about the PMP exam to cut down on the time spent sorting out the application requirements.

After I finished the application process and got the approval to take the exam, I would have tried to take the test within 6 weeks. I would have taken several days off from work and buckled down to go through all the material and practice tests on a continual basis, instead of trying to dedicate 90 minutes to studying five days a week.  PMI uses specific terminology to describe things that seem obvious or intuitive when you’re actually managing a project. If you do not know that terminology backwards and forwards, which I didn’t at first, it will be tough to pass the exam, even if you apply those principles every day at your job.

For me, the best way to get the knowledge about the processes was to go through as many practice test questions as I could to cement the information about the processes in my brain. There are about 800 practice test questions and over 1000 flash questions in the Trancender PMP practice test. I also went through the 400 practice test questions in the Kim Heldman’s book. With my work/life schedule, it took about two weeks to go through all those questions. Going through the questions highlighted my deficiencies. This was the key to the whole process, since after I identified the weak areas, I concentrated on the processes that I was weak on. I got better and better at the flash cards and practice questions until I felt ready to schedule my exam.

The more that you space the studying out, the less you’ll retain. Dedicate some time to the process and knock it out of the park while it’s still fresh. Hope this insight into my experience helps set your expectations & project management goals. Good luck!

Graduate

–George Monsalvatge

Mobile Devices in the new CompTIA A+ exams (Part 1 of 2)

October 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Posted in CompTIA, Study hints | Leave a comment
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Last month, I posted an article about the virtualization topics in the new A+ exams. At that time, I indicated that I would be posting about the new mobile devices topics. I expected to get the two articles out within a few weeks of each other, but as it always seems to happen around here, other things took precedence….and a month later, I am finally sitting down to fulfill my promise.

Mobile devices have increasingly become part of our lives. Because of the popularity of these devices and our dependence on them, the CompTIA A+ certification now includes  mobile device topics to ensure that A+ technicians are proficient in certain aspects of mobile device management. The new A+ 220-802 exam has an entire domain that is dedicated to mobile devices. Domain 3, the Mobile Device domain, makes up 9% of the exam. The objectives from Domain 3 are as follows:

3.1 Explain the basic features of mobile operating systems.
3.2 Establish basic network connectivity and configure email.
3.3 Compare and contrast methods for securing mobile devices.
3.4 Compare and contrast hardware differences in regards to tablets and laptops.
3.5 Execute and configure mobile device synchronization.

There’s a lot to chew on here, so let’s focus on the first two of these objectives. (I will discuss the other three in a coming post.) Please remember that I’m writing based on my experience with mobile devices and on what I’ve read in several reference books. As of this posting, I have not actually taken the new A+ exams. CompTIA released those exams this week, so I’ll hopefully have some time to take them before Part 2 of this blog post! But since I’ve been writing study material for the A+ exams since the 300-level A+,  I am fairly confident that I won’t be too far off the mark.

For Obj 3.1: Explain the basic features of mobile operating systems, you will need to understand the features of the Android and iOS mobile operating systems.

  • Android is an open-source operating system, while the Apple iOS is a vendor-specific OS.
  • Developers for Android have access to the same APIs used by the operating system. Developers for Apple must use the software development kit (SDK) and must be registered as Apple developers.
  • Android apps are purchased from the Google Android market (now called Google Play) or from other Android app sites, while Apple apps can only be purchased from the Apple App store.
  • For screen orientation, mobile devices use an accelerometer and/or a gyroscope. While only one of these is required, many newer mobile devices use both because they work better together.
  • Touch-screen mobile devices require screen calibration. The screen calibration tool will require you to touch the screen in different ways so that the mobile device can learn how you will touch the screen. If the device does not react in an expected manner when you touch the screen, it may need re-calibration.
  • GPS information can be obtained from cell phone towers or from satellites. Keep in mind that keeping the GPS function enabled will cause the battery to be depleted much quicker. Android phones normally use satellites to obtain GPS data, while iPhones use a combination of satellites, cell phone towers, and WiFi towers to obtain GPS data.
  • Geotracking  allows a mobile device to periodically record location information and transmit this information to a centralized server. Consumers have recently raised privacy concerns overs this feature.

For Obj 3.2: Establish basic network connectivity and configure email, you will need to understand how to connect mobile devices to networks and how to configure email on mobile devices. For all of the following points, I would expect this to focus mainly on the two major smart phones (iPhone and Android), but wouldn’t be surprised if you are expected to know how to do this for the iPad and other tablets.

