Ch-ch-ch-changes: Turn and face the change (to Windows Server 2012 R2 exams)

March 12, 2014 at 9:03 am | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints, Vendor news | 6 Comments
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The first song I ever heard by David Bowie was “Rebel, Rebel” and in the video, he had scarlet red hair, an eyepatch, and some stylin’ 70s pantaloons.  If you have followed the (not parallel, but similarly meteoric) careers of Windows Server and British rock star David Bowie, you will see one common thread. Can you guess what it is?


Mr. Bowie, like Windows Server, has gone through several significant changes of appearance since those early days. The first version of Window Server I ever used was Windows NT 3.1. Despite undergoing several version updates since then, some core functionalities have stayed the same.

WinServerVersions Now there is a new version on the market, Windows Server 2012 R2. Late last year Microsoft announced that they would modify the existing Window Server 2012 certification exams to cover  R2 (70-41070-411, and 70-412). The Windows Server 2012 R2 exam changes officially took effect in January 2014, although we saw staggered rollout in the field. So if you spent good money taking a Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) course on Server 2012, only to find yourself under pressure taking an exam that tested concepts from Server 2012 R2, you may be asking why Microsoft felt the need to update the exam content so soon. I have met several people at Microsoft. They are not mean people who pull the wings off of butterflies; they are actually really, really nice folk.  It’s simply that the exams needed to reflect the new features of Windows Server 2012 R2. David Bowie is not content to just live off his old tunes; he put out his 24th album in 2013.  In similar fashion, Microsoft is not content for certification candidates to know what might soon be a legacy operating systems. They want to ensure that candidates for their flagship MCSA and MCSE certifications are tested on the newest features deployed to the field.

Without further ado, here are the additions to the official exam objectives list for the  70-410, 70-411, and 70-412 exams. 70-410certChanges 70-411certChanges 70-412certChanges While you can purchase the latest album from David Bowie  and listen to it, you may not yet be able to find much training on the new R2 features.  The best way to prepare for this exam is to set up a couple of servers and work through each of the tasks listed in the exam objectives. You can get a free evaluation copy of Windows Server 2012 R2. There aren’t a lot of books on Windows Server 2012 R2 yet. I would use TechNet and other online resources to study the information on each sub-objective. I find that Microsoft generally pulls test questions from the examples in TechNet. I would ensure that I was 100% confident with each sub-objective listed on the prep guide before attempting the live exam. Reviewing information on a particular sub-objective will ensure that you will not see anything that you are not familiar with on the exam.

If you need extra hands-on experience but do not want to spend hours configuring a server, try using the FREE virtual labs at the following link: These labs allow you to have 90 minutes of practice lab time on a Windows Server for FREE.

We will be cranking out the Windows  Server 2012 R2 updates for the 70-412 Transcender practice exam in the next few weeks. (Drop a comment here to be added to our notification list.) And you better believe I’ll be listening to a little David Bowie while we do it.

You can check out the already updated R2 Transcender practice tests here:

  • 70-410, Installing and Configuring R2
  • 70-411, Administering R2
Until next time,
George Monsalvatge

O-M-G, Microsoft announces more exam question types

August 15, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Performance-Based Testing, Study hints | Leave a comment
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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.

Happy Testing.

George Monsalvatge

Multiple options beyond multiple choice: an overview of Microsoft’s new exam item types

May 29, 2012 at 9:41 am | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints, Technical Tips, Vendor news | 4 Comments
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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.

Extended Matching

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:

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)

Happy testing!

–the Transcender Team

Additional Oracle Exam Tips to Prevent Common Mistakes

November 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm | Posted in Oracle, Study hints, Technical Tips | 2 Comments
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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

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

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

A+ Windows 7 Video Series – Part III

March 3, 2011 at 10:57 am | Posted in CompTIA, Kaplan IT Training news | Leave a comment
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The third part of our video series with Mike Meyers is available here. In this video, we discuss the changes to the 220-701 and 220-702 Exam Guides from CompTIA and tell you just what we expect to see on the exams for Windows 7 and IPv6. We hope you’re enjoying watching these as much as we enjoyed making them!

Parts 1 & 2 of our video series are still available; check them out here.

~ Robin

A+ Windows 7 Video Series – Part II

February 24, 2011 at 9:40 am | Posted in CompTIA, Kaplan IT Training news | Leave a comment
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The second part of our video series with Mike Meyers can be accessed by clicking here. This is where we get into the real meat of the A+ changes. You don’t want to miss it!

We touch on the historical trends for CompTIA certification updates and spell out the steps to access the new exam objectives and how to identify the new content. For our friends who have expressed frustration regarding tested topics not currently in your practice test products or study guides, Mike offers his experience about unscored items.

Also, in case you’re just joining us and you missed the first part of our video series, catch up here!


The proof is in the research: Taking a test is the best way to learn

February 21, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Posted in Kaplan IT Training news, Study hints, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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If you’re familiar with our blog and our product, then it should come as no surprise that when you ask us we always encourage you to take a practice test before taking your certification exam. Well now you don’t have to take our word for it! It seems the good folks at Purdue University have the research to prove it. In a study involving 200 college students, a group of Purdue University researchers found that taking a practice test before a subsequent exam trumped several other popular methods of learning—including repetition and concept mapping.

One of several experiments went something like this: Students were asked to read several paragraphs about a scientific topic. They were then divided into four groups.

