Tags: casp, CompTIA, Performance-Based Testing
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.
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!
Tags: exam tips, Performance-Based Testing, Study hints, test-taking tips
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:
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.
Tags: casp, resource review, study resources
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.
Tags: free stuff, Windows Server 2012
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,
Tags: code exams, exam item types, extended matching, study tips, test-taking tips
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.
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)
–the Transcender Team
Tags: oracle certification, oracle certified expert, oracle sql expert certification exam prep 11g Release 2, SQL
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
Tags: Continuing Education Units, PDU, PMI, PMP
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:
Tags: oracle certification exam tips mistakes dates null unknown not known date arithmetic, test-taking tips
One component of my job as the Oracle Content Developer at Kaplan/Transcender is to review the trouble tickets that we receive from customers using our practice exams. This gives me invaluable insight into “why” students sometimes choose the wrong answer 0n our practice test (and by extension the live exam), even when their technical knowledge of that subject matter is quite good.
I’d like to share with you two of the common errors, as well as strategies which hopefully will serve you well when taking an exam, so you can hopefully avoid these types of mistakes.
Error #1: Dating Yourself
One very common error involves the use of dates, especially when sorting. Remember that if a column in a table or a variable in a PL/SQL block of code is defined as DATE, that value internally stores all the detail to point to an exact second anywhere between 4712BC and 9999AD. Also, you can subtract dates, which creates a difference that has a datatype of NUMBER. That number will represent the number of days (and fractional parts of a day) between the two dates. Suppose your SELECT statement looks like this:
SQL> SELECT id, name, (sysdate – hiredate) AS SENIORITY FROM emp ORDER BY SENIORITY;
If you want this report sorted by seniority, with the person working at the company for the longest period of time to be first, is this the correct way to sort, or should you sort in descending order? Well, the difference between sysdate and hiredate will be the largest number when hiredate is the earliest date possible (since SYSDATE stays constant if you perform this operation for all employees at the same time). Since you want the person where that difference is the greatest to be first, you need to sort descending (DESC) on SENIORITY. Some people find this counter-intuitive, so be sure to think this through carefully on the exam.
Error #2: Evaluating NULL
The use of NULL can sometimes throw off a student who is well prepared for the exam. NULL can be assigned to a variable, in which case it means you don’t know the value of that variable. NULL can also be assigned to the truth value of an expression, in which case it means you don’t know whether the statement is TRUE or FALSE. If you remember NULL like this, things will make sense. Let’s try a few examples.
Evaluate the following:
a. x + 5 where x is 4.
The answer is 9.
b. X + 5, where x is NULL
Since I don’t know what x is, I can’t figure out x+5. Thus the answer for x + 5 is NULL (I don’t know)
c. 6 (x+2) / x * 7 – 3, where x is NULL.
If you don’t know x, you can’t figure this out. Thus the answer for this expression is I don’t know (NULL).
d. WHERE X + 2 > 10, where X is 5.
This is an expression which has a truth value. The choices are either TRUE, FALSE, or NULL. In this case, since x is 5, the expression becomes WHERE 5 + 2 > 10, which is false. The expression’s TRUTH VALUE is FALSE. If that WHERE clause was part of a SELECT statement, when Oracle was searching through the table and got to the row where x is 5, that row would not be displayed since only rows that evaluate to TRUE are displayed.
e. WHERE X + 2 > 10, where x is NULL.
This is also an expression which has a truth value. Since x is NULL, I can’t compute x + 2. Therefore, I can’t determine whether the statement x + 2 > 10 is TRUE or FALSE. Consequently, the TRUTH VALUE of this expression is NULL. If that WHERE clause was part of a SELECT statement, when Oracle was searching through the table and got to the row where x is NULL, that row would not be displayed since only rows that evaluate to TRUE are displayed.
f. WHERE x + 2 > 10 OR y + 3 = 10, where x is NULL (unknown) and y is 7.
This is an expression and consequently has a truth value. It is a compound expression separated by an OR. Since x is unknown, the value of x + 2 is also unknown. Since x + 2 is not known, we can’t tell whether the statement x + 2 > 10 is true or false. Therefore, it is NULL. For the second condition in the WHERE clause, since y is 7, then 7+ 3 is 10, and hence the second condition is TRUE. Therefore, the truth value is now NULL OR TRUE. Since the separator is OR, only one of the two conditions needs to be true to make the entire expression true.
