Office 2010 MOS study tips & tricks

September 1, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints | 67 Comments
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Before attempting a Microsoft Office exam, you should be able to complete each task of the exam objectives quickly. The fact that you know how to do a task in your daily job might not cut it.  You need to complete the task in the tight time constraints allotted for the test. Once you answer a question, you cannot go back.

First, a quick review of the objectives:

As we saw in the Office 2007 exams, the exam clock is 50 minutes. There are around 30 sub-objectives listed for each exam. Assuming one question per sub-objective, that’s 30 questions. When you remember that most questions ask you to perform multiple tasks, that’s more like 55 questions in 50 minutes – less than a minute per task. If you spend too much time on one question, you are losing time on the other questions. Time flies when you are under the gun. Most people I have talked to said that they could do all the tasks and pass the test…given enough time. However, they probably could not do it with the time constraints of the test. Practice each task until you know it like the “back of your hand.”

Here’s some MOS 2010 study tips from Ann, Josh, and George. It includes the stuff we did to prepare for the exam that worked for us, and the things we wish we’d tried.

Study Guides

First, free is free. Download the e-book First Look: Microsoft Office 2010 from (registration required). It’s not a very in-depth feature guide, but this book is useful on multiple levels; just looking at the features that Microsoft chooses to highlight gives you a feel for what might be asked on the exam. This is particularly useful if there are features you just don’t use daily and wouldn’t otherwise think to practice.

For more free instruction, don’t forget blogs and communities. You can find targeted, in-depth articles on certain features in many places, including:

What about official study guides? Well, at last check, the Microsoft Press MOS 2010 Study Guides are due out late fall 2010. Keep checking the Microsoft Office Training Portal for announcements.


Don’t have a copy of Office 2010 to practice on yet? You can download a trial of Office 2010 here: (requirements vary by system).

The key aspect to both Microsoft Word and Excel 2010 exams is the ribbon. You have to know where to find common functionalities, or else you will not complete the exam in the allotted time. Josh downloaded and used the free Ribbon Hero plug-in to practice for the exam, and I have to admit it was low on the goofy factor (this is not the talking paperclip of days gone by) and high on the challenge factor. Create a complicated Smart Art diagram in three clicks of the ribbon bar? Sure! I just…well, I’m used to using the menus, aren’t I? Huh. How do I do that again? (Fortunately, it tells you how if you get stuck.)

Remember: many roads lead to Rome

To succeed on the Microsoft Office 2010 exams, you should be familiar with the different ways to achieve a goal. For example, included in the description of the Create Tables sub-objective, under the Formatting Content objective of Microsoft Word, you should know how to use the Insert Table Dialog Box, draw a table, insert a Quick Table, Convert text to tables, and use a table to control page layout. I habitually create tables in Word from the Insert Table menu, so I took the time to practice those other routes.

Because the way we do things in our Office applications every day may not be the most efficient way when the exam clock is ticking down, we urge you to practice familiar tasks from multiple approaches (use a wizard, use a ribbon button, create a shortcut). This way, no matter how you are asked to accomplish a task, you’ll be familiar with the specific terminology used.

If you combine these techniques with a solid knowledge of how to use Word and Excel, you will be well prepared to pass your MOS 2010 certification exam. Good luck!

For Office 2010, make the MOS of your MCAS

August 24, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Posted in Certification Paths, Microsoft | Leave a comment
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As you get ready to dive into the new suite of Microsoft Office 2010 products, don’t forget recent updates to the certification track! The Microsoft Office 2007 exams that released under the Microsoft Certified Application Specialist (MCAS) designation have been renamed to Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) and will now include the Office 2010 exams.

Those of you certified in Office 2000, 2002, and 2003 products will recognize the MOS certification and this recent change will not affect those existing credentials. With the Office 2007 release, the MOS terminology was retained for older products, the new generation of 2007 certifications were branded MCAS, and all were held under the umbrella of the Microsoft Business Certification (MBC) program. The MBC program was not limited to the Office suite, but included business-oriented technologies like Vista desktop operations and project management.

