Acing the test

By David Raths, Network World |  Career

Rocky Burrous, a consulting systems administrator to the State of Florida Office of Labor Market Statistics in Tallahassee, turned to practice exams on CD-ROM from Transcender ( to study for NT 4.0 Server, Enterprise and Workstatioon exams. "They were very close to the real thing," he says.

Burrous, who now holds five Microsoft certifications and the Novell Certified Network Administrator, says the best thing about the exams was that they pointed out his areas of weakness. "When you got an answer wrong, they did a superb job of explaining the correct answer, and in most cases why the other answers were wrong," he says. Individual Transcender exams range in price from $79 to $179.

While taking practice exams and participating in discussions with fellow certification candidates are helpful, neither can substitute for technical experience. "I don't want people to take a class, take a practice test, and then be able to pass a certification exam," says MeasureUp's Brice. "You should take our test to see where you're still weak."

Nevertheless, Brice says his company tries to make its questions more difficult than those on the actual exam. "I don't want them to have a false sense of security going in," he says.

While the Web is enabling new methods of learning and studying, it's also making it easier for students to disseminate answers. People coming out of exams such as the one for Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer certification perform a "brain dump": they jot down as many questions as they can, along with what they think are the correct answers and send them out over the Internet to others studying for the exams. "That's why the certification exams are becoming more plug and play," Brice says. "There are more break-fix scenarios with the stopwatch running."

Brain dumps wouldn't have helped Morris on the CCIE lab exams. "Cisco tells you to study everything, and they're not kidding. One person could get X.25, another ATM," he says. "Finding out what someone else's test was like wouldn't do anything but make you more paranoid."

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