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Microsoft certification exam testing formats

In this excerpt from MCSA/MCSE 70-290 Exam Cram by Dan Balter and Patrick Regan, find out about the different testing formats Microsoft includes in the company's certification exams.

MCSA/MCSE 70-290 Exam Cram: Managing and Maintaining a Windows Server 2003 Environment
By Dan Balter and Patrick Regan


MCSA/MCSE 70-290 Exam Cram offers IT professionals critical information for scoring higher on their 70-290 exams.


Purchase the full book, MCSA/MCSE 70-290 Exam Cram: Managing and Maintaining a Windows Server 2003 Environment.

The following excerpt is from chapter one entitled "Microsoft Certification Exams."


Microsoft's Testing Formats

Currently, Microsoft uses three different testing formats:

  • Fixed length
  • Short form
  • Case study

Other Microsoft exams employ advanced testing capabilities that might not be immediately apparent. Although the questions that appear are primarily multiplechoice, the logic that drives them is more complex than that in older Microsoft tests, which use a fixed sequence of questions, called a fixed-length test. Some questions employ a sophisticated user interface, which Microsoft calls a simulation, to test your knowledge of the software and systems under consideration in a more-orless "live" environment that behaves just like the real thing. You should review the Microsoft Learning, Reference, and Certification Web pages for more detailed information.

In the future, Microsoft might choose to create exams using a well-known technique called adaptive testing to establish a test taker's level of knowledge and product competence. In general, adaptive exams might look the same as fixedlength exams, but they discover the level of difficulty at which an individual test taker can correctly answer questions. Test takers with differing levels of knowledge or ability therefore see different sets of questions; individuals with high levels of knowledge or ability are presented with a smaller set of more difficult questions, whereas individuals with lower levels of knowledge are presented with a larger set of easier questions. Two individuals might answer the same percentage of questions correctly, but the test taker with a higher knowledge or ability level will score higher because his or her questions are worth more. Also, the lower-level test taker will probably answer more questions than his or her more knowledgeable colleague. This explains why adaptive tests use ranges of values to define the number of questions and the amount of time it takes to complete the test.

Note: Microsoft does not offer adaptive exams at the time that this book was published.

Most adaptive tests work by evaluating the test taker's most recent answer. A correct answer leads to a more difficult question, and the test software's estimate of the test taker's knowledge and ability level is raised. An incorrect answer leads to a less difficult question, and the test software's estimate of the test taker's knowledge and ability level is lowered. This process continues until the test targets the test taker's true ability level. The exam ends when the test taker's level of accuracy meets a statistically acceptable value (in other words, when his or her performance demonstrates an acceptable level of knowledge and ability) or when the maximum number of items has been presented. (In which case, the test taker is almost certain to fail.)

Microsoft has also introduced a short-form test for its most popular tests. This test delivers 25 to 30 questions to its takers, giving them exactly 60 minutes to complete the exam. This type of exam is similar to a fixed-length test in that it allows readers to jump ahead or return to earlier questions and to cycle through the questions until the test is done. Microsoft does not use adaptive logic in short-form tests, but it claims that statistical analysis of the question pool is such that the 25 to 30 questions delivered during a short-form exam conclusively measure a test taker's knowledge of the subject matter in much the same way as an adaptive test. You can think of the short-form test as a kind of "greatest hits exam" (that is, it covers the most important questions) version of an adaptive exam on the same topic.

Because you won't know which form the Microsoft exam might take, you should be prepared for either a fixed-length or short-form exam. The layout is the same for both fixed-length and