  • The first group simply read the text for five minutes.
  • The second group read the text in four consecutive five-minute sessions.
  • The third group performed “concept mapping,” a process in which students drew detailed diagrams about information from the excerpt they were reading.
  • The fourth group read the passage once and took a “retrieval practice test,” which required them to write down what they recalled from the text.

A week later, all four groups took a quiz that asked them to recall facts from the passage they had read and draw conclusions based on those facts. Here’s where it gets really exciting…while the students in the fourth group anticipated lower scores on the quiz, they were actually able to recall 50% more compared to those who participated in the first three groups. This means, those who read and then took a practice test had higher exam scores a week later!

Surprised? Yeah, so was most of the education community. Although experts are not completely sure why retrieval testing is so effective, there are some theories. It could be that by recalling information, we are organizing it and creating meaningful connections that our brains later recognize. Another theory is that the effort involved in remembering information helps to solidify it in our minds. Meaning as we’re working through a practice test and identifying areas of weakness, we’re actually using the struggle to remember information as a retention source for later recall. This makes us feel a whole lot better about the forum chatter that says our Transcender practice tests are so much harder than the “real thing”.

If you want to check out the details of the Purdue study as well as more feedback on theories from “experts” the article can be found here, To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test. Whatever the reason behind their results, the Purdue study makes a very compelling case for using practice tests to prepare for your upcoming IT certification exam.

Taking the Office 2010 exams: the rolling stone gathers the MOS

August 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Performance-Based Testing, Study hints | 11 Comments
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“A rolling stone gathers no moss.” — English proverb

Earlier this month, a couple of colleagues and I took the new Word and Excel 2010 core exams. Of the three of us, I was the only person who had never sat for an Office exam, but I’ve been a Microsoft Word user since installing Office for Windows 1.0 from a 5 1/4″ floppy, so I didn’t think I’d have any problems.

The preparation

Although they were released on June 30, the Office 2010 Word and Excel exams were not available in our nearest and dearest testing centers. As it turns out the bleeding edge of MOS certification is located in rural Rome, Georgia, two hours outside of Atlanta, on the 25,000-acre campus of Berry College. The drive was long, but the scenery was gorgeous: farm fields, rolling hills, and periodic “See Rock City!” billboards.

Sidebar: My favorite sight was a group of teenagers on horseback riding up to a gas station to buy sodas.

Once we finally got to Rome, as several roads turned out not to lead there at all, our Certiport test proctor was wonderfully accommodating, and more than pleased to have three guinea pigs for the new exam series.

Before setting out, of course, we thoroughly reviewed the published exam objectives. They’re more detailed and explicit than the 2007 counterparts.

As objectives go, these are pretty unambiguous. Notice, however, that the objectives range in complexity; saving an open document as a template is much simpler than performing mail merge tasks. We also expected that the Ribbon would be key to the exam experience, so we made sure we knew what each button accomplished.

The fine print

The MOS exams are each 50 minutes long and ask a series of scenario-based questions. These first two Office 2010 exams are similar to their 2007 predecessors in that the exams are live-in-the-application, meaning you are using a full version of the software with the Help function disabled. Pop-ups are still active (for example, if you hover your mouse over the B button on the Home tab, a note will pop up saying “Make the selected text bold”).

While it seems you’re allowed to take any path to a result, there’s no crying in baseball and there’s no backtracking in MOS. Once you finish with a scenario, you have to move on to the next set of questions without the option of returning later. If you get mired inside of one scenarios and need to start over, there’s a handy “Reset” button. This resets only the active question, not the entire test.

The experience

We started with the test we thought would be more difficult for us: Excel 2010. Josh started pounding through it like a machine. George was sweating a little, but I could hear the steady click click clicks from his terminal. Meanwhile, Excel stomped me into the dirt.  Now, I hate to lose and I hate to fail, but I have to admit this failure was a badly needed lesson for me.

I’m an adequate daily user of Excel 2007. I had reviewed the 2007-to-2010 feature changes, but gaps in knowledge aside, I can truthfully say the live exam killed me for one reason alone: I didn’t watch my time. While George and Josh clicked feverishly along, I pondered and guessed and spent long minutes hunting up and down the menus. End result: I didn’t even get to a third of the questions, while the guys both finished with minutes to spare. There were most likely more questions I could have answered, but just didn’t get to.

Unlike the 2007 objectives for Excel, the 2010 exam Objectives focus much more on graphics than on formulas and functions. So take a tip from my hard-learned lesson – don’t sweat the small stuff, mind the clock, focus on the task at hand, and manipulate the data in the way the tasks require, and you should be able to click, click, click with time to spare.

After a brief break, we moved on to Word 2010. I expected to get 100% (I was seriously miffed that I scored just under 90%). Again, this was a test where you had to know exactly which menu or mouse-click hid your required task and go straight to it if you expected to finish on time. Given my broader knowledge of Word, I was able to blast through nine-tenths of the questions I saw and then grant myself a bit of leeway one of the harder scenarios, testing different options until I had as close to a correct answer as I could manage. But I had learned my lesson from Excel, and kept my eye on the ticking clock as I went through the test.

The results

One of us left the test center with two sparkly new certifications (overachiever!), while the rest of us (yours truly included) proudly walked away with one certification each.

Look for one more blog post in the Office 2010 series where I go over the targeted study advice we wish we’d followed before taking the exams.


The experience

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