  • Enable/disable the wireless and cellular data network.
  • Understand Bluetooth configuration, including enabling/disabling Bluetooth, enabling device pairing, finding devices for pairing (including entering the PIN code),  and testing Bluetooth connectivity.
  • Configure email. You will need to know the URL of the incoming and outgoing email server, the port numbers used by these servers, and the encryption type (if applicable). You probably will also need to know your account details, including user name, password, and domain name. The process for setting up email will vary slightly based on the mobile device that you are configuring and the type of account. Some of the more popular mail services, such as Exchange and Gmail, are easier to set up because of configuration wizards.

To fully prepare for these objectives, it may be necessary to install a mobile phone emulator on your computer if you do not have access to a physical mobile phone. In many cases, there are free mobile phone emulators available so that you can learn how to perform many of the basic configuration steps. You may want to research the options that are available and install them in a lab environment, particularly if you are an instructor. These emulators can provide a valuable service to students who do not have experience with mobile devices.

Part 2 of this topic will be released in the coming days and will cover the other three Mobile Devices objectives in the 220-802 exam. I also plan to have a post in the coming months on mobile phone emulators, so feel free to send me any information on what you have found in this area.

Until then….

-Robin

Customer asks: Is now the time to study for Windows Server 2008 certification, or Server 2012?

September 27, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Microsoft, Study hints | 37 Comments
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Editor’s note: Exam retirements are subject to change without notice. Please go to the official Microsoft Retired exams list to confirm or deny a specific test’s retirement date.

In response to a recent post, blog reader Zappy asked,

I am new to Windows Server certifications and I currently hold none. I am thinking of getting certified but I am not sure if I should begin with Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012. I have a fair amount of experience in 2008. What would you suggest?

The knee-jerk response is “Forget 2008; study for the cert that will have the longest shelf life.” However, there are a few factors to consider before writing off a 2008 certification entirely. Those factors are:

  • the number of exams required to earn a certification
  • the desired time frame for earning a certification
  • the user’s level of experience with 2008 versus 2012
  • how soon the user can expect 2012 to be the standard in his or her particular industry

For the sake of demonstration, I’m going to look only at Windows Server certifications, and not specialties such as Lync, .NET, SharePoint, or Exchange. (You can find more information on those certification paths here.) I’m also going to stick with entry-level and mid-level certs, since you’d be earning those anyway as you blaze towards the MCSE or MCM.

(Remember: These recommendations are for someone who, as of late 2012, has not yet taken any Microsoft exam and needs to factor exam retirement dates into a certification strategy.)

Do it now: Be off like a shot

No matter which path you decide to pursue, do it now. The perfect time to buy your first Microsoft exam voucher is during the Second Shot promotion. That means that if you take an exam between now and May 30, 2013 and fail it, you can sit for a free retake. You can buy Second Shot assurance for a single exam or for a multi-exam voucher pack (which typically earns you a bulk discount on exam fees as well).

It only takes one

Remember that passing one certification exam, even if it’s part of a multi-exam certification track, earns you the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) credential. As a member of the Microsoft Certification Program, you have access to MCP Flash emails from Microsoft, and you can share your transcript with others to show your progress towards a specific certification.

Single-exam certs: testing the Microsoft waters

In the “need a cert now” category, you can obtain a Microsoft certification with just one test — and it will count toward a higher-level certification, should you choose to pursue one. However, one-test certs are only offered for Windows Server 2008. The three server specializations are:

Remember that these exams include Windows Server 2008 R2 material, so you absolutely must be familiar with R2 before sitting an exam.

Our recommendation: if you’ve never sat for any Microsoft test and don’t know what to expect, combining Second Shot with a one-test cert might be the perfect low-stress entrance strategy, even if it “only” earns you an MCTS Server 2008 credential. If you go this route, choose either the 70-640 or the 70-642, since these also count toward the newly fledged MCSA in Server 2008 (more on that in the next section).

70-643 alone is not relevant to the MCSA 2008, so look at the exam’s objectives, and only choose it if you need this certification in your current job (and your boss is paying).

