Microsoft exams

Last August, I did a beta exam for Microsoft. I didn’t pay for it, but I didn’t get a score either; the idea was just to test out their new software for doing simulations in the exam (rather than multiple choice questions). As a “thank you”, Microsoft then sent me three vouchers, each one corresponding to a free exam. These expire at the end of June, so I’ve finally had to stop procrastinating and start studying.

Today I did two exams: 70-236 (MCTS: Configuring Exchange Server 2007) and 70-431 (MCTS: SQL Server 2005 – Implementation and Maintenance). According to the booking website, the Exchange exam lasts 4½ hours, and the SQL exam lasts 4 hours, so this looked like quite a long day! Fortunately, I didn’t need all the time that was allocated, so I ended both exams early, and I was at the test centre for about 3 hours altogether.

The Exchange exam went pretty well; I haven’t read all of the study guide, but I do have a lot of hands on experience. Before the actual exam started, they asked me to rate myself in various skills, e.g. backups and performance monitoring. That’s new, so presumably they’ll compare that to my actual results, and see how good I am at self-assessment. One significant point about this exam is that you have to be familiar with the command line. I can’t go into too much detail (due to the NDA), but I can say that about half of the questions involved cmdlets, so if you use the GUI for everything then you’ll fail this exam. Arguably that’s not fair, since the GUI is a valid way to perform day to day tasks, but it’s certainly useful to be aware of it. Anyway, I passed this by a comfortable margin (passing score 700, my score 826), so that’s good.

I found the SQL exam a lot harder, and after the first few questions I figured that I was pretty much doomed. This exam was in two stages: firstly the normal multiple choice questions, then a set of simulations. I found the simulations a lot easier, and this was reflected in my scores: 753 for non-performance based items, and 880 for performance based items. (Again, the pass mark was 700.)

So, that’s good news: two extra qualifications to put on my CV. That said, both exams revealed some areas that I’m weak on, so I need to continue studying.

This leaves me with one voucher, and 10 days to use it. I haven’t booked my final exam yet, because I wanted to wait until I’d done the first two; that way, if I’d failed either of them, I could use the remaining voucher to retake it. I think I’ll go for 70-536 (MCTS: Microsoft .NET Framework – Application Development Foundation). It won’t actually get me a qualification by itself, but it’s a prerequisite for several, i.e. it has to be paired up with another exam. More importantly, it’s a subject that I’ve got quite a lot of experience in, and I also have a book that will help me to prepare (not an official study guide, but still relevant).

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