You’ve seen them, but chances are the price sent your wallet packing, prompting you to make another selection. They’re in the certification section of your local Barnes & Noble: bundled certification sets.
Receive Paperchase Digest in your e-mail box each Friday and catch every column, along with timely tips and reviews not found on the site! It’s easy, and it’s free. Just go to the TechMails page and sign up for Erik Eckel’s Paperchase Digest to ensure that you keep up-to-date on the latest certification tips, shortcuts, news, and more!
Three books, four books, five books. Whatever it takes. All shrink-wrapped together, the entire package is as heavy as a ski boat anchor.

Take the New Riders MCSE Windows 2000 Core Exams Training Guide 4-in-1 bundled training pack. The four-book set contains the following titles:

  • Windows 2000 Professional Training Guide
  • Windows 2000 Server Training Guide
  • Windows 2000 Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure Training Guide
  • Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure

I don’t know its weight, but it’s up there. Trust me.

Buy ’em by the case?
Most IT professionals I know purchase at least one book in preparation for each exam they take. Over the course of a certification program, whether it’s Cisco’s, Novell’s, or Microsoft’s, they’re likely to purchase numerous books.

If you’re committed to a certification track, why not buy all those texts at once and save some dough? Plus, you won’t run into a bookstore on Friday, planning to study all weekend, and find the text you need is SOLD OUT. That would be bad.

All told, you can save about 10 percent. That’s about on par with other publishers’ core packs.

If you buy each text separately, you’ll wind up paying a total of $156.96. But you can purchase the core pack for $149.99.

As a comparison, you can buy Microsoft Press’ Windows 2000 MCSE core pack in a kit (including a 120-day Win2K Server evaluation CD) for $179.99. Purchased one at a time, the Microsoft Press texts will run you a total of $191.96.

New Riders MCSE 4-in-1
In addition to the four training titles mentioned above, New Riders includes a CD-ROM with each book. These CD-ROMs contain ExamGear Training Guide Edition software that maps to each of the core exams the books cover:

  • Exam 70-210: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional
  • Exam 70-215: Installing, Configuring and Administering Microsoft Windows 2000 Server
  • Exam 70-216: Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure
  • Exam 70-217: Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure

What you’ll find
In addition to including New Riders’ ExamGear simulation tests, each book’s CD-ROM offers the following:

  • E-Book—an electronic copy of the entire book in PDF format
  • Production Utilities—Copies of WinZip and WS_FTPpro
  • Internet Resources—Copies of Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 and Netscape Communicator 4.7
  • Support—User support services, including e-mail and mailing address information for Macmillan USA

About the books
One of the reasons I like this New Riders core set is that it’s thorough. Whereas many books provide instruction and best-practice tips covering such traditional procedures as installation, the authors of the New Riders material add supplemental information.

For example, consider the New Riders section on installing Windows 2000 Professional. Most books provide step-by-step instructions on an unattended installation; however, New Riders provides about nine pages of tables describing the different values that can be included in an unattend.txt file. That’s especially helpful when it comes to real-world implementation.

You’ll find ample screen shots, the typical step-by-step guides, and skill drills. In this collection, the practice exercises are included under sections titled Apply Your Knowledge. They’re fairly comprehensive, but you’ll also want to make use of the included self-test software (more on that in a moment).

Just as with other certification books, you’ll find many sidebars, warning notes, and exam tips. You’ll also find mini case studies, which many IT professionals are sure to find useful. After all, once you develop expertise with a technology, it’s important to understand how it can be applied in a real enterprise environment.

About the tests
Each of the four ExamGear simulation tests offers three study options, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Three exam preparation options exist: Study Mode, Practice Exam, and Adaptive Exam.

You can select Study Mode, Practice Exam, or Adaptive Exam. The Study Mode lets you pick a set of questions and subjects to study. The time limit and number of questions you receive is adjustable. With Study Mode, you can learn which answers are correct and read why.

The Practice Exam feature simulates a traditional test. It is timed and offers no feedback on your answers until you complete the exam.

The Adaptive Exam is similar to the Practice Exam. However, instead of being presented a fixed-length test, you’ll receive an adaptive test, as shown in Figure B. The length varies depending upon the accuracy of your answers.

Figure B
A sample Adaptive Exam

A few beefs
One thing I didn’t like was the fact that the Adaptive Exam provides no question number. After several questions, I was curious about how many questions I’d answered, but there was no indication. I remember seeing question numbers in past adaptive exams, so that would have been a nice feature to include.

I also noticed some domain controller questions when taking the Windows 2000 Professional sample exam. I’m not sure those belonged and believe they probably should have been excluded.

In addition, I ran across a few typos, but nothing that interfered with the understanding of a question. That’s forgivable; it’s hard to produce books and CDs without some typos, even when you have the best editors.

A final beef is that I couldn’t find an errata listing on New Riders’ site, so I felt a little squeamish not knowing what had been updated or corrected. Instead, you have to download ExamGear Training Guide Updates, which are approximately 3 MB in size.

I recommend you register your ExamGear software right when you install it. Doing so gives you access to updates, bonus questions, and updated simulation software.

The final tally
So what should you do? Should you purchase another publisher’s core training set or try the New Riders’ set?

I believe the books cover all the core competencies you must master. In addition, you receive the testing software. Regular readers of this column know how valuable I feel simulation exams are.

All told, New Riders has created a pretty powerful combination. As a result, its 4-in-1 training kit certainly deserves a look.
If you’d like to share your opinion, please post a comment below or send the editor an e-mail.