Three to five exams: not all middle-tier certs are created equal

Things get a bit murky as you move up the Server 2008 certification ladder. Having divided Generation 2008 certifications into five MCTS (entry level) and three MCITP (mid level) exam tracks, all covering different job roles and skills, Microsoft recently collapsed the varied tracks back into a revised MCSA, and added the upper-tier MCSE options. However, the MCITP tracks are still active. Depending on the track, each MCITP will either be phased out in July 2013 or rolled into the new generation of certifications.

You can obtain an MCITP in a Windows client or in Server 2008 R2 by taking three to five exams. The three server paths are Enterprise, Server Admin, and Virtualization Admin.

Earning the MCITP: Server OR the MCITP: Enterprise automatically snags you an equivalent MCSA: Windows Server 2008. However, Server can be earned in only three exams, while Enterprise takes five. A MCSA: Server 2008 plus the 70-417 upgrade exam can then earn you the MCSA: Server 2012.

The MCITP: Virtualization also allows you to upgrade to MCSA: Server 2012 — but, confusingly, you can’t upgrade it to an MCSA: Server 2008. Microsoft has dropped it from this list of current MCITP tracks; also see this blog post.

Our recommendation: Continue Reading Customer asks: Is now the time to study for Windows Server 2008 certification, or Server 2012?…

The CASP Exam: What it is, Where it fits, and How to prepare for it

August 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Posted in CompTIA, Performance-Based Testing, Study hints | 1 Comment
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At the CompTIA Academy Educator Conference in Las Vegas, I made a presentation to help educators better understand the CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP) exam. I received such awesome feedback that I decided to write a blog post based on the presentation. I will explain the CASP exam to you, where the exam fits in the certification world, and how you should prepare to take it or prepare your students to take it.

What the CASP Certification is

First, here are some key numbers for you. In CompTIA’s 8th Annual Information Security Trends study, 76% of those responding indicated that their IT staff probably or definitely need more vendor-neutral security training. 81% of those responding indicated that they would give more recognition and financial rewards to the IT staff members who complete a security certification.  Based on the findings in the 8th Annual Information Security Trends and other studies, CompTIA decided that:

  • An advanced-level security exam would be good to pursue.
  • The exam should be performance-based.
  • The exam should fit into other vendors’ certification(s) as an elective.
  • The exam should concentrate on new technologies that demand a concentration in security aspects, such as IPv6, VoIP, and SaaS.
  • Acceptance of the exam would depend on the U. S. government’s acceptance of the new certification and its applicability to Department of Defense Directive (DoDD) 8570. According to CompTIA’s IT and CyberSecurity white paper, “Those seeking compliance with IA Technical Level III and IA Management Level II of U.S. DoD Directive 8570.01-M. (CASP is proposed to the 8570 Directive for these workforce categories.)”

The result was the CASP, the first certification in the Master Series of certifications released by CompTIA. The CASP exam will certify that the successful candidate has the technical knowledge and skills required to conceptualize, design, and engineer secure solutions across complex enterprise environments.

The CAS-001 exam is available at Pearson Vue testing centers, and is currently available in English only.

How the CASP exam is structured

The CASP exam is a single exam that consists of multiple-choice, scenario-based, and performance-based questions. For the performance-based items, the CASP candidate is given a scenario/problem and prompted to push a button to launch a simulated environment that is created via software.

The candidate has 150 minutes to complete 80 questions. Upon completion, the candidate is given a Pass/Fail score. No numerical score is given. The domain distribution for the CASP exam is as follows:

Enterprise Security – 40%
Risk Management, Policy/Procedure, and Legal – 24%
Research and Analysis – 14%
Integration of Computing, Communications, and Business Disciplines – 22%

Where the CASP fits among security certifications

CompTIA has created a great graphic (shown below) that shows the CASP certification sitting between CompTIA’s Security+ certification and (ISC)2′s CISSP certification.

CompTIA’s CASP mapping

The way that CASP requires you to put real-world applications into abstract concepts elevates it above the Security+. The CASP exam expects candidates to take the core security concepts introduced in the Security+ exam and apply them to work situations. For example:

  • In Security+, you should know the ports used by the HTTP and HTTPS protocols.
  • In CASP, you should know the same ports, but you will have to apply them in a router or firewall configuration. This will include opening and closing the appropriate ports via rules or ACLs and ensuring that the rules are in the correct order.
  • In Security+, you should know when you would need to deploy a firewall.
  • In CASP, you should know when to deploy a firewall, but you would also need to deploy it in the appropriate location and know where to deploy any other devices/servers located in the DMZ/perimeter network.

