They’re back: the return of the developer exam case study

November 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints | 1 Comment
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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.

The Transcender blog already has posts on case studies (here and  here), so I won’t repeat those details here. But I will add my own two test-taking tips:

  • 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.

–Josh Hester

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