What you need to know for the MCSE Active Directory design exam

The Win2K MCSE program introduced a new requirement: the design exam. These exams test your solutions-design abilities with detailed case studies. We kick off a four-part series on these exams with a look at 70-219, the Active Directory design exam.

If you’re on track for the MCSE in Windows 2000, you know that you have to take four core exams (or the accelerated exam to upgrade) and two electives, just as with the Windows NT 4.0 track. However, the Windows 2000 MCSE includes an additional exam, called the Core Design Exam (a.k.a. the Core+ Exam). You can select from the following four design exams:
  • 70-219—Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure
  • 70-221—Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure
  • 70-220—Designing Security for a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network
  • 70-226—Designing Highly Available Web Solutions with Microsoft Windows 2000 Server Technologies

To help you decide which one you should take, we’re launching a four-part series that focuses on each of these exams. In this installment, we’ll discuss exam 70-219, Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure. We’ll look at the following:
  • Audience
  • Exam details
  • A summary of what you need to know
  • The new “case study” format
  • Recommended study plan

Audience and prerequisites
The Active Directory design exam is focused on two audiences: IT professionals who are currently or plan to be involved in an Active Directory rollout (including those who are migrating from NT 4.0, NT 3.51, or any other NOS—although there are other exams that cover the more intricate details of such a migration) and those who are currently in the MCSE track and need to learn this information for potential future projects.

Microsoft’s recommended prerequisites for this exam and its associated Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) course (# 1561) include at least one year of field experience designing networks and the MOC course on Active Directory (course # 2154) or the MOC course Updating Support Skills from NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 (course # 1560).

Although Microsoft recommends a minimum of one year’s experience designing networks, not everyone will have it. Thus, while I think it's very desirable to have that type of experience, it is not 100 percent necessary. However, you must have a solid understanding of how Active Directory works. In other words, when I say OU, you know that I mean Organizational Unit, and you know what the PDC Emulator Flexible Single Master Operation is.

Exam details
Of the four Core+ exams, exam 70-219 has been ranked as the easiest of the bunch. According to, a major certification portal, this exam ranks a 3 out of 5 on the difficulty scale—where 5 is really tough and 1 is a walk in the park. (Just to give you a frame of reference, exam 70-215, Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, rated a 2.) Visitors to, another large certification Web site, ranked exam 70-219 as a little more difficult than average. As someone who has taken this exam, I would have to agree with the above stats. This exam is not too hard—providing you prepare appropriately for it (more on this later).

Here are some specific details about the exam:

Time Limit: 215 Minutes
Number of questions: Around 40
Passing score: 613
Exam format: Form, with case studies

What you need to know
So what does this exam cover? On the Core Exams, you are tested on how to use a specific area of Windows 2000. For example, you are tested on how the Active Directory works and how it’s laid out—basically the nuts and bolts of the product. In this phase of your MCSE certification, you shift gears into focusing not so much on how it works, but rather on designing an effective solution for a business need. It is assumed that you already know how to use the product.

In this exam, you will be required to know how to plan the Active Directory. From domains to OUs to sites and even DNS, you are tasked with providing a solution for a business need. You must know how to effectively design Delegation of Authority in your plan and how to create a Schema Modification Policy. The exam also covers Group Policy planning—where to link Group Policy Objects (GPOs) and when to create them. DNS is heavily tested since it is so important to the Active Directory. You will be tested on varying levels of BIND, as it potentially integrates into your Windows 2000 design.

You will also be tested on the designing aspects of your project. For example, you must remember that your first order of business is to make sure that your design is functional. If it doesn’t work, every other design aspect is irrelevant. After you make it functional, you must try to find a harmonious balance between security, availability, and performance.

All in all, this exam is probably the most fun because it requires you to think about things like business needs vs. technological limitations and the wants of the company vs. the must-haves of the company—in the context of the very cool Active Directory. For a detailed listing of the subjects covered in� this exam, check out Microsoft’s certification info on this exam.

New case study format
Those of you who have been taking Microsoft exams for a number of years are probably quite familiar with the traditional formats. You typically get an exam consisting of a set number of questions that each has a couple of related answers. Occasionally, Microsoft throws an adaptive exam at you, but even that’s rare. You may have noticed that with the advent of the Windows 2000 MCSE track, the questions have gotten a little wordier, compared to the NT 4.0 MCSE exams. But generally speaking, the Win2K Core exams are fairly similar to previous exams.

However, the Core+ Exams are a whole new story. These exams are in “case study” format, which basically consists of a number of scenarios that provide a rather large amount of information about a particular company. This information is usually presented in a number of tabs and may include:
  • Interviews from the CEO/CIO of the fictitious company.
  • IT goals and plans.
  • IT needs.
  • Current IT infrastructure.
  • Lots of other information that may or may not be of any value for the given scenario.

Your job, when taking an exam in this format, is to read through the entire case study from start to finish, gather the important information, and then begin to answer anywhere from eight to 12 questions about the scenario. You can expect to have about three to five scenarios per exam, and you can expect them to be filled with a lot of information you need to sift through.

At first glance, the change in format makes these exams look fairly tough. However, I think that this new format is a welcome change from Microsoft’s previous formats. While definitely a little more challenging than some of the other exams, exams in this format are definitely passable—with the right amount of studying and preparation.

Recommended study plan
So you want to know how to pass the exam, right? Well, here are some of my recommended tips. Please keep in mind that this is just my opinion and is certainly not the only way to go about things. First of all, you need to do some sort of training; don’t self-study this one. Now before you shoot me for that suggestion, let me explain my reasoning.

This test is geared toward two types of people: those who have been in the industry for a while and have been involved in some major projects and those who are simply on the MCSE track. There are a lot of career changers who are obtaining their MCSE these days, and a fair number of them (although not all) are doing it by self-studying, cramming, reading brain dumps, and so on. I’ve got to tell you that while you can go out and read the braindumps to pass this exam, you really shouldn’t if you want to be a topnotch IT professional. Take a class if you can.

As I mentioned earlier, the MOC class that maps most closely to this exam is course 1561, Designing the Active Directory. Take it. It is an excellent class, especially if you have never been involved in a major network design project before. While some of the other courses for the design exams are, in my opinion, poorly conceived, this class is well written and provides an excellent discussion of the topics.

Also, I think you will find that these design classes are considerably different from the other Microsoft classes you may have experienced. A colleague of mine who teaches this class begins by saying, “Welcome to the three-day argument!” I have to agree with him, because this class really can be entertaining with all of the differing viewpoints; that’s what makes designing things so fun.

Here are a couple of additional tips. After taking the class, get hold of some sort of non-vendor-biased book (in other words, something not written by Microsoft) and use it to further study for the exam.

Also, while I am not always a supporter of things like practice tests (simply because they can be easily misused), I think the Transcender practice test is an excellent tool to use while preparing for this exam. Since the format of the exams has changed so much, obtaining the Transcender test, or something similar, will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with the new exam format. In addition, it will stimulate your thinking with a number of design scenarios, which will help you learn this subject matter and pass the exam.

Microsoft has a free test engine you can download if you’d like to get the feel of the new exam format. Of course, as I always say, the only way to really learn this stuff is do it.

Until next time
Are you convinced that the Active Directory design exam is the Core+ exam you should take? Before you decide, check out the remaining installments in this series on the Core+ Exams. Next time, we’ll look at 70-221,Designing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure.

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