After taking the CASP exam, I will agree that it’s harder than the Security+, but I feel it is equally as difficult as the CISSP exam. The CISSP exam is difficult in the breadth of knowledge that a test candidate must possess, but in the end, it is still just a standard multiple-choice, knowledge-based exam. Including performance-based items in the CASP takes this exam to the next level, even surpassing the CISSP exam when it comes to difficulty (in my opinion).

So while I accept CompTIA’s graphic and its placement of the CASP in the security certification world, I also feel that time will be kind to the CASP exam as it becomes more widely understood and accepted in the industry.

How to Prepare for the CASP Certification

Practical experience is needed for this exam, including:

  • Experience configuring ACLs/rule lists for router, firewalls, and so on.
  • Experience deploying hardware in a network. Specifically, you’ll need to understand WHERE hardware is deployed in a given network diagram based on requirements.
  • The ability to recognize when devices are under attack by viewing logs, including understanding what type of attack is occurring, the identity of the attacker, how to protect against the attack, and where to deploy the protection.
  • The ability to verify file security from a given hash value.

You can view a few multiple-choice practice questions on the CompTIA web site here: http://certification.comptia.org/Training/testingcenters/samplequestions/CASP-Practice-Questions.aspx

We at Transcender have created a wonderful product in our Cert-CAS-001 practice test. Our practice test includes simulation items that will better prepare you for the performance-based items on the live exam. At the time of this post, no other practice test provider includes these types of items in their CASP product.

Also, Sybex has released a great study resource: the CASP CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner Study Guide by Michael Gregg and Billy Haines, which I reviewed in a previous blog post. It is a great place to get started, even if you’re still accumulating those five years of hands-on technical security experience recommended as a prerequisite by CompTIA.

I hope this helps you to take the next step in your career and pursue the CASP certification. If you have any CASP-related questions, feel free to drop me a line!

-Robin

O-M-G, Microsoft announces more exam question types

August 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Performance-Based Testing, Study hints | Leave a comment
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If you’ve taken a Microsoft test in the past, you’ve experienced the Single Answer Multiple Choice and Multiple Answer Multiple Choice questions. While this is a tried and true psychometric technique, a multiple choice question does not always fully test a candidate on his or her knowledge of the material.  You may remember that a few years ago Microsoft launched performance-based testing (PBT) segments with their multiple choice questions. The 83-640 exam included a series of tasks that tested candidates’ abilities in a virtual environment. Although this exam and item type have since retired, most of us that had the chance to experience this item at a test center agreed it was the ultimate test of a candidate’s skill. And I, for one, very much doubt we’ve seen the end of the PBT item.

With a similar goal in mind, by which the certification exam truly separates the experienced IT professional from the pack, Microsoft has added several new item types to exams over the last few months. Well, I say new, but some of these item types are more like “vintage” and you just may have not seen them in a while. You can view the entire list here:

http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/exam.aspx#tab4

Active Screen – These questions are good at testing candidates’ knowledge because you see an actual screen. The downside is the candidate does not need to know where to go in the software to access the screen, the task is limited to the screen that’s provided.

Build List and Reorder – This is one you may recognize if you’ve taken Microsoft exams for as long as I have. This question type is used to test whether a candidate knows which steps are needed to perform a task and the order in which they should be performed.

Case Studies – Case studies allow a candidate to be tested based on different real-life business scenarios. Microsoft used case studies for the Windows 2000 Server and some Windows Server 2003 exams. If you do not have a high level of reading comprehension, you will find case studies to be time consuming. Several testing candidates who did not read rapidly enough struggled and ran out of time with this question type. Microsoft has addressed this issue by no longer timing each case study separately from the rest of the exam questions. While time management is still important, you get one clock for the whole exam, allowing you to spend a bit more time reading through the case study.

Create-a-tree – Similar to the Build List and Reorder question type, these questions test your knowledge on structures and organization. This question type first appeared in the NT 3.5 and NT 4.0 tests.

Drag and Drop – This is a basic matching question. This question type allows a candidate to be tested on multiple concepts. It also appears on exams from other vendors, such as CompTIA and Novell.

Hot Area – This question is similar to an Active Screen question. You have to click one or more places within a graphic to satisfy the question requirements.

