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What methods should I use to prepare for MCSE certification?

MCSE preparation can include a few methods, such as practice exams or study guides, but administrators should be prepared to demonstrate their technical expertise.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert certification is composed of five exams that challenge your knowledge of installation, configuration, administration, design and advanced implementations for Windows Server or Windows desktop infrastructures, depending on your preferred MCSE track. How to prepare for MCSE certification depends on what study method works best for you.

The individual exams are designed to test practical technical knowledge using a variety of question types. Typical question types include traditional multiple choice and best answer responses, and can address more exotic "real life" situations using simulated screens, build lists, or drag and drop activities. MCSE exams focus on doing the work, such as testing if you can properly configure key elements in a simulated dialog box according to goals in an associated question or spot an incorrect element in a simulated list.

There are a myriad of study resources available, but everyone learns differently with different resources, so the 'best' approach will depend on your own personal preferences.

Due to this hands-on testing approach, successful MCSE exam prep typically requires a mix of preparation methods. For example, it's extremely unlikely that you could read a book on Windows Server 2012 R2 and pass all five MCSE exams. There are traditional tactics, such as reading e-books or study guides such as "Exam Ref 70-410 Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012 R2 (MCSA)" from Microsoft Press. There are online videos designed to cover some essential ideas of Windows Server such as Windows Server 2012 Jump Start (02a): Virtualization Infrastructure, Part 1. There are social networking sites intended to bring study partners together for each of the different exams, such as Microsoft's Server Certification Study Group. There are also intensive live and online classroom offerings that cover the core areas of each MCSE exam.

But for MCSE: Server Infrastructure candidates, there is no substitute for actual hands-on experience with Windows Server. MCSE is an expert-level certification, and you're expected to know your way around the operating system and be able to do real work. Even if you're not currently employed by a Windows shop, you can always install the evaluation version of Windows Server 2012 R2 on almost any private computer to become familiar with the operating system as part of your other study efforts.

There is no single best value or most effective approach to prepare for MCSE certification. There are a myriad of study resources available, but everyone learns differently with different resources, so the "best" approach will depend on your own personal preferences.

When you're refining your skills for the actual exam process, you can find various practice exams -- such as those at MeasureUp -- to build comfort with the exam format and approach. If you have trouble with the practice exams, consider adjusting the study materials and try a different mix of resources that might improve your understanding and retention of the material. It's always worth talking to colleagues with current MCSE certifications to get their advice and guidance on effective study practices.

Certifications don't make or break an IT career, and certifications from Microsoft -- or any other vendor -- should not be the only benchmark used to identify qualified IT professionals. But certifications such as the MCSE can provide an objective baseline that establishes a minimum, well-understood level of expertise. An administrator with an MCSE certification can prove Windows Server or Windows desktop expertise, which can help find new jobs, win promotions and take on other professional opportunities in IT.

Next Steps

Upgrade an MCSA certification to Windows Server 2012

Windows certification options for administrators

Learning about the MCSE certification tracks

Dig Deeper on Microsoft certification program