It’s David vs. Goliath. Tiny Boson Software battles the incumbent Transcender Corp. for the certification exam simulation crown. Can Boson hold its own in the ring with Transcender, the popular heavyweight champ? To find out, I sampled offerings from both practice exam vendors before trying my hand at CompTIA’s Network+ certification.

Boson offers two versions of its Network+ software. Test #1 includes a total of 208 questions, while Test #2 weighs in at 204 questions. Transcender’s Network+ entry, meanwhile, poses 390 questions.

It’s a short fight
The match pitting Boson and Transcender simulation exams head-to-head ends quickly. There’s no true comparison here. The Network+ products from both companies boast multiple exams and customizable test lengths. However, the similarities end there.

Transcender’s software includes detailed descriptions explaining why the correct answer is correct and why other answers are incorrect. Boson’s software often fails to provide explanations for anything but the correct answer. Even when other potential answers are refuted, all you’ll find are short explanations. Thus, the Boson practice tests make it more difficult to build your skills and expertise.

You’ll find well-developed network diagrams, interactive menus, and exhibits in the Transcender simulation exams. You’ll find few drawings in the Boson product, and those that you do find are sparsely populated and of low quality, particularly in Test #1.

While the Transcender exhibits are thorough and include detailed icons for firewalls, routers, modems, hubs, PCs, servers, and other networking equipment, the diagrams from Boson are elementary and simply unacceptable in most cases. Boson also failed to include any interactive elements, which you should expect on the real exam. Only Transcender’s diagrams and interactive menus proved valuable in helping me prepare for such questions on the actual Network+ exam.

Why are diagrams so important? Why am I making such a fuss? Diagrams and exhibits compose a significant portion of many networking tests. For prep software to be any good, it must help you practice such scenarios.

Bringing things up to date
Product updates are another issue. Boson’s update feature isn’t nearly as refined as it should be. It consists of an Upgrade command that appears on the menu bar, connecting you to the Web for a free upgrade. It didn’t appear to work properly on my machine. When clicked, it always told me there was an upgrade available, even if I’d just downloaded an upgrade moments earlier. Rebooting my system didn’t eliminate the problem. Further, content errors weren’t corrected following the updates. Boson includes another button for fixing errors. It’s labeled E-mail corrections to author. Not a good sign.

By comparison, Transcender’s Live Update feature allows you to connect to a server and automatically download updates. The process is much more polished. It works smoothly and seamlessly, thereby ensuring that your studies and practice will contain the most up-to-date content available.

Edit thy content
Maybe I’m particularly sensitive to grammar, misspellings, and typographical errors because I’m an editor. Regardless, I was disappointed in the quality of Boson’s content. It’s riddled with typos, misspellings, and simple errors.

Have you ever seen 10 Mps used to describe 10Base-T network speed? Me neither. I’ve always seen 10 Mbps. While that’s just one minor example, such details and discrepancies can make a difference in whether you prepare properly for an exam question, so it definitely matters.

Searching for a typo or error in the Transcender tests took too long. I gave up after 10 minutes, a time period in which I could have crowded the network print queue with typos and grammatical errors from Boson’s practice tests.

Other benefits (or lack thereof)
I was hopeful that Boson’s Flash Cards software would add some value to the Tampa, FL, company’s offering. Again, I was disappointed. The Flash Cards merely present questions from the test question database.

The Flash Card program displays a question on the screen, along with two buttons. One is labeled Show Question, which does nothing (at least in my experience) except reveal a button labeled Show Answer. Clicking the Show Answer button reveals—you guessed it—the answer.

The second button reads Next, which takes you to the next question. There’s no utility available for grading how well you perform. Worse, the test questions weren’t written to stand separately. Thus, when all you’re given is the question without context and no potential answer set, the question proves confusing.

To be fair, Boson includes a dialog box warning when you open the Flash Card software. It reads, in part, “Some questions may not make sense in this mode, which may require the use of regular testing mode.” That’s another bad sign.

I don’t believe you
If you’re like me, you’ve probably stumbled across a few test answers you don’t believe. Everyone makes mistakes, so it’s not unheard of that testing companies will have a few errors in their practice tests.

Transcender almost always references a third-party resource that test takers can review to determine whether an answer is, indeed, correct. Boson software includes no such feature.

Such references come in handy when you’re using test prep software to learn as much material as you can before you take an exam. These pointers can help you quickly look up additional information on a topic that’s giving you trouble.

“What do you expect for 10 bucks, folks?”
Transcender is ahead on all judges’ scorecards. There doesn’t appear to be much hope for Boson, right?

Out of nowhere, though, Boson unveils a mighty powerful blow. Its Test #1 costs just 10 bucks ($9.95). Test #2 sells for $39.95. Compare both of those prices to the $129 fee for a single-user license from Transcender.

From some seats, Boson’s pricing appears to knock Transcender to the canvas. From this judge’s table, though, it’s merely a glancing blow that fails to fell the opponent.

An office colleague argues that I shouldn’t expect as much from Boson. His exact words? “What do you expect for 10 bucks, folks?”

He might be right. Boson may have no interest in competing with Transcender. If all you want is a couple of hundred questions to quiz yourself with, Boson will meet your needs. Just don’t expect a polished testing experience like you find from the bigger competitors, such as Transcender and Self Test Software.

Eckel’s take
About a year ago, a popular bicycling ad read, “If you’ve got a twenty-dollar head, buy a twenty-dollar helmet.” The sentiment also can be used to describe simulation exams. If you’ve got a 10-dollar career, buy a 10-dollar practice test.

You should place substantially more value on certification. That’s why I believe you can justify the cost of first-rate exam preparation software from Transcender.

Both companies’ practice tests do a good job of covering exam content. That, of course, is imperative. But Transcender has done a much better job of building a simulation that truly mimics the actual exam. Best of all, the Transcender product makes it easier to learn facts you can use on the job.

Buy from Boson, and you’ll receive a set of less-polished sample tests you can quiz yourself with. For $9.95, that’s not necessarily a bad proposition. In fact, it may be just what you need. Just be sure to set your expectations accordingly.

If you’re looking to supplement training and increase your understanding when you sit with your practice tests, go with Transcender.

One last recommendation. Don’t blow $39.95 on Boson’s Test #2, either. Pick up Sybex’s Network+ Study Guide instead for an extra 10 bucks. You’ll find that the sample test software bundled with it is as good or better than Boson’s, and on top of that, you get the book.

How do you feel about exam simulation software?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.