Confused yet? Hang in there – it gets easier from here on out!

The uniform MOS nomenclature, re-adopted as of June, makes it easier for candidates to identify exactly which certifications and technologies will best benefit their careers. All exam numbers for Office-related tests (such as 77-601) remain unchanged. Still, the Internet contains a lot of confusing references to older names and outdated certification paths, so in the interest of clearing it up, here’s the breakdown:

If you previously earned an MCAS, the certification is unchanged except for the name. In fact your transcript will be updated to reflect the certification track name change, but you can choose which designation to use in your signature and which logo to use on your resume. So exam names & numbers, not changed; certification acronym, changed.

Now that I’ve thoroughly UN-confused you (I hope!), it’s time to report that we’ve seen the new core-level MOS 2010 exams for Excel and Word. In an upcoming post we’ll report that all roads don’t quite lead to Rome, it doesn’t pay to cram, and the rolling stone is the ONLY kind that will gather this particular MOS…

Stay tuned!

-Ann Lang

Office 2010: Slice Excel Data Your Way

April 5, 2010 at 9:54 am | Posted in Microsoft, Technical Tips | Leave a comment
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Now that you’ve learned how to quickly summarize your Excel data, we’ll conclude the new features in Excel 2010 with the slicer.

The slicer is a  filter you can apply to PivotTables and PivotCharts. Slicers can add or remove elements from a table display and be reused across multiple tables. Enough theory; enter the real-world.

Let’s say that you work for a big pharmaceutical company and you’ve got the following data (excerpted only).

So, to allow sales managers to parse the data easily, you create a PivotTable as follows:

But maybe a sales manager wants to filter the data dynamically by drug name or category value. What can you do?

This is where the slicer comes into play. Let’s create two slicers: one for the drug name and the other for the category. A sales manager can then filter the data to display only non-drug sales as follows.

If you select option(s) from the Category slicer, then only drugs from those categories are available in the Pharmaceutical slicer to filter. Only those options selected in these slicers will be displayed in the PivotTable. These slicers can then be applied to other PivotTables or PivotCharts.

The slicer highlights non-filtered fields and displays a lighter highlight for fields that do not match the filter criteria. You can even customize the color scheme and general appearance of these slicers to your heart’s content.

So, don’t be intimidated by manager requests for data filtering. Give them some slicers and let them do their own filtering with Excel 2010’s new interface.

Office 2010: Spark some interest in Excel!

February 25, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Technical Tips | Leave a comment
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Continuing our tour through the new features of Office 2010, we move into Excel. The new version of Excel includes graphic improvements in conditional formatting and new functions for engineering and cube analysis (if you don’t know what a data cube, you’re better off not knowing). But Excel has some mores surprises in store. Namely, sparklines and slicers.

To understand what a sparkline is, we need to revisit a common problem with data tables and charts.

If you want to ensure that your meeting audience doesn’t nod off and wake  up in their own drool, you need to make data interesting. So, you make a chart. But, then that one person gets all up tight and insists on seeing the numbers, and you have to fumble around to look it up. Wouldn’t be swell if you could keep your data table, but still retain a bit of that chart excitement?

Enter sparklines. Sparklines are basically inline summary charts. To use one, you simply select a data range and then choose the Line, Column, or Win/Loss style. The SparkLine tools section provides many customization options. You can choose whether to mark the low and high point markers, modify the line or bar style, and set the sparkline and marker colors.

So now our data table has a visual summary column as follows.

Hey! I never promised the next James Cameron 3D epic, but it certainly works better for those visualizers out there, right? Next session, we’ll focus on the new analysis cube features and slices!

–Joshua Hester aka codeguru, Transcender’s MCAS test developer and in-house nerf herder

Office 2010: A Tool That’s Worth a Thousand Words

February 19, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Microsoft | Leave a comment
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As the impending release of Office 2010 looms, we here at Transcender are preparing for the next generation of MCAS certification exams. So what better time is there than now to highlight the new features of Office 2010? Rather than bore you with a laundry list of nuanced improvements, though, we’ll focus on a new functionality for each of the applications in the Office 2010 suite.