Multiple choice – You have seen this question type zillions of times. I believe it was invented in 1,000,000 BC. This item type presents a scenario, a question, and a minimum of four answer options. A prompt within the item stem (or sometimes at the end of the question) will indicate the number of possible correct answers.

Repeated answer choices – These questions (which we called “extended matching” in our previous post, Multiple options beyond multiple choice) are presented in a series. Each question in the series has the exact same answer options. Each question is worded slightly differently, so the answer could be different for each question — or it could be the same correct answer across the questions in the series.

Simulations – These type of questions actually first appeared in Microsoft Vista exams. This question type does a good job of testing the candidate’s knowledge of navigating to the problem and choosing the correct answer. This type of question is better than an Active Screen or Hot Area because the candidate has to navigate the software or OS to find the screen or page that contains the correct choice, and is thus tested on his or her hands-on knowledge. If you do not know how to get to the right set of options, you will not be able to answer the question. The limitation to this type of question is that there may be more than one way to solve a problem. A simulation question may want you to fix a problem with a GUI tool, even though you could correctly solve the task with a PowerShell cmdlet or by running a command from the command prompt.

Short answer code – This type of question will force a candidate to actually type the correct answer into a text box or blank line. This type of question will test your knowledge of the correct code use, the proper order of the code and syntax of the code. We haven’t actually encountered this item type in the wild yet, but we’re keeping our eyes peeled.

Best answer – These type of questions appeared in the original NT 3.5 exams. It is a standard multiple choice question that may have one or more correct answers — you have to pick the BEST answer. People complained back in the day on the NT 3.5 exams as to what constitutes the BEST answer. I believe the debate will continue if Microsoft revives this item type on tests.

If you are planning to take a Microsoft exam in the near future, you may see several of the above question types – or none of them. If you have an issue with any of the types of questions on your Microsoft exam, please let Microsoft know in the comments section at the end of your exam.  Also, if you liked a particular item type on an exam, please take a few seconds to let Microsoft know. And as always, we welcome any questions or comments you might have, and will do our best to reply or point you in the right direction.

Happy Testing.


George Monsalvatge

CASP CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner Study Guide: A Resource Review

August 10, 2012 at 8:04 am | Posted in CompTIA, Study hints | 1 Comment
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All of you have probably heard of CompTIA’s first Master series certification: the CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP) certification. I took the exam some months back and am proud to say I passed it. If you want to know more about my experience, please read my previous post. In that article, I promised a review of the only CASP reference that is currently available, the CASP CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner Study Guide by Michael Gregg and Billy Haines. Well, it’s a bit past the promised due date of April (where has the time gone?), but I finally have gotten a chance to complete my review.

I used this book as my primary reference when I was writing Transcender’s Cert-CAS-001 practice test. I found that the book was thorough and covered all of the topics on the exam. I  particularly loved the Exam Essentials section at the end of each chapter. I would suggest that any test candidate read the Exam Essentials section for each chapter and think about  how to test a particular point using a job task.

If you hadn’t already heard, the CASP exam includes performance-based items. These item types require that you perform certain tasks to fulfill the objectives given in the scenario. The very nature of these item types requires that you actually perform security-related tasks on a daily basis in your workflow; therefore, they are almost impossible to replicate in a book. The book’s method of addressing these item types is to include exercises for you to complete on your own. Each chapter includes several exercises to reinforce the topics presented in the chapter. These exercises, which are included in the Lab Manual (Appendix A in the book), will help you understand the tasks that security professionals must perform.

Performing the exercises requires a standard personal computer (not a server or desktop powerhouse) with the capacity to run VMware Player; some exercises require that you have a copy of a Windows desktop operating system, either as the native OS or running on a virtual machine. The labs direct you to download and install various readily available forensic tools, such as Nessus and Wireshark.

The Exam Essentials sections and the Exercises work together to provide a good all-around experience for the test candidate. But to ensure that you can pass the exam, I would recommend that you take all these one step further. For example, one of the Exam Essentials in Chapter 2 is:

Be able to describe advanced network design concepts. Advanced network design requires an understanding of remote access and firewall deployment and placement. Firewall placement designs include packet filtering, dual-homed gateway, screened host, and screened subnet.

Specific scenarios that address this Exam Essential may include: knowing when to deploy a firewall, knowing how to configure ACLs, and knowing where in a complex network a firewall is best deployed. So you should take some extra time to ensure that you understand network diagrams, and research best practices for device deployment.

