Microsoft has made one thing clear with its Windows 2000 MCSE track: The new test formats require more hands-on experience. Fortunately, a lot of materials, study resources, and learning options are available to help Windows NT 4.0 MCSEs get the broad-based experience in Win2K technologies needed to pass the dreaded 70-240 MCSE Windows 2000 accelerated exam.

What do these study options have in common? Practice, practice, and more practice! Classes, study guides, and CBTs incorporate hands-on exercises and often provide practice tests and/or flash cards, which are effective study tools after you’ve familiarized yourself with the material. Practice tests are excellent for getting comfortable with the testing interface and logistics, and the questions and scenarios are similar to those found on the actual exam. But which options are appropriate for you? I have several suggestions that should facilitate your quest to survive the Win2K accelerated exam.

Retaining your MCSE status

For IT professionals certified on Windows NT 4.0, MCSE retention requires you to pass 70-240 (or pass the four core exams separately) plus one design exam and two electives. A few of the Windows NT 4.0 electives have carried over to the Windows 2000 MCSE track. If you haven’t looked at these lately, you should. In the past several months, a new design exam has been added as well as several new electives. Also, remember that as Windows XP and .NET servers are released, there will be new certification exams for those products as well, although Microsoft has stated that MCSEs certified in Windows 2000 will not be required to upgrade to Windows XP and .NET. These tracks will run concurrently.

Know yourself
First of all, you need to honestly answer some questions about yourself and your study habits.

  • What learning method has worked for you in the past?
  • Which type of learner are you—visual or auditory?
  • Are you a procrastinator?
  • Do you find a week away from work and home is necessary to focus?
  • Are you a morning person or an evening person?

Knowing the answers to these questions will guide you in planning your successful learning strategy. I will revisit these questions throughout this article, highlighting points of relevance to each one.

Initially, it’s important to mention to the procrastinators that if you need some kind of goal, deadline, or obligation to motivate you to complete tasks, call and schedule your exam with VUE or Prometric six to eight weeks in advance to get yourself moving. Also, keep in mind that the 70-240 exam is free. If you have not already obtained your voucher from Microsoft, be certain to order it by the Nov. 1, 2001, deadline from the MCP Secured Site.

Know the exam objectives
The 70-240 exam objectives are a collection of 70-210, 70-215, 70-216, and70-217 (the Win2K MCSE core four), which have some overlap. Many people I know who have passed strongly advise studying for this exam as if you are taking all four of the Windows 2000 core exams.

Know the differences
How well you know NT 4.0 will also help you determine how best to study for Windows 2000. If you can install an NT 4.0 Server in your sleep, it will be beneficial to study the differences between NT4 and Win2K, averting the costly mistake of giving an answer you have known for years—but which does not apply to Windows 2000. An excellent reference for NT vs. 2000 comparison is Certification Magazine’s MCSE 2000 Study Guide, published in November 2000.

Know the Windows 2000 OS
I definitely recommend setting up your own “sandbox” for getting your hands dirty with Windows 2000. Two computers are necessary to obtain the level of understanding Microsoft requires in its exams. Configure one station as a dual-boot between Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 2000 Server, the other with Server only.

Then, work on some of the labs and exercises found in the various exam preparation materials. Focus on memorization of the steps, screens, and various prompts encountered during setup as you perform each installation. Install Active Directory and experiment with the various tasks DCPROMO performs. Use MMC as often as possible, even when a link is available in the Control Panel for the configuration object you intend to change.

Experiment with various MMC customizations utilizing different Taskpads, author and user modes, buttons, and snap-ins. Configure Remote Installation Services (RIS) and practice using group policies. Remember, RIS should be used only with computer policies, not with user policies. Use group policies with Winstall to deploy applications on user desktops.

You should also practice installing DNS, working with IIS, and playing with the new Terminal Service remote server management tool.

Know the material
As I mentioned earlier, you can learn the Windows 2000 material in a variety of ways. Your options include:

  • Instructor-led or online training.
  • Computer-based training.
  • Online training.
  • Videos.
  • Traditional study guides.

The Windows 2000 Resource Kits are invaluable reference tools for all things Windows 2000, including the exams. If any element of the OS is unclear to you, this is the place to go for clarification.

Training options
Whether it is the time away, the opportunity for hands-on work, or needing to hear things explained rather than see them in print, some of us simply need to learn via classes. Auditory learners have the most difficulty studying because the best material is in print, so classes are the best method for them. The Microsoft Official Curriculum courses are usually best, as they often guarantee that exam objectives will be covered. MOC course 1560 covers the knowledge needed for the 70-240 exam. Alternatively, you can take the four classes outlined below.

