There are many reasons why you might purchase one MCSE exam preparation book over another. You’ll usually select the one that you feel best covers the material on the exam. You may select a comprehensive reference volume you’d like to have on hand once you pass. You may have had good experience with one publisher’s product in the past. You might prefer the software that’s bundled with one book, or you might feel another’s sample exams are the best approximation of the real thing.

However, I assert that none of that matters. Why not? I’m assuming that your sole goal is to pass the Windows 2000 Server exam. The text you purchase doesn’t have to double as a server room reference, it needn’t bundle fancy software, and it doesn’t have to be the thickest. My goal is to reveal the single best book to purchase if its only purpose is to prepare you for Microsoft’s 70-215 Windows 2000 Server exam.

So many books, so little time
It’s important to choose your study aid properly. Select incorrectly and you’ll lose additional time down the road, as you’ll have to start from scratch with a new book.

You’ll find that there are almost as many Win2K server prep books as there are Internet companies offering cheap university degrees. One difference is that the prep books cost more, which further increases the penalty should you choose your study guide poorly.

Walk into your local bookseller and you’ll see a cornucopia of selections. You’ll find Win2K exam books from Coriolis, New Riders, Microsoft Press, O’Reilly, and Sybex, among others. Many of these publishers offer multiple product lines, further complicating your search.

So which book is best for you?

One size fits all, but you have to wear it differently
It’s tempting to say Book X is the best for experienced IT professionals seeking Windows 2000 certification, while Book Y is the best for those with less real-world experience. But that would be misleading.

After reviewing numerous texts and talking with other IT professionals, I believe Microsoft Press’ MCSE Training Kit—Microsoft Windows 2000 Server is best. Sure, it includes extraneous content. No, it’s not the cheapest. But it’s the single best text out there.

Authored by Microsoft, it was one of the first books published covering Win2K. That usually makes me suspicious. My fear in such cases is that important facts will be left out or information on last-minute changes to the OS will be omitted. That’s not the case here.

The catch—and there’s always a catch—comes in how you use the book. The method you employ depends upon the experience you have working with Windows 2000 Server.

If you’ve done nothing but administer Windows 2000 servers 40-plus hours a week for the past year and a half, it’s safe to say you’ll use the book differently from another IT professional with a total of 20 hours of real-world Win2K Server experience. Therefore, I’ll break IT professionals down into two simple groups:

  • Masters are those IT veterans who have spent more than a year administering Windows 2000 servers in the enterprise.
  • Students are those who may have supported Windows 2000 but have less than a year of hands-on experience with the server platform.

If you’re a master
Actual time spent administering Windows 2000 servers in the real world is the best exam preparation you’ll receive. However, it’s important that you study all the tasks and processes the exam covers, not just those you’ve been responsible for in your organization.

For example, if you’ve been installing and configuring servers and maintaining users, but another administrator’s been given backup and security responsibilities, your data recovery and protection skills are probably a little light. That’s where an exam prep book comes into play. Even if you’ve worked with Windows 2000 Server since it was in beta, you should still review an exam guide.

I recommend that masters review the skills tested in the exam. While many believe in some gigantic IT certification conspiracy theory, the odds aren’t as stacked against IT professionals as people might think. Microsoft actually tells you what will be on the exam. Track down the appropriate exam on Microsoft’s Web site and read the Skills Being Measured section. You’ll find Windows 2000 Server exam information here.

Find the areas in which you’re weak and study those relevant sections in the self-paced training book. If you’re trying to brush up only on the use of group policies, security templates, and disk administration, you probably don’t need to install the OS on multiple systems and complete each of the book’s exercises. In fact, I recommend that you don’t.

If you’re a student
First, there’s nothing wrong with being a student. Students learn, and that’s a good thing. And even a 30-year IT veteran is a student when it comes to Windows XP or Windows .NET server.

I know Microsoft says candidates should have at least a year of experience before taking the server exam. Sometimes, though, the only way you’ll get that experience is if you can show an employer that you have an MCP in Win2K Server.

If you’re a student, you need to be honest with yourself. If you’ve installed Win2K a few times, or deployed it in a test lab, you may not need to spend as much time completing the installation and training exercises in the self-paced training book. For those processes and scenarios with which you don’t have experience, you should read the applicable chapter, even if that means you have to read most every chapter. Completing the lab exercises is a good idea too.

Don’t get tempted to just read the material and skip the exercises. The firsthand experience you’ll gain configuring settings, administering services, and working with dialog boxes will prove invaluable.

Once you’ve read the needed sections, make like a master. Review the skills Microsoft says are tested in the exam. If there are any areas in which you’re still weak, reread the applicable chapters.

Eckel’s take
There’s no quick shortcut to preparing for the Windows 2000 Server exam. Whether you’ve spent countless hours or just a few weeks administering Windows 2000 Server, you need to prepare for all the topics that are on the test. Some skills that the exam tests might be used only occasionally, but you still need to learn them.

Although there are many different books from which to select—some shorter, some longer—the Microsoft Press book should be your choice if you’re going to go with just one. The content you’ll find in the MCSE Training Kit—Microsoft Windows 2000 Server is accurate, well described, and comprehensive. Unlike some publishers’ products, you’ll find that all relevant topics are covered. Best of all, once you’ve finished, you’ll have an excellent resource that you can reference to help you administer Windows 2000.

What are your favorite MCSE certification study guides?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.