This book is an excellent reference to start you on your journey to becoming a CASP. If you pair this book with  Transcender’s practice test, you will be well on your way to success. It’s worth noting that Transcender’s practice test actually includes 8 performance-based scenarios that will expose you to the type of items you will see on the live exam. This is the ONLY practice test on the market right now that includes these types of items for the CASP product.  It is just one more way that we demonstrate why our products are considered leading-edge test prep materials and have been preferred by IT professionals for nearly 20 years.

Check back with us over the next few weeks as I hope to provide you with a bit more information on the CASP exam, including where this exam fits into the current certification pathways, and how to prepare for the CASP. Feel free to drop me a line with any CASP questions you may have.

Happy testing!

-Robin

Better than a blockbuster movie: Free Windows Server 2012 videos

July 16, 2012 at 7:59 am | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints | 1 Comment
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What is truly free in this world? Well, there’s the air we breathe, but not the water we  drink (it costs $1 in the vending machine), or a summer blockbuster (it costs $12, and they do not take free passes).

The sad truth is that most things in this world are not free. However, you can get actual free training on Microsoft Windows Server 2012.

Last month, Microsoft delivered a FREE Windows Server 2012 Jump Start virtual class that was presented by Microsoft Evangelist Rick Claus and President & Lead Architect for holSystems, Cory Hynes. The class covered an array of topics, and Rick and Cory did a great job of explaining each of them. If you missed this class, you can still watch the HD-quality video recordings on  TechNet (links below).

If you do not have several straight hours to devote to watching these videos, don’t worry about it. Each module is broken down by topic and lasts for about an hour per module:

• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (01): Core Hyper-V
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (02a): Virtualization Infrastructure, Part 1
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (02b): Virtualization Infrastructure, Part 2
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (03a): Storage Architecture, Part 1
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (03b): Storage Architecture, Part 2
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (04): Continuous Availability
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (05a): Multi-Server Management, Part 1
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (05b): Multi-Server Management, Part 2
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (06a): Security and Access, Part 1
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (06b): Security and Access, Part 2
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (07): Remote Connectivity and Networking
• Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (08): IIS, DHCP and IPAM

Each module is informative and does contain demonstrations of the topics. Most importantly, each module is engaging and not at all boring. Rick and Cory relate these topics to the real world environment. They also made a few jokes along the way which I very much appreciated. While Rick and Cory probably will not get their own special on Comedy Central, they did help make the time pass quickly.

If you’re curious about Windows Server 2012, if you plan to get certified in Windows Server 2012, or if you foresee having to install Windows Server 2012 at your office in the near future, I recommend that you check out these videos.  I had the opportunity to take the 70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 beta exam in early June, and I sincerely wish that I had watched these videos before attempting the exam.

Along with the 70-410 exam, Microsoft plans to release the 70-411 Administering Windows Server 2012 exam and the 70-412 Configuring Advanced Windows Server 2012 Services exams in the Fall. Before attempting any of these exams, I strongly recommend you take a few hours to check out the modules from this class. I’ll say it again: It’s FREE.

What’s better than free training? Okay, you could be watching  “Live and Let Die” for the 25th time on the James Bond marathon. But you know how this one ends, James Bond gets the girl and defeats the bad guy. You can’t say you know how each of the Windows Server 2012 modules will end, so why not enjoy a marathon of Microsoft Jump Start virtual videos instead? 

Until next time,

George Monsalvatge

Multiple options beyond multiple choice: an overview of Microsoft’s new exam item types

May 29, 2012 at 9:41 am | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints, Technical Tips, Vendor news | 4 Comments
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As technologies evolve, so do the means of testing your technical knowledge. While the multiple choice standard still has its place, Microsoft and other major vendors are rapidly evolving beyond such mechanical (and easily braindumped) question formats. Microsoft has even released a catchy YouTube video on the subject:

An awful lot of research goes into the most effective question format. In the past few years we’ve seen an explosion of new item types and testing techniques. Some have been rolled out, some have been rolled back, and some are newly announced but haven’t yet been sighted in the wild.  Here are the ones encountered by the Transcender Team, with our notes on each.

