Transcender has long set the standard for exam simulation software. Several competitors have taken their best shot at the Nashville, TN, company, whose products just earned Best Computer-Based Training accolades in the Windows & .NET Magazine Readers’ Choice Awards. Inevitably, I end up comparing all exam simulation products that come across my desk to those of Transcender’s. Some come close, and others sulk away seeking shadows in which to lick their wounds.

While my recent experiences with PrepLogic’s colorful practice exams (each test CD-ROM is given a different, vibrant color) leave me believing Transcender is still king of the hill, PrepLogic’s pricing and the quality of its testing interface may be setting the stage for a more serious battle down the road.

Requirements and installation
PrepLogic’s software uses a proven InstallShield wizard, so installation is quick and painless. You only need to accept a standard licensing agreement, in which you agree to use the software on a single system and not transfer ownership, and specify the folder location for program installation.

Minimum system requirements are very reasonable, requiring only:

  • Microsoft Windows 98 or higher
  • 166-MHz processor
  • 32 MB of RAM
  • 24-bit true color video card
  • 16-bit sound card
  • 10 MB of free disk space

Although no uninstall program is included, the test software installs cleanly. Thus, even if you’ve loaded multiple PrepLogic practice exams on a single system, you can uninstall them individually using the Windows’ Add/Remove Programs applet in the Control Panel. The size of the installed software, less than 4 MB each on the four CDs I tested, makes it unlikely that you’ll need to remove the software to free up disk space.

Exam interface
PrepLogic’s Windows 2000 Server (exam 70-215) software consists of three Practice Tests. Each contains 59 questions and imposes a 90-minute time limit. The Windows 2000 Professional (exam 70-210) software consists of three tests containing 64 questions each and also imposes a 90-minute time limit.

The software includes the common Custom Test option. In Custom Test mode, questions are selected from the entire question pool. Users can specify the number of questions they receive and the time frame they’re given to complete them.

There are two study modes: Practice Test and Flash Review. The Practice Test mode is exactly what its name implies. It’s a straightforward simulation exam in which questions appear in the top of a two-frame, horizontally split window, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
PrepLogic’s exam simulation software offers a clean, easy-to-use interface.

In Flash Review mode, questions appear in the top frame, but the answers do not. Once you mentally formulate an answer, you can click the Show Answer button to see the correct response. Although the software offers no method of tracking score or performance when using Flash Review, you can mark items for review later.

PrepLogic does offer an exam option I don’t remember seeing on other simulation software. Test takers can choose Randomize Choices when taking tests, which changes the order in which questions and answer selections are presented. As any practice exam veteran can attest, an unfortunate hazard of spending hour after hour with simulation test software is that it’s easy to begin memorizing questions and answers. I’ve had experiences where a question appears on the screen and I automatically remember the answer is C. Obviously, that’s not best, as the goal is to memorize why answer C is correct. PrepLogic’s Randomize Choices feature helps you break out of that cycle.

I encountered trouble with the PrepLogic Help Manual, which is accessed from the Help menu. But the problem proved easy to fix. The manual failed to work on four PrepLogic software products I sampled using a test network PC, so I tried the software on a production machine. That quickly solved the problem. It turns out that PrepLogic’s Help Manual—a well-written, attractively laid out, and easy-to-read user guide—requires Adobe Acrobat Reader. My test system didn’t have Acrobat Reader installed, but I didn’t receive an error message telling me that it was required. Once I loaded the software on a machine with Acrobat Reader, the helpful manual opened quickly.

All the PrepLogic questions I saw were of the standard, multiple-choice variety. Herein lies my only significant complaint. There are no drag-and-drop, exhibit, or order-tree questions like you will find on real-world exams. There are also no links to further information on the topic that is the subject of the test question. These are two areas in which Transcender software continues to lead the pack. However, clicking a PrepLogic question’s Show Answer button reveals an explanation as to why the correct answer is correct, and frequent explanations are provided as to why other answer choices are incorrect.

Once the simulation test is completed, PrepLogic’s software presents an informative score report, as shown in Figure B. The report reminded me of Transcender’s in its completeness. It lists the topic categories tested, such as Implementing, Monitoring, and Troubleshooting Security, while revealing exam performance in each of those categories.

Figure B
PrepLogic’s Windows 2000 Professional score report tabulates exam performance by category.

For further review, candidates can return to problematic questions using the View Items button. That’s a critical feature, as studying incorrectly answered questions is one of the best ways candidates can learn from their mistakes.

PrepLogic, like Transcender, offers a guarantee to registered single-license users. Unlike Transcender, which offers users their money back if they fail the exam once, PrepLogic requires candidates to fail twice before refunding the software’s purchase price.

The companies’ guarantees differ in another manner too. Transcender allows candidates to return the product within 90 days from the day of purchase and failure of exams. PrepLogic, meanwhile, allows users only 60 days.

Eckel’s take
PrepLogic’s products come as close as any I’ve seen in replicating the quality of Transcender software. The lack of drag-and-drop, exhibit, and order-tree questions is about the only major complaint I have. It would be nice to have Transcender-style pointers to other sources for further research on a topic, but I don’t find that feature to be essential.

Although PrepLogic’s products are less expensive (its Microsoft exam CD-ROMs run $79, whereas Transcender’s comparable CD-ROMs run from $99 to $129), it’s true that you get what you pay for. With a little bit of work, though, PrepLogic may just have a legitimate Transcender challenger brewing in its rainbow of simulation test offerings.