Remember that this is the Technical Preview and some features may change by the final release.

Let’s begin the journey with Word 2010, the desktop workhorse. Since Word 2007, many advanced formatting features available in previous versions have been exposed through the Office Ribbon. (On that note, Microsoft Office Labs recently released the Ribbon Hero game to help power users adapt better to the Ribbon interface.)

Office 2010 Ribbon

The Ribbon was introduced in 2007, and looks largely unchanged in 2010. However, a brand-new functionality in Word 2010 is the suite of built-in artistic effects for graphics. For example, let’s take the following image and apply some artistic effects.

Original Image

The Artistic Effects menu provides some intriguing Adobe Photoshop-style filters to make things interesting. It provides everything from pencil and brush strokes to screen effects. And the preview function, introduced in Office 2007, lets you quickly see an application preview in the menu itself.

So we can make the image look like a pencil drawing with the Pencil Grayscale effect …

Image with Pencil

Or apply the Plastic Wrap effect for more 3D impact …

Image with Plastic Wrap

Or if you are going for something completely different, then you can use the Glow Edges effect (black light bulb optional) …

In Word 2010, as in Word 2007, you can still apply color corrections, 3D and shadow effects, and compress and crop images. To retrieve these screenshots, I used the new Screenshot menu. From this menu, you can also insert screenshots (captured using the PrintScreen key) into Word documents.

Word 2010 also offers many advanced layout options specifically geared toward books and other publication types.

That concludes the new graphic bling in Word. Next week, we’ll move onto the new data analysis capabilities in Excel 2010.

–Joshua Hester aka codeguru, Transcender’s MCAS test developer

You can do it your way with MCAS practice tests

November 25, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints | Leave a comment
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MCAS certifications have been renamed MOS certifications as of June 2010. Previously earned MCAS certificates remain valid, but will be reissued under the new terminology. For more information, see this post.

Riffing off that classic Frank Sinatra tune, our MCAS products for Office 2007 let you learn your own way, live in the application. Whether it’s Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, you can perform real-world tasks using keyboard shortcuts, context menus, the quick access toolbar, or the ribbon. As long as you get the desired result, our robust grading engine will give you the points for effort. If you’re not sure where to start, we provide a step-by-step tutorial to show you a couple of ways.

But these products are not only great study tools for MCAS certification; they are also excellent stand-alone learning labs for Office novices and veterans alike. Very often, our knowledge of software products is restricted by our day-to-day activities. We do what worked yesterday because it will work today, and in this way, we can miss new techniques that would make our workflow more efficient and intuitive. If you’ve already purchased the Office Suite, shouldn’t you get the most out of your investment? What if there is a quicker way to do something? That’s where our MCAS products come into play.

Let’s step through an example. Say that you know a lot about charts and tables in Excel, but you’ve heard the phrases “pivot table” and “pivot chart” tossed about and don’t know what that means. So, you fire up Cert-77-602 – MCAS: Using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 and choose Learning Mode. You could choose the objective Presenting Data Visually, or just search using the keywords “pivot chart.”

When you view one of these items, Microsoft Excel will be launched with a sample document and set of tasks as follows:

Cert-77-602 Item with Tasks

In this item, you are given tasks to insert a pivot chart into a new worksheet and add specified fields to the report. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start exploring the ribbon and Office menu, trying to figure it out yourself. (Hint: It’s found in the Insert tab.) But if you don’t have a clue where to begin, you can click the Grade Item button to learn how to do it. The tutorial contains step-by-step, screenshot-by-screenshot description of how to accomplish these tasks.

If that’s not enough, we go through the painful Web research to provide links to official Microsoft references that provide even more details on the tasks. These references usually contain their own step-by-step guides, conceptual topics and examples.