Extended Matching

This item type was announced in early 2011 (Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue: Introducing a New Item Type on Certification Exams), but we didn’t encounter it in an exam until recently. George, our Microsoft Windows Server and SQL Server expert, first tackled extended matching on the beta exams for SQL Server 2012. Here’s what he had to say:

I encountered Build-list and reorder questions that required you to know the exact sequence in which tasks should be performed. There were also Active Screen items that required you to answer questions based on a scenario. I also saw the new “Extended Matching” questions. The Extended Matching questions looked kind of like case studies, because they were a set of multiple choice questions answered in one time frame. However, these did not have the usual four or five answer choices. No, each question had the same 14 choices.  The questions were slightly different, but the choices were the same. These question types caught me off guard and I found them completely confusing until I realized you could actually have the same correct answer for more than one question in the set.

The Extended Matching questions were like someone put a long multiple choice question, a matching question, and a pint of buttermilk in a blender, pulsed it,  left the horrible concoction on the kitchen table overnight, and then tricked you into drinking it in the morning. 

We’re hoping that you go into your exams a little more prepared than George, so we’re in the process of revising our 70-667 practice exam  and our 70-432 practice exam to include this new item type. This will give you the chance to get comfortable with how Extended Matching items are put together, and not be caught off guard on exam day.

Case studies and code case studies

Case studies (mini-tests that are timed separately from the SAMC/MAMC questions) are nothing new in the Microsoft world, but they did vanish from the testing scene for a few years, until recently (see George’s post, The Case Study Gets Its Groove Back). Because each case study has its own clock, the trick is not to let them eat into your overall exam time. However, the Code case study was a new twist on the concept. It was touted in Born To Learn last year (Code case studies: test drive our new item type for developer exams). Josh reported on this item type extensively here a few months back (They’re back: the return of the developer exam case study). They’ve been incorporated into all of our practice tests for these technologies.

As of this writing, you can still access Microsoft’s mockup code case study here: http://mcppoc.rangers.ms/

Short Answer Code

This item type will incorporate live coding into the exam, and as far back as our SMEs can remember, this item type is a first for Microsoft. Short answer code items were announced in October 2011  (Check Out the Short Answer Code Item Type). While we haven’t encountered this item type on a certification exam yet, here’s what we know about it so far: the item will have a field in which the candidate writes a short code segment to accomplish the task in the scenario. All the standard tools that would be available to a developer in real life (such as syntax checking) will be reproduced on the test, so in theory, you can’t trip yourself up with a simple mis-key or typo.

Have you encountered this item type yet? If so, we’d love to hear about it.

MAMC: Choose All that Apply

“Wait,” you say. “That’s not a new item type. That’s the same old multiple choice question that Microsoft (and Transcender) has been doing all along.”

Well, yes. But in the course of reviewing the most test-worthy item types, psychometricians made a surprising discovery: this classic structure is actually one of the hardest to answer without a thorough knowledge of the subject being tested.  You can read about the methods used by psychometrician Liberty Munson here, Investigating the Psychometric Performance of Our Item Types.

How many times have you encountered a multiple choice question where you weren’t sure of all the answers, but the fact that the question said “choose two” or “choose four” let you safely guess the parts that you weren’t sure about? If Microsoft has anything to say about it – and, let’s face it, they do – then this guessing technique will be ruled out. Fortunately, Transcender has used this MAMC structure in all of our practice tests, so users should be prepared to answer them on exam day.

What about simulations?

A few years ago, simulation exams were the item type of the future; almost impossible to braindump, and representing a real-world test of the user’s skills. Microsoft introduced the simulation format with the 83-640 Windows Server Configuring exam. Problems with exam delivery, though, sidelined this particular format, which reverted to the conventional 70-640.

While there may have been some setbacks, this was an excellent testing format, and it certainly shouldn’t be ruled out of future Microsoft exams. We think the live coding exams for developers represent one new direction in which to take simulations – the goal of which, after all, is to have the user perform real-life tasks.

For one last obsessive look at this subject, check out Liberty Munson’s Born To Learn post on Microsoft’s changing attitudes towards the building of certification exams (Exams Grow Up)

Happy testing!

–the Transcender Team

Become an Oracle SQL Certified Expert

December 30, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Oracle, Study hints | Leave a comment
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Have you taken a look at the Expert series of certifications that Oracle offers? Normally, the path to an  Expert certification is shorter than the path to OCA or OCP certification, sometimes as little as a single exam, but Expert certification requires a very in-depth knowledge of a particular area of Oracle technology.

