Don’t Fear the Certification, Part III

October 26, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Study hints | Leave a comment
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Not unlike the long-awaited Return of the Jedi, Return of the King or Back to the Future III, this blog-based trilogy (I and II) will conclude many readers’ bated breathes and elevated heartbeats. Although my wish is not to disappoint, if you have met your preparation goals, then the exam itself will be rather anti-climatic (watch the final Sopranos episode to see what I mean). Think of  the live exam as just another practice test, similar to the ones you have taken when studying for the exam. At exam time, your enemy will be your own nervousness and stress. The more control you have over yourself, the more control you have over passing!

Usually, a timer in the top right corner of your screen in the exam center will indicate time remaining. Use this as your guide. On most certification exams, you have no more than 2-3 minutes per question. So if any question seems to take more than that, mark it and come back to it after you’ve answered all of the easy questions. In Microsoft exams, questions are in objective order, not order of difficulty. It is also possible that a future question may hint at a correct answer on a previous question. Thus, chronological order is not the recommended strategy. Answer what you can quickly and mark the rest for later. (Note that this strategy will NOT work if you are unable to go back to a previous question, as with many Cisco exams.)

Equally important is how you read questions. Skim the question and read the choices first. You should read the question in its entirety, but not at first. Questions often contain “fluff” – content whose sole purpose is to support the real-world scenario, but has only a vague connection the question’s technical focus. Your goal is to find the question’s technical focus before getting too lost in the woods fo fluff.  Follow those breadcrumbs and you will find your way to the answer.

In short, these steps can be summarized as follows:

  1. Read the  last few sentences of the question first. On Microsoft exams, you will need to initially skip over a lot of content.
  2. Read each choice and determine the difference(s) between these choices. Look for knee-jerk phrases. Narrow answers down if possible.
  3. Now go back and read the question in its entirety, and focusing on the most likely choices.
  4. Guess the correct answer.
  5. Verify the correct answer. Read through the key points of the question to make sure all stated requirements are met by the answer you chose.

Example time. Let’s take a question like this one:

You are using the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5. You have designed an ASP.NET application for sales representatives to retrieve basic sales reports. The application retrieves data from a remote SQL Server 2008 database.

You must now design a Windows application for sales manager to create and upload customized sales reports. The Windows-based application will use the same data source as the ASP.NET application. You want to reuse the existing data schema across both applications. What should you do?

A. Store all data in a common.CSV file on a network share.
B. Store all data in a well-formed XML file on a network share.
C. Store all data in a local XML file that conforms to a typed dataset.
D. Store all data in a local untyped dataset.

Don’ t let the amount of words in the item question intimidate you. Most of it is fluff.

  1. Read the last few sentences of the question. Last sentence is pretty boring in this case: What should you do? So, let’s look at the two sentences that preceded it: The Windows-based application will use the same data source as the ASP.NET application. You want to reuse the existing data schema across both applications. That means I’m looking for an answer that allows for two application types to share the same in the same format.
  2. Read each choice and determine the difference(s) between these choices. To know differences, we need to know similarities first. All begin with Store all data in XXX. So that part is assumed correct. Two choices mention XML, two choices mention a dataset, two choices mention local storage, and two mention a network share. A knee-jerk response for data schema should be XML and/or dataset. B and C mention XML, while C and D mention a dataset. B mentions a network share whereas C mentions local storage. C mentions a typed dataset whereas D specifies an untyped dataset. Thus, we can eliminate A safely, because CSV files do not have a database schema, only comma-separated fields.  As a matter of fact, if we apply the same logic to B, then it too must be eliminated, because although a well-formed XML file meets the most basic of XML conformity, it does not necessarily conform to a database schema. A valid XML file would be both well-formed AND meet an XML schema. Thus, only C and D are likely correct.
  3. Read the question in its entirety and focus on the possible choices. Okay… time to do the hard part. Read, but with focus on certain key points. The phrases data schema and remote seem important here. If the data source is remote, then it makes sense to cache it locally, so both choices C and D are confirmed as the most likely.
  4. Guess the correct answer. According to the scenario, the application’s purpose is to share data in a common format. C actually contains the word conforms. This should jog your memory. A typed dataset is a derived class that contains a database schema, while an untyped dataset must have its schema built programmatically or inferred from an existing XML or XSD schema. Then of course , the typed dataset would have the remote database schema built-in, while the untyped dataset would require more development. C seems the most logical choice here.
  5. Verify the correct answer. Choice C not ensures a common data schema mechanism, but also caches the remote data locally with the application. D does not mention using an XML file (although an untyped dataset could) for persistence, but C explicitly states using a local XML file. An XML file could be easily shared across applications and sent over the network. Thus, C is the correct answer.

As you may notice, there is no substitute for knowledge to magically guess the answer. But without careful analysis, you may find yourself missing even questions on topics that you know well.

What about those topics where your knowledge is weak? Even the most thoroughly prepared student will run into weak topic questions.  Let’s see if we can apply the same logic to the following example:

You have developed a Windows-based application using the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5. The application provides an interface to employee information for the Human Resources department. Employee information contains confidential details accessible only to certain members within the Human Resources department.

You decide to implement a role-based security strategy to meet the following requirements:

  • All employees can view their own information, including confidential details.
  • Department managers can only view employee information for their own department.
  • Human Resource department employees can view employee information from all departments.
  • Only specifically authorized personnel within the Human Resource department can view the confidential details associated with employees other than themselves.

Which permission class should you use to perform role-based security checks for these requirements?

A. SiteIdentityPermission
B. IsolatedStoragePermission
C. UIPermission
D. PrincipalPermission

Leave the freak-out at home on test day. Just apply the test-taking process I’ve described:

  1. Read the  last few sentences of the question. The last sentence is: Which permission class should you use to perform role-based security checks for these requirements? Okay, the word that comes out here is role-based. When I think of roles, I think of actors who pretend to be someone else. We’ll ignore the other stuff, because it seems too scenario-specific.
  2. Read each choice and determine the difference(s) between these choices. Again, we need to determine the similarities here. All choices are XXXPermission. Okay, A has the word Identity… looks good. C has the word UI, which I do know means user interface in most contexts. D looks interesting because Principal is a role an actor could play.
  3. Read the question in its entirety and focus on the possible choices. Okay, after reading through the junk, I see that the basic idea is to restrict one group from accessing, while allowing another group access.
  4. Guess the correct answer. Okay, so narrowing it down:  the word Site which has nothing to do with users and the phrase user interface only contains the word user, but has little to do with acting or accounts. Thus, D as bizarre as it looks, seems the only likely choice.
  5. Verify the correct answer. At this point some strange echo in your head may suggest that identity and principals are involved in role-based security, thus you know you have the right choice. Otherwise, if you knowledge is too weak on this topic, you just may have to skip this step.

Never leave an answer blank. Try to use intelligent guesses if at all possible, but remember to watch the time and adjust your strategy accordingly. Good luck!

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