There are worse things you can do, certainly, but figuring out how to outsmart an exam isn’t the best use of your time. As I’ve written before, it’s better to learn the material a test covers than it is to break down the strategy an exam’s developers employ to grade your knowledge.

Even so, you would be remiss not to find out how you will be tested. You must minimize surprises, especially now, when Microsoft is preparing to introduce new question types to its MCP exams.

It’s only fair that candidates know what material will be covered. (We all remember the rightful chorus of protests that greeted a teacher when we were tested on an item not covered in class.) By the same token, you should know how the test will be administered. For example, will the exam consist of multiple-choice questions, lab simulations, or some other type of questions? Will you be given 90 minutes to finish or just an hour?

Nothing associated with those questions should surprise you on test day. Make sure that you’re not caught by surprise when the new question formats are rolled out. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the new types while you still can.

Hot Area Questions
You must select an element or elements in a graphic to specify the correct answer in Hot Area Questions. Elements that can be selected are marked with a border and change shades when you move the mouse over them. You select and unselect elements by clicking them.

Because these questions are presented in split-screen format, with the actual question appearing above the split and the Hot Area Question appearing below, you may have to scroll in the top window to read the entire text of the question. The ubiquitous slide bar will be present, which is your giveaway that more text remains to be read in the window.

You’ll also see a Reset button at the bottom of the testing window. This button returns all the question’s settings to the original values, essentially allowing you to start that question over from scratch.

Active Screen Questions
Active Screen Questions present you with dialog boxes. To successfully answer an Active Screen Question, you must properly configure one or more elements in the dialog box.

In the case of text boxes, prepared text responses will be included in a frame on the left side of the testing window. When you pull a prepared text string from the left window onto the Active Screen (which is labeled Work Area), the item you select will appear gray in the left frame (confirming that it has been used). Your job is to drag the appropriate text string into the appropriate text box in the Work Area.

The other dialog box elements—such as option buttons and check boxes—function as they normally would.

As with Hot Area Questions, Active Screen Questions appear in a split-screen configuration. You will need to scroll to see the entire text of the question. Microsoft takes pains to point this out in the new question type FAQ, which makes me suspect that candidates have been complaining that they didn’t see the entire question.

Windows 2000 and Windows 98 Simulation Questions
Simulation questions are just that: simulations. They’ve been around for a while (I remember completing simulations on the IIS 4 exam), but now they’re becoming more sophisticated.

Although the actual simulations are restricted (only certain actions are enabled for the command prompt, for example), they realistically portray the menus and screens an administrator must navigate to complete a task, such as creating a new user e-mailbox or setting a disk quota.

As with all Microsoft exam question types I know about, you either get the question right or you don’t. There’s no partial credit.

Eckel’s take
It’s never a good idea to study how to beat an exam. It’s best to master the material the test covers. Such a strategy prepares you for all scenarios.

Still, it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into. Reviewing the different types of questions you’ll face and ensuring that you’re comfortable with the methods used to complete them frees you to spend your test day worrying about the subject matter being tested, not the test itself.