If you are an Application Developer or a DBA who uses SQL extensively, you may want to consider the Oracle Database: SQL Certified Expert certification. The only requirement is to receive a passing grade (66% or higher) on Oracle’s certification exam 1Z0-047. However, before you jump to sign up, you need to be warned. This exam is not for your casual user of SQL. It requires an in-depth knowledge of SQL, including all of the enhancements made over recent years. Furthermore, this is one exam where Oracle University does not offer a course which maps almost perfectly to the exam.

The course “Oracle Database 11g: Introduction to SQL” or the equivalent knowledge would be a helpful resource, but you need to look closely at the topics covered. Here are my observations:

  • Be prepared to write joins using the new ANSI standards. You’ll also need to write single row, multiple row, and correlated subqueries.
  • All of the set operators are covered, as well as the new MERGE command and the multi-table INSERT command.
  • You should be well versed in index creation, and the various type of indexes, and more importantly when it’s appropriate to use each kind of index.
  • Understanding privileges, both object and system, as well as roles (both default and non-default) should be in your repetoire. You should also be prepared to answer questions dealing with transaction control, external tables, and the use of the Data Dictionary.
  • Constraints are hit hard, and the multidimensional report writing commands of ROLLUP, CUBE, and GROUPING are covered on the exam.
  • You should be able to deal with all the date and time functions, and provide global support to clients in different time zones.
  • The Oracle propietary commands to produce hierarchical tree-structured reports are definitely covered in the exam objectives.
  • And finally, be prepared to deal with regular expressions and pattern matching using the various REGEXP functions. Perl programming experience would come in handy here.

If you decide to take on this challenge, we have just finished upgrading the Transcender 1z0-047 exam prep practice test to 11g Release 2. This practice test will give you a good idea of what you are in for when you go to take the Oracle exam. Just like the live exam, the questions on the practice exam are challenging and really do require you to be a “SQL Expert”.

Good luck to all!

The Oracle Guy

Nickle-and-dime PDUs: convenient, cost-effective ways to earn certification credits

November 29, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Posted in PMI, Study hints, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Editor’s note: Our guest blogger, PMP certification holder Colleen Reed, project manager for a Washington, D.C.-area information technology firm, shares her budget-busting method of acquiring PDUs.

My most excellent Project Manager Professional (PMP) certification comes with a requirement to take 60 continuing education credits of the PMI-approved sort, called professional development units (PDUs). I have three years from the receipt of my PMP to earn those 60 PDUs. There are many, MANY ways to earn credits, which the PMI helpfully lists here (http://www.pmi.org/Pages/Ten_Ways_to_Earn_PDUs.aspx). Some of these credit methods have limits; some do not.

My favorite method for earning my PDUs are those very inexpensive ($5) or free Web-broadcast seminars that account for between a half and two credits each. So far, I’ve nickle-n-dimed myself up about 10 credits worth of those classes.

My favorite class so far has been a Web-broadcast lecture on project risk management for the widening of the Panama Canal. It was hosted through the Washington, DC PMI chapter, and cost me $5 to “attend” online. That was an interesting political science and management lecture rolled into one convenient package. And it earned me 1.5 PDUs towards recertification. I also took some online webinar courses on Earned Value Management from Global Knowledge, which earned me a single PDU each.

Admittedly, this earning rate pales in comparison to, say, the 22 credits that I could earn for attending a three-day class of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But as a working professional, I find there are many advantages to these small-fry webinars:

  • The first one is convenience. I can “attend” a webinar from any location that has a computer and a connection, and sometimes I don’t even need to attend the presentation in real time.
  • The second advantage is targeted content. I can pick a class that covers a topic that I need, and earn PDU credit while also advancing my knowledge base.
  • The third advantage is what I consider my brain-full level. An hour of class time contains just about as much material as I want to absorb during my work day.
  • And the fourth advantage is, of course, cost. While my own company has a very generous training policy, many of us in the consulting business must arm-wrestle our companies for the time off to take courses, the money to take the classes, or both. These webinars are low-to-no cost, so might not be worth anyone’s time when it comes to fighting about money.

So, in short, using webinars to earn PDUs is a great idea. I get my PDUs when and where I want them, in bite-sized pieces, on topics that interest me, and no one is complaining about my training budget. To quote Stephen Covey, that’s a “win-win.”

Colleen Reed, PMP, SNVC L.C.
Program Manager, National Guard Bureau

Related blog posts:

Keep Your PMP Fresh With PDUs

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