For many people taking an exam can be really stressful. In this blog post I’d like to see if I can take some of the fear away from taking that exam. This is the final post in my series on How to get certified. Before you take the exam you should complete the first 3 steps. Let’s be clear, I said before you TAKE the exam complete the first 3 steps. I recommend scheduling the exam as soon as you have chosen your certification goal (step 1). By scheduling your exam you commit yourself to a date and suddenly you have a target, instead of taking the exam ‘someday’ you now know exactly when you are taking the exam. Just setting a deadline makes you more likely to meet your certification goal. We have four steps to complete to earn a certification:
We’ve talked about how to prepare in the blog posts describing the first three steps, now it’s time to focus on the exam itself.
Scheduling the exam
You schedule your exam at a Prometric testing center. They have locations across the country. When you visit their website to schedule an exam you will be provided with a list of testing center locations to choose from. After you select a location you will see a calendar which displays the available exam times at that testing center. The website also gives you the option of phoning if you need help scheduling your exam. You will also find answers on the website to frequently asked questions such as how much does the exam cost? and What is the policy for rescheduling the exam. Keep an eye on the Microsoft Learning site for promotions that might give you a discount or a free second try of your exam if you don’t pass the first time.
What’s that? Did I say “If you don’t pass!” Yup, I think that is everyone’s greatest fear, failing the exam. Okay now think about this for a second, if, worst comes to worst, and you don’t pass. You are out the cost of the exam. You will not be the first or the last person to fail an exam. Take a deep breath, shrug your shoulders, look at your exam score sheet to check where you scored well, and where you need to study. You just completed Step 2: Figure out what you don’t know, now re-execute Step 3: fill in the gaps with some more studying, and try again.
But let’s do everything we can to help you pass the first time! You’ve scheduled your exam, you’ve researched what is on the exam, you’ve studied the topic areas to fill in the gaps of your knowledge, now it is time to walk through that door and take the exam itself.
The day of the exam
I recommend giving yourself extra time to get to the testing center. Plan on arriving 30 minutes early, that way if you do get lost or stuck in traffic you will still make it on time. If you arrive early, all the better, you can fill out the paperwork, and sit down for a few minutes reviewing a few notes before you start. Don’t forget to bring government issued Photo ID and the exam confirmation information which has your Prometric ID, Exam number, and start time.
At your appointed start time you will be asked to hand over your cell phone, and any bags such as a purse or backpack you have with you. You will be given either a pad of paper and a pen, or a plasticized piece of paper and a whiteboard marker and eraser that you can use to take notes for yourself during the exam.
You will be taken to a computer where the test administrator will make the sure the exam is loaded onto the computer and help you launch the exam. You will be presented with a series of questions you need to answer. There will be a timer (usually in the top right corner of the screen) that indicates how much time you have left. Some exams are broken into sections and you are given a fixed amount of time for each section, other exams give you a fixed amount of time to complete the entire exam. So don’t panic if you see a timer counting down 15 minutes when you are only on question one. Expect somewhere between 40-60 questions.
The questions generally follow a fairly standard format. First you are given a scenario “You are maintaining a SQL Server 2008 database on a Windows 2008 Server”, then you are given a problem statement “your project needs to store binary data and requires very fast update and retrieval capabilities” then you are asked the question “which solution best meets the needs of the team”. Watch for statements such as which solution “best” meets the needs of the team, that will help you narrow down which answer is correct, you can use VARBINARY, or Filestream to store binary data, but which is faster? remember the question stated the team required fast update and retrieval.
You may be asked to choose one correct answer, or two correct answers that together make a correct answer, or two correct answers each of which is correct on its own. Read carefully to make sure you understand what is being asked.
When you see a question you are unsure of, you can mark the question for review. After you have answered all the questions a summary screen is displayed and you can go back and review any questions. Personally I do not go back and review every question, instead as I go through the exam, I use the Mark for review option to help me remember which questions I wanted to go back and spend more time on if I had time.
Quick tip, if you have answered a question and the Next button is disabled, the system has not crashed, the exam is designed to force you to see all the answers before you can move on to the next question, so you may have to scroll down to see the the bottom of the last answer before the Next button is enabled.
After you have answered all the questions you will be given a chance to provide feedback on the questions and the testing center. After you submit the survey you will see a screen pop-up with your score, and at that point all you hope for is that magic 700! 700 is the passing score for a Microsoft certification exam, and just to clear up a common misconception, 700 does not equal 70%! Every exam goes through a beta testing process that helps Microsoft determine a reasonable passing score, so for an easy exam you might need better than 70%, for a tough exam you might need less than 70% to pass. There is a blog post on Born To Learn that explains this in more detail.
700 may not equal 70% but in my mind 700 = 1000. What do I mean? If you look at your transcript it will simply show that you passed the exam. I have passed exams with scores varying from 700 to 980, in the end all that really matters is you passed!
I have taken many certification exams over the years, so today’s Top 5 is all about Tips to help you when you take the exam, but this week you get double for your money a Top 10!
Top 10 Exam Tips
- Don’t Panic! Yup, Douglas Adams had it right when he wrote HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy. I have taken exams where I had no idea what the answers were to the first 5 questions. Don’t panic, just do your best and carry on. In the words of Captain Taggart in Galaxy Quest Never Give Up Never Surrender! Don’t give up part way through. Always finish!
- ANSWER EVERY QUESTION! I cannot emphasize this enough, even if you have no idea what is the right answer, guess! You do not lose points for answering incorrectly, so you may as well guess, you might get it right.
- Rule out wrong answers Sometimes when you aren’t sure of the answer to a question, you can look at the answers and determine that one or two of the answers are incorrect. Now your odds of guessing the right answer just went up. Sometimes incorrect answers are blatantly obvious.
- Spot the difference. Sometimes you have four very long answers to choose from. Instead of spending 10 minutes trying to understand the answers in detail, if you compare the answers you might discover that the only difference between the choices is one parameter. So you may not need to figure out the entire answer, if you can find the difference between the answers you can use that difference to determine which answer is correct.
- Mark questions you don’t know and come back to them. Sometimes you get a question later in the exam which will help you figure out the answer to an earlier question.
- When in doubt go with your first instinct. Your first guess is usually the right one
- If you have to memorize options, write them down, then just before you walk into the exam room review them one last time. You will have to throw out or give the administrator your piece of review paper. But as soon as you sit down in the exam room you can jot it down on the paper provided while it is still fresh in your mind.
- If you know the answer before you read the suggested answers go with it! Sometimes I read a question and my brain immediately thinks “I know what feature they want here”. You are probably right. So now just go look for the answer you thought of in the suggested answers and select it.
- Check the time a quarter and half way through the exam. Don’t stress yourself out by checking the time after every question, just do a quick time check at the quarter and half-way points to make sure you are on track
- Get a good night’s sleep. Chances are one more hour of sleep will help you more than one more hour of cramming.
If you have taken an exam, I bet you have your own exam tips to share. So tell us your tips! and GOOD LUCK ON YOUR EXAM!
This blog post is also posted to the Canadian Developer Connection