If you are like 90-plus percent of the Western world, you use Microsoft Office practically every day. Have you ever thought to yourself, “Ya know, I’ve got this Word thing down pretty well. Shame there’s no way for me to prove it to others.”

Or, as a trainer, have you noticed that everybody and his brother signs up to conduct end-user training? You’ve sat through some of their classes, and thought, “This gal is a loser! Why isn’t there some way for me to prove that I’m better than her at Excel and PowerPoint?” Well, Bucky, start exploring those menus and plumbing those Help files because now you can become a MOUS!

Are you a man or a MOUS?
The new certification series is the Microsoft Office User Specialist, or MOUS. (Too cute, huh?) The program was developed in response to the hue and cry about the Office tests having no certification path. Additionally, it has become apparent that certifiable computer skills have value in the workplace. If you are an employer, would you rather trust the “Sure, I know computers” statement or a certification showing that the potential employee had passed a test on the product?

The MOUS program has three basic levels: Proficient, Expert, and Master. Proficient certification requires passing an intermediate-level skills test on Word or Excel. Expert certification requires passing an advanced-level skills test on Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Access. So you can be certified as Proficient in Word or Expert in Excel. Each of these designations is for a given product.

The Master level, on the other hand, requires passing the Expert exam on all four core products: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access. The Master level is the highest MOUS cert you can achieve.

How hard it is, anyway?
There are test guidelines for each test, which outline the typical skills to be tested. Here are some of the Word Proficient test skills:

  • Add bullets and numbering
  • Apply character effects (superscript, subscript, strikethrough, small caps and outline)
  • Align text vertically
  • Create sections with formatting that differs from other sections
  • Alternate headers and footers
  • Create a hyperlink
  • Create and modify 3D shapes

Sounds pretty easy so far, right? Okay, here are some of the Expert test skills:

  • Use non-breaking spaces
  • Create watermarks
  • Format first page differently than subsequent pages
  • Create master documents
  • Perform calculations in a table
  • Create and modify a form
  • Create and modify a table of contents

How do I prepare?
The tests themselves are not your typical MCP exams—no multiple choice and no moving back and forth through the test. The MOUS tests are run using the actual program to solve a problem. They’re pretty ingenious, actually. The application opens, then the screen divides into two sections. The lower section is the test window, which shows the task you are to carry out, while the upper section is the application window where you actually do the work. Once you think you have finished the task completely and successfully, you click the OK button in the lower window and move on to the next task.

The tests are timed, so if you fumble around a long time on a particular question, it affects your score. And, once you leave the task, you can’t go back. When you finish the test, your score pops up immediately and your results are printed. Each test lasts an hour or less.

There are sample tests available for download from the site. Note: The sample tests mess with your Office installation! I tried the Word test, and it completely changed my customizations of Word without telling me. Fortunately, I knew that almost all of my Word changes were stored in my Normal.dot file, so I went looking for a backup and discovered that the practice test had copied my Normal template to a backup file and location. I simply renamed it over the Normal.dot file that the practice test had left behind, and I was back up and running. However, it irritated me that the program hadn’t thrown up so much as a message box telling me what was going on.

There is no Visual Basic for Applications to speak of on the tests. Everything else is fair game. For the record, I studied all the test guides, then went in and took all four tests at one sitting. I passed all four, with my lowest score being a 91. (Your results may vary, of course.)

What are the benefits?
If my experience is any indication, MOUS doesn’t get me a great deal at this point, although that may change. Training centers are beginning to find out about the MOUS program and are realizing that anyone doing Office training should be certed via MOUS. The MOUS program directors are pushing temp agencies and employment agencies to include MOUS certification as an info point in their resumes. There are also rumors that Master certification may get a person MCP status, although this hasn’t been confirmed.

For me, it was something I simply wanted to do. I’ve been using and teaching Office for years, and I wanted to see if I could pass the tests. Even though I initially went into it almost as a joke, once I took the tests, I realized that they truly are a good check on how well you know the programs. I’m not sure I would have scored as well if I hadn’t spent a few hours going over the exam guides and making sure I knew all the topics.

Where do I go for more info?
There are two main sites for MOUS info (not counting Disney.com, of course). The first is the official home of MOUS, www.mous.net . This site has the training guides, the practice tests, and all of the official scoop on MOUS. This is also where you or your company can apply to be an Authorized Test Center or an Independent Software Vendor for MOUS.

The other place for MOUS info is www.OfficeCert.com . OfficeCert is done by QS Net, which also publishes Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine, MCP Magazine Online, and QuickStart on the Web. At this site you’ll find detailed reviews of the tests, tips on preparation, general Office information, and various discussion forums. This is a good site to hang out at, especially for keeping up with changes in the MOUS program and possible new tests.

Finally, note that the Office 2000 MOUS tests are not out yet, but will be available as soon as the product is released. There are already discussion forums on O2K at OfficeCert, as some of the folks there have preview copies.

So, all you Office junkies, if you think you’re sharp at Word or Excel, as the MOUS site says—prove it!

Bruce Maples is a technical trainer and writer. Bruce is certified in several Microsoft technologies and frequently travels to client sites to troubleshoot problems and train employees. Follow this link to send Bruce an e-mail.