Microsoft Official Curriculum for the Win2K core four

Course 2151: Microsoft Windows 2000 Network and Operating System Essentials

Course 2152: Implementing Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional and Server

Course 2153: Implementing a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure

Course 2154: Implementing and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services

Taking all four of these courses would be very expensive and may seem like a possibility only if your company values your certification as much as you do. If you can talk your boss into only two classes, I strongly recommend 2153 and 2154.

If you could set up NT Servers in your sleepbut you still need the time away to study—maybe a boot camp would be perfect for you. These cost less than the four courses listed above and often include the cost of taking the tests on-site. Global Knowledge, Wave Technologies, and Intense School offer excellent boot camps with certified instructors. One word of warning: Because of their distilled nature, these courses usually do not provide a lot of hands-on experience.

Study guides
I recommend Sybex’s MCSE Accelerated Windows 2000 Study Guide, Exam 70-240 (ISBN 0782127606). Many people don’t realize that Sybex publishes two books on the MCSE Accelerated Windows 2000 Exam. This is the reason for the mixed reviews Sybex gets on various bulletin board Web sites. The other is titled MCSE Accelerated Windows 2000 Exam Notes (ISBN 0782127703), and I have been advised by students and instructors alike that it is not robust enough to be used as study material. So when you see a posting that says, “I used Sybex, and it was lousy,” it may be referring to the latter book.

MCSE Accelerated Windows 2000 Study Guide, Exam 70-240 works, and it includes a large amount of extra material for reference, study, and practice. It teaches you skills necessary to fulfill all requirements and provides step-by-step instructions for many hands-on exercises. Each chapter has questions at the end related to the Microsoft objectives. Also, the questions from all 18 chapters (and their answers) are included on the CD that accompanies the book. This CD also offers flash cards (for the PC PDA), objective tests, assessment tests, random tests, and two practice exams intended to prepare you for Microsoft’s new adaptive and simulative exam formats.

Practice tests
I have had a lot of success with Transcender practice tests for all previous exams. However, Transcender does not offer a practice test explicitly for this exam—so the pass guarantee does not apply. What it does offer is a Windows 2000 Core Pak, which provides a practice test for each of the four Windows 2000 exams (70-210, 70-215, 70-216, and 70-217).

The most important part of studying with practice tests is learning why the answer is what it is. Each of the Transcender questions has a summary explanation below it and provides a book reference in case you want to know more. Transcender’s update feature confirms that you have the latest information available from Transcender’s library.

Study session Web sites
I advise against brain dump Web sites as a study tool. They are acceptable for looking up sample questions and learning the opinions of others but definitely cannot be trusted as reliable reference material. You may recall that only half of those who take this test pass it. However, some sites have accurate information verified by Microsoft. Two such popular sites are Brainbench and Cramsession, although they offer very different services. Brainbench offers only two applicable exams at a cost of $25 each.

Cramsession is no longer the brain dump site of all test-takers. It has apparently honored Microsoft’s wishes with respect to Windows 2000 testing by changing its format and offering Skill Drills, downloads (PC or PDA), summaries of test objectives, and daily questions e-mailed to you with answers online or in a message you receive the next day. The site also has discussion groups and posts from people who have already taken exams offering reviews of the various prep tools they used and maybe a little insight into the look and feel of the test.

Cramsession downloads are available in PDF or HTML format and provide references to Microsoft Q articles for each objective. These are also useful for that pretest cramming you should always squeeze in before you walk into the testing center. While you can put the Cramsession download notes on your PDA, I find that I still prefer the old-fashioned printout. That way I can scribble notes, memorization tactics, and tables, and cross off things I don’t really need to waste time studying anymore because I already know them.

If you want to find all of the free practice questions available, you may want to take a look at CertCities, which provides a comprehensive list of all study materials it has encountered. And finally, NetAdmin columnist Erik Eckel recommends MCSE Live for ”real-world IT and certification information.”

Summing up
If you are frightened by the colossal size of this test and a little intimidated by the new format, it may be a good idea to take one of the core exams first. This will provide the opportunity to get familiar with the format and evaluate your own performance. Remember, 70-240 is a one-time-only exam. There are no retakes.

Make certain the exam is scheduled for an appropriate time for your personality type. If you are not a morning person, schedule your test for early afternoon while still allowing for the allotted four-hour period. Leave work early and take your notes along for pretest preparation until they take everything away and put you in the test center. I always take test day off, and I like to cram for two to three hours prior to test time. This helps me focus on only the test for the one day when it is my highest priority.

If you memorized any tables or use mnemonic devices, write them down on the provided paper or dry erase board as soon as you sit down to begin your test.

If you know yourself and what to study and you practice daily, you should be prepared to take this exam and put it behind you before the next wave of recertification comes our way. I hope these tips are instrumental in your successful completion of the MCSE Windows 2000 accelerated exam.

What’s your strategy for passing the accelerated exam?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.