Once you feel more comfortable, you can click the Retake button and try it out yourself. Not only will you understand what a pivot chart is, but now you know how to use one, having actually used it  in Excel!

As you see, our MCAS products are more than  practice tests; they are  inline learning assistants for your business (and personal) applications. We currently offer MCAS products for Word 2007 and PowerPoint 2007 as well. So, no more excuses; be more productive in less time!

–Joshua Hester

QA Talk: Care and feeding of the MCAS test engine

October 28, 2008 at 4:03 pm | Posted in Transcender news | Leave a comment
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Editor’s note: “QA Talk” will be a semi-regular blog feature in which we address common “under the hood” questions about our practice test engine interface, the resolution to common issues, and tips for streamlining your experience.

Today Aima, our QA expert and liaison with the customer support department, fine-tunes your experience with the MCAS (Microsoft Certified Application Specialist) test engine.

So you’ve finally scored that coveted block of uninterrupted study time. You sit in front of your computer and “unwrap” a newly purchased Transcender MCAS practice test. You follow a few prompts to successfully launch the product – only to find that the documents don’t properly load on your screen, or that your practice test items aren’t grading correctly. After muttering some choice words, but before making the dreaded call* to customer service, let me try to offer a few do-it-yourself-and-feel-proud-you-fixed-it-without-spending-all-morning-on-the-phone-with-customer-service tips.

Scenario 1: General problems launching any MCAS practice test (Word, Excel, or PowerPoint 2007). If the documents don’t load properly, or the KaplanIT Learning Center will not launch the test item, you should start by verifying your installation of Microsoft Office:

  • Do you have multiple versions of Microsoft Office installed? If you open Microsoft Word and are prompted with installation steps each time, click through the prompts and select the 2007 version as your default. You can also try saving a random document in Word, and changing the Save default in Word Options to the 2007 version, Word Document (*.docx).
  • Do you have the full version of 2007 Office installed? If so, which version? Student versions of Microsoft Office 2007 may not have all the files required to support the practice test software.
  • Do you have dual monitors? If so, you must display your practice test on the designated main monitor.

Scenario 2: Your documents for the Using Microsoft Word 2007 practice test (77-601) are not displaying properly, but your Excel (77-602) and Power Point (77-603) exams launch successfully. This can happen when the version of Microsoft Word 2007 on your computer does not contain some basic personal information. It’s an easy fix. Continue Reading QA Talk: Care and feeding of the MCAS test engine…

A nifty study aid for the 77-602 MCAS: Using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 exam

September 16, 2008 at 10:40 am | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints | Leave a comment
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I’ve registered for the Microsoft at Work RSS feeds. I’ve learned a few useful tricks and have gotten product updates, so I actually find them to be beneficial. I look at the RSS feed headers every few weeks and if something looks interesting, I’ll click and read.

I recently saw a tip that I thought would benefit anyone preparing for the MCAS: Using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 exam. This article is from 2007, but its usefulness hasn’t expired. It highlights three Excel features and provides clear and concise steps to use them. If you’re studying for the 77-602 exam (or if you just want to see three cool Excel tricks), click this link and check them out.

EDIT: So I asked Josh (codeguru) to read this post. I was expecting him to be wowed, but instead he taught me an important blog priniciple. He said that I needed to bring something personal to the post, and not just repost a link; this separates the content bloggers from the repost monkeys. (The give and take of constructive feedback is one of my favorite things about this team. I may have given a snarky reply because we have that kind of spirit too, but I did ultimately take his advice.)

So, personal confession time. One of these three tips has to do with Pivot Tables. I think PivotTables separate the casual users from the Power Users. This was the most difficult objective for me when I took the MCAS, and on my score report, this was my lowest score. If I had to study all over again, I would focus more time on this objective so I could reduce the amount of time I spent on the questions regarding PivotTables.

I looked for some resources that I thought would answer both the most basic and difficult questions about PivotTables. This is what I found:

Heck, I might just surprise my boss with a shiny new PivotTable in our next meeting.

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