To put this another way, if the first condition was TRUE, the overall expression would be TRUE. However, if the first condition was FALSE, the overall expression would still be TRUE. Therefore, it doesn’t matter what the truth value of the first part of the expression is, the result will still always be TRUE. So if the first part is NULL, the overall result will still be TRUE.
Just for fun, Evaluate these expressions to either TRUE, FALSE, or NULL. The answers are located at the bottom.
1. Condition A OR Condition B where Condition A is True and Condition B is False
2. Condition A OR Condition B where Condition A is False and Condition B is NULL
3. Condition A AND Condition B where Condition A is NULL and Condition B is TRUE
4. Condition A AND Condition B where Condition A is False and Condition B is NULL
5. NOT Condition A where Condition A is False
6. NOT Condition B where Condition B is NULL
7. Condition A OR Condition B where both Conditions are NULL
8. Condition A AND Condition B where both Conditions are NULL
Until next time,
Bob Bungenstock aka Orcltestguy
Answers 1. TRUE 2. FALSE 3. NULL 4. FALSE 5. TRUE 6. NULL 7. NULL 8. NULL
Tags: .NET Framework 4, 70-519, case study, MCSD, Microsoft MCPD, test-taking tips, Web developer
As I first noted in a blog post early last year, 70-519 (Pro: Designing and Developing Web Applications Using .NET Framework 4) heralded the case study’s triumphant return to developer exams. Before you open our practice test and lapse into drop-jaw silence, or (worse still) enter a catatonic fugue state during the live exam, I thought it worthwhile to prepare you once again:
Although the case study has been the mainstay of many Microsoft administrator exams, the last developer exam with case studies was from the retired MCSD track: 70-300: Analyzing Requirements and Defining Microsoft .NET Solution Architectures. Developers seeking certification have been spared the case study for almost eight years (which is a century in technology years). So it’s understandable that we’re all a bit rusty, and those more nervous test-takers are forgiven for their premature hyperventilation.
But it’s really not that bad. As a matter of fact, this format will drastically reduce the length of many questions. Rather than having to parse a detailed scenario for each question, you will be presented one slightly longer scenario with a series of 6 to 12 brief questions based on it. At first a case study may seem intimidating, but because it is divided into sections and is referenced by multiple questions, the mental swap-space is greatly reduced.
- Skim Only. That’s right. Reading a case study is lot like gorging on eggnog and then wondering why you feel so bloated. Case studies are not intended to be read; they are meant to be referenced to as you answer a question. Just as you don’t read the dictionary from beginning to end, but rather flip straight to the section you need, you should read the case study’s overview, skim over each section, and jot down any details that stick out. You should come back to read a sub-section fully after you read the associated question(s). Many case studies contain lines or even paragraphs of extraneous detail that you don’t need to know to answer the question. If you skim, you’ll have a better chance of answering every question in the case study rather than running out of time before you get to the last two.
- Need for Speed. Each case study is a separate testlet with its own time limit. Once that time expires, you will be forced to move onto the next portion of the test. Thus, answer all questions first with your knee-jerk responses, and then go back through them again more carefully. Sometimes, after skimming the case study, I just answer all questions based upon my memory (no more than a minute per question), then go back to each question and re-read the pertinent section of the case study to confirm I selected the best answer.
On some older Microsoft exams, I felt the case study itself was just window dressing; I found I could often answer the case study’s questions on their own merits. These days, there are so many Web technologies that the best approach to a given problem depends heavily on the specific requirements of a scenario. Those manifold details about existing infrastructure, business requirements, technical requirements, and the size of the user base become key to selecting the best approach. After all, real-life development never occurs in a vacuum, but within specific business processes and structures. The case study serves to focus on specific best practices and available technologies. As such, I actually welcome its return to Microsoft developer tests.
Tags: case study, study checklist, test-taking tips
Vinyl records are making a comeback. Jelly shoes and skinny jeans are showing up in the fashion stores. Case studies are starting to show up in more and more Microsoft exams. What does it all mean, and more importantly, what should you do about it?
