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Are cert tests tougher if you don't have real world experience?

I joined Microsoft's Certified Partner Program and have all of their software titles. I have a small home network with Windows Server 2003 and a few PC's networked in both hardwired and WiFi configurations. Now, I read that the tests are tougher if you don't have real world experience. I feel I am the opposite. I was installing, configuring, testing and maintaining Windows OSes and Office products for years, but never took the tests because I hadn't read the books. Do you think I might have a better chance with the new tests? Are there any pre-tests that I can evaluate myself before I go and plunk down the cash to get certified?

Everyone regards me as an expert, but I really don't know everything and continue to teach myself and learn everyday. But I do feel without the certifications, there are opportunities that I can never reach without them.

Years ago, I walked in to a testing center and took the Novell CNA test and passed without even studying. My experience definitely got me through the test. But I have tried some of the old Microsoft tests and have never been able to pass without trying to memorize a book.

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In your case, you're doing all the right things except for working through some practice tests before you go into the testing center and face the real thing. The problem is that Microsoft's exams, while now stressing more system interaction and hands-on skills and knowledge, still contain a powerful element of "technical trivia" or "stump the expert" kind of content.

That's where the practice tests--and careful review of the exam objectives, to make sure you know at least the basics about EVERY SUBJECT they cover (no matter how irrelevant some of them may be for most practicing professionals: for example, I remember a bunch of questions about accessibility stuff for the 70-210 and 70-270 exams that most folks otherwise never messed with)--will help tune you up for the real thing. Vendors like Transcender, MeasureUp, Self-Test Software, Boson, PrepLogic, and so forth, all get pretty good marks or better from MCP exam candidates in their ability to present the right mix of questions, topics, and levels of difficulty to help candidates like you prepare.

That said: let me also wish you good luck! I write books about this stuff and my batting average on MS exams is about 0.600 even so. Sometimes, it just takes two tries to pass.

This was first published in September 2004

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