Is it just me, or is everyone getting an MCSE? With numerous boot camps and shotgun MCSE courses everywhere you turn, it seems as though everyone’s becoming certified!

Obviously, true MCSE quality is not derived from an 8.5 x 11 inch certification printed on heavy stock paper (and very nice looking at that) but rather from practical, working experience. Nevertheless, holding that certification certainly does help get your foot in the door. Employers want MCSEs, and they want them now!

Before I took the MCSE test, I had certifications in A+ and MCP. Like many of my cohorts, I searched for the “perfect” tool for test preparation. Of course, I had already heard suggestions to simply memorize as many of the listings as I could from the brain dumps and cram sessions located under seemingly every other link on the Internet.

I believe that technique has both advantages and disadvantages, and I am not against using this method to prepare for an exam. I am most comfortable, however, with either a hybrid of various e-tools or one particular set of study material, depending on the test material.

Where to go, what to buy?
Be sure to do your research before buying the fattest, most expensive book and software package you can find (the one with “quotes” from pleased customers printed all over the cover). After all, these products are supposed to catch your eye and induce you to dig deep into your pockets so you’ll give up your hard-earned “pre-MCSE” dollars.

Because I have the good fortune of being surrounded by many other individuals who have taken the test, I pooled their opinions on what works best for each particular exam.

Transcender worked for me
For my latest exam, Implementation and Configuration and Windows NT Server 4.0, I did most of my studying with Transcender’s NT-ServerCert v.4.0 material. After talking to my colleagues and doing some research, I determined that this tool would be worthwhile to use. As I began to peruse the documentation (which I obtained from my company), I noticed that the explanations of the test material were very easy to understand.

Just understanding the terminology is one of the keys to passing the test, and the Transcender has done a quality job of incorporating these key terms into a rather easy-to-understand format. Cleverly, this is done without the use of cumbersome ten-dollar words that make you run for a technical dictionary.

For example, one passage from the Transcender material—regarding User Manager for Domains and replacing user with like rights and permissions—simply says: “User accounts are created, maintained and deleted through User Manager for Domains…. Renaming an existing account is better than copying an existing account because the original account’s description and file permissions are retained.” It’s direct and it’s clear, at least to my reading.

Likewise, the practice exams are in a simple format and follow along with the documentation, providing page references to questions answered incorrectly. For this particular exam, there are three practice exams (A, B, and C) that appear to increase slightly in difficulty from A to C.

In addition, the practice exams allow you to customize the time allotted for each exam, which allows you to “condition” your skills by decreasing the time to take and pass them. This flexibility also lets you set the time exactly as though you are actually testing.

Don’t practice too much
Obviously, the more times you take a practice test, the better your score will be, because you’re answering many questions from memory. And that brings light to one of this test material’s downsides. Unfortunately, the practice exams do not provide random questions or jumble them up in a different order with each run. If you have gone through practice exams more than two or three times, the answers begin to come from memory, which could ultimately hurt you at test time. In my opinion, however, this is the only downside to the NT-ServerCert.

I’m proud to say I passed my exam with an 899 out of a possible 1,000. I would recommend the Transcender’s NT-ServerCert material to any of my colleagues. This is not to say, however, that you shouldn’t rely upon the gazillions of other resources available. I’d suggest browsing at CramSession just before testing or maybe even checking out what some of the test takers can remember from BrainDump Heaven. Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best of luck!
Whether you’ve already earned your MCSE or you’re just thinking about getting started, we want to hear from you. Share your experiences by posting a comment below, or follow this link to write to Jeff .