In a reversal of its decision last year to report only pass-fail status, Microsoft is once again offering information to exam candidates about their areas of strengths and weaknesses on MCP certification tests.

But instead of reporting results based on major categories for exam objectives like it used to, Microsoft is now providing numerical scores and bar graphs for "skills clusters." It's not yet clear how such reporting relates to objectives, but it apparently differs from earlier reports. (I plan to comment on this further in a future tip after I take a couple of these exams.)

Scoring has also changed. Microsoft has normalized scoring for all MCP exams, so the same passing score applies to all exams -- 700 is now the minimum passing score for all MCP exams. But the maximum score (which used to top out at 1000) varies per exam, "depending on the complexity of the skills being measured."

Visually, the bars in the exam report show candidates how well they fare in each skills cluster. If bars that represent cluster scores are close to one end of the graph, they indicate stronger skills; bars near the other end indicate weaker skills.

In a somewhat surprising addendum, Microsoft also says: "If a bar is not present, the examinee either answered all questions incorrectly or did not answer any questions within that skills cluster." I can understand how a lack of questions in a cluster could drop a bar from a report, but it's troubling that candidates not know

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that they blew a cluster. I have to wonder if this policy can stand, or if "customer feedback" might lead to further changes.

New reporting has been available for all live Windows Server 2003 exams since August 14, 2003 and also appears in the next wave of such exams (70-293, 70-294, and 70-296) due out today. Microsoft indicates that most other exams will switch to this format by the end of September, but says that reports on exams 70-220, 70-221, 70-222, 70-225 and 70-300 won't appear until early 2004.

Interestingly, Microsoft says that candidates who want or need more information skills development will be best served by using practice tests from Microsoft Certified Practice Test Providers (PTP). Today, this includes only Self Test Software (www.stsware.com) and MeasureUp (www.measureup.com), because membership in the PTP program was closed two years ago. Now that PTP status counts, I hope they'll re-open that program so that other practice test vendors will emerge. In the meantime, it'll be interesting to see if this new "value-add" for PTPs translates into more business for their members.

The two Windows Server 2003 upgrade exams -- 70-292 for MCSAs and 70-296 for MCSEs -- will not report bar graphs and scores to candidates, however. Microsoft's explanation is: "Only pass or fail status can be provided for these exams because each is a composite of two exams rather than a single exam." They must be drawing from question banks from 70-290 and 70-291 for 70-292, and from 70-293 and 70-294 for 70-296, and may not have wanted to integrate this new reporting software.

Although I still have questions about some details and reporting decisions, it's great that Microsoft will once again provide more information to exam takers.

For more information, check out Microsoft's Exam and Testing Procedures FAQ.


About the author: Ed Tittel runs a content development company in Austin, Texas, and is the series editor of the Que Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide series. He's worked on many books on Microsoft, CompTIA, CIW, Sun/Java and security certifications.

This was first published in August 2003

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