Microsoft introduced the case study in their Windows 2000 Server exams. For the past few years we saw a shift toward exams that relied heavily on multiple-choice questions with some interactive items thrown in for interest. In the past few months, though, both you (test candidates) and we (practice test providers) are finding these extended scenario items in certification exams. Case studies were once isolated to the Microsoft Windows Server exams, but they are now moving to the developer exams. What’s next – SharePoint, SQL Server, Exchange, Hyper-V?
If you haven’t taken a Microsoft exam with a case study before, let me back up and explain what I mean; better yet, take a look at Troy’s overview of testing models in IT exams. What we call a case study is also referred to as a “testlet,” but is not the same as performance-based testing or a simulation. The case study is actually a good way to assess one’s knowledge of a topic. First, it presents an extended scenario. Typically there will be a lot of background detail – including stuff that isn’t relevant to your answers. It may include supporting graphics, like an Active Directory network diagram. Then there’s a consecutive series of brief multiple choice questions based on different parts of that scenario.
The case study items that we build into our Transcender practice test products are presented very much like the ones you’ll see on test day. The scenario is divided into several sections and gives relevant (and not so relevant) information about a company. Each section has one or more headings that describe the corresponding paragraph(s). You can view the different paragraphs by clicking on each heading in the left pane. For example, the Overview button in the left pane may have two paragraphs underneath it. One paragraph describes the Background and another describes the Locations. If you click Existing Infrastructure, it will show text describing the company’s network infrastructure. In the case study, you will learn about the needs, existing network, and mechanical or business restrictions.
Multiple choice questions in a case study format differ a little from the multiple choice questions in a traditional Microsoft exam. For example, a typical question in a case study exam may be as short as this one:
How many servers will you need to deploy in the Atlanta site for the company?
There is really no way to know the answer unless you read the case study. (Fortunately the format allows you to toggle back and forth between the question and the scenario.) Memorizing the data to answer a question is not enough here. You will have to synthesize all the information, deduce the best option from a series of interlocking conditions (such as the server hardware available, the budget for new equipment, geographic limitations, or security considerations) and apply it to the scenario.
The number of questions in a case study can vary. I have seen as many as 12 and as few as 3 questions on a given case study over the years. Obviously the more questions on the case study, the longer it will take to complete the case study. The combination of the multiple choice questions and the information in the case study help simulate what an actual test taker may face in his or her job.
Several of my students tell me that they are not fans of a case study exam. You really need to be able to read and comprehend quickly. In my time in the classroom I have discovered that not everybody can read quickly, and a lot of people struggled on case study exams even though they knew the material itself well. The case study scenarios tend to be long and contain lots of details. While some of us may be thrown off our game by the fact these items are just different than what we’re expecting, for others, case study exams can pose a more serious issue. If you have a condition that keeps you from being able to read and comprehend lengthy blocks of text, be sure to check with your test center regarding accommodations in advance. There are often options for you, so best to be prepared and don’t get caught off guard on test day.
The best way to prepare is of course know the material, but also to practice with the case study item format. You can master the material by checking with the Skills Measured tab on the Microsoft prep guide of the exam you are taking. If I wanted to find the prep guide for the 70-668 SharePoint exam, I would type the following at the search engine prompt: “Prep guide 70-668”. You should see a link to the Microsoft Prep Guide. Depending on which exam you are taking, you should study the “best practices” for whatever discipline that you are testing on. Microsoft typically builds the case studies around best practices, because these are supposed to mimic real-world situations where you have to juggle multiple factors.
Remember, there can be more than one case study on your exam. You cannot spend all day on one case study. Depending on the exam, each case study may be individually timed, or you may have a specific time to complete multiple case studies. You will be informed at the start of each section how much time you have been allotted, and how many questions there will be in the section. Watch the clock; you do not want to be panicking during a test. As a lifeguard once told me, drowning victims are dangerous to rescue because they flail around wildly. Do not drown during a case study exam! Watch your time.
You should be familiar with the case study format before you sit for the exam. If a Microsoft exam is a case study exam, Transcender will offer a practice exam with a similar case study format and a ton of questions. Yes, it is a shameless plug, but you cannot argue with a “Led Zeppelin value” at a “Def Leppard” price. Click on the link to see a mockup of those code case study items I mentioned earlier.
Face it, folks, the case study is back and vinyl records are now cool again. Seriously, you have to listen to vinyl. It soooo rocks. Case studies are going to be around for a while. They are not going to fade out again like jelly shoes.
Until next time,