Have you seen Microsoft’s new Windows 2000 line of MCSE Readiness Reviews? They’re the paperback books with the rounded corners.

When I saw the first one, it triggered a small epiphany: There’s a ton of solid test preparation products out there. Just how good are Microsoft’s own MCSE Readiness Reviews? Can they hold their own in the heavyweight battle being waged by the likes of Coriolis, Sybex, Transcender, et al?

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IT Certification Corner
Paperchase Digest is now Erik Eckel’s IT Certification Corner. As always, you’ll find certification tips and news in your inbox each Friday. Just go to the TechMails page and sign up to ensure that you keep up-to-date on the latest certification tips, shortcuts, news, and more!

Let’s be honest. Don’t we all hold Microsoft Press’ products to a higher standard? Should we? After all, the subsidiary must have a pretty tight relationship with the vendor that manufactures the very exams we’re all trying to pass.

I don’t know the answer to that question. (But you can tell me your thoughts.) I can tell you, however, that I always feel a hint, just a twinge, of security when reading Microsoft Press’ publications. I guess it comes from knowing a relationship exists between the publishing arm and the software division. In other words, there should be no errata file needed for Microsoft Press. I bet Cisco-certified IT pros feel the same way about Cisco Press.

All told, it’s a good recipe. Mix in Microsoft Press’ good reputation and add in the vendor ties, and you have a solid combination. Then, consider the price. You can snag MCSE Readiness Reviews for under 20 bucks online. It all adds up to a good deal—one I think you’ll like.

What you get
Pick up an MCSE Readiness Review, and you’ll find a small book with a CD-ROM inside the back cover. These are the two principal components in a Windows 2000 MCSE Readiness Review:

  • The Readiness Review book
  • The Readiness Review electronic assessment program

Understand that these books are not meant to be the only training tool you use to prepare for an exam. I wouldn’t recommend that and neither does Microsoft. Instead, you should use the MCSE Readiness Reviews to identify areas of weakness and supplement classroom training, real-world experience, self-paced training, or some combination of these learning methods.

Management by objective
Before the book can be explained properly, you need to understand how the MCSE Readiness Reviews are organized. Microsoft exams are organized by objectives, which are grouped into sections called objective domains. Think of them as topic categories listing the various skills, tasks, and objectives you must master to pass the exam and become proficient with the product.

The MCSE Readiness Reviews are organized according to objective domains. Each book chapter focuses on a specific objective that the respective exam tests. Microsoft uses a specific naming convention to integrate the sample CD-ROM test with the book. For example, you might see the following:

Decipher the code by translating first the exam number, represented by the 70-210. The next pair of numbers represents the objective domain. In the above example, it’s 01, which means the first objective domain. The first objective domain in the 70-210 (Windows 2000 Professional) exam refers to Windows 2000 Professional installation. The next number pair, 03, represents the objective. In the case of exam 70-210, the 03 objective covers upgrading to Windows 2000 Professional from a previous version of Windows. Lastly, the 049 represents sample test question number 49.

Now you know how the book component is organized. It starts with the first objective domain and provides fundamental information for each objective, followed by related test questions. The answers to the questions are found at the end of each objective, which you can think of as chapters.

Taking the test
The electronic assessment ties in nicely with the book. Essentially, it’s a simulated computer exam created by Self Test Software and consists of 50 questions. You can mark questions for review and return to them later. For the Win2K Pro exam, you’re given 75 minutes to finish.

When you complete the practice test, you can score it. The results will indicate which objectives you should study further. It’s important to understand the coding scheme described above. You’ll use that knowledge to proceed directly to studying those objectives in the book that you need to work on.

It would be great if Microsoft Press had included more sample test questions, but what do you expect for $20? It is easy to purchase additional test questions, though. Just click on Order More Questions from the welcome screen that’s triggered when you go to take the electronic test.

Incidentally, you’ll also find a glossary on the CD-ROM. I spent only a few moments surfing through it, but it appears to be extensive. I found definitions for nonMicrosoft-specific items, such as Accelerated Graphics Port and PC Card, as well as Microsoft-specific terms, including Active Directory services and NTFS.

If the short information passages in the book don’t provide enough information to get you up to speed, you’ll find additional references sited at the end of each objective domain.

While the electronic assessment program won’t let you cheat and view an answer while you’re taking the simulation test, you can review each question you missed and learn which answer is correct once you complete the exam. The book plays a particularly valuable role, as the answers to its test questions also provide clear and concise explanations for both correct and incorrect responses.

Eckel’s take
It’s apparent that Microsoft is trying to improve its certification process by focusing on real-world skills. The MCSE Readiness Review questions appear to target issues that IT professionals are likely to encounter every day. For example, you’ll find questions covering how to troubleshoot display adapters that are not detected automatically by Windows, how to fix TCP/IP addressing errors, and how to administer users using Active Directory.

If you’re preparing for a Windows 2000 exam, it’s not a bad idea to give one of these MCSE Readiness Reviews a try. For around $20, you’ll receive a sample practice test and a book full of review questions and related information. Should you give one a go, start by taking the electronic assessment first. It will point out the areas in which you need to improve your knowledge.

There’s no reason to waste time researching tasks and objectives you already understand. Take the time you save and do something nonwork related.
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