Why is there a New Question Type in my MCSD Practice Test?

November 12, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints | 2 Comments
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I know it’s been a while since my last post. But since I’ve finally come up for some air  after writing our practice tests for the Microsoft Developer track, I thought I’d fill you in on a bit of what I’ve been doing in my top-secret hacker lair. (Spoilers: it definitely contains some sharks with frickin’ lasers)*.

Fly in my Soup?

“Is that a new question type in my soup?”

Seriously though, we have been busy re-creating our practice test engine to mimic the new Microsoft question types. We’ve known about the advent of color-coding and these new question types since last summer, but with the onslaught of new exam titles that needed corresponding practice tests added to our inventory, dropping everything to emulate the live exam experience seemed a far-off goal. But with the releases of our Cert-70-480 and Cert-70-481 products, we decided to go for broke.

Without further ado, here’s a quick overview of the short answer, list-and-reorder, and code-based case study item types.

Short Answer

If you bought our Cert-70-461 practice test (Querying Microsoft SQL Server 2012), you probably saw some of this type of question already. What makes this item type different is that the questions are very specific, and thanks to color-coding, very readable!

Short Answer w/Color Coding

Much better than the colorized version of It’s A Wonderful Life!

This type of question is all about writing the code, not just knowing the concepts behind the code. The next item type also addresses “the code and only the code” mantra.

List and Reorder

We’ve always had this type of question in our practice tests. With the advent of the updated MCSD certification track, we added color formatting to our previously monochrome items, and made the questions even more code-centric.  This raises the difficulty bar somewhat for newbies, but is a real treat for the die-hard developers that have long awaited the exams that test you only on how to write code. Simple request, really.

List and Reorder question

Just the code, ma’am.

Code-Based Case Studies

That’s right. Here comes the pain (and realism) of developing applications in real life: inserting code at the right place. Rarely will you have the pleasure of designing an application on your own. More often than not, you will be required to plug the hole left by another developer who got a cushy job as a business analyst at a local startup company. It’s up to you to get the code working without help, and no one cares what you have to do to get it working. The new case study item type tests your skills at knowing both what code to add and where to add it.

Code-Based Case Study

“Now it’s getting REAL up in here!”

Whew…!  And that didn’t even cover the new simulation items we added.

Let me know what you think of these new tricks in the Transcender toolbox.

*Hey, it makes for better imagery than my beige office cubicle!

Until next time,

Josh aka Codeguru

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:

THEY’RE BACK!

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

The Case Study gets its groove back

September 2, 2011 at 8:37 am | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints | 10 Comments
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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?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

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,

–George Monsalvatge

Microsoft Learning YouTube Channel

March 23, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Microsoft, Study hints, Technical Tips | Leave a comment
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A few weeks ago, I saw an announcement of  Microsoft Learning’s YouTube channel.  It contains videos on troubleshooting server products, tutorials on technologies and certifications and related career profiles. Recently, they added some playlists on the Microsoft Master program, managing SharePoint 2010, and the desktop experience in Windows 7.

I think these are well worth the time to watch (and the price is certainly right). For example, if you’re new to Microsoft certifications, you might want to learn about specialty items like case studies/testlets and active screen. You certainly don’t want the first time you see these things to be when you are taking the exam!  The YouTube videos provide a good introduction to these item types:

 

So check out the Microsoft Learning YouTube Channel and let us know what you think!

And just to show that I’m not all-Microsoft-all-the-time, if you’re a CompTIA certified professional, a fan of our Transcender Trainers, or just can’t get enough of YouTube videos – we have some great information on our very own Transcender Trainers Channel as well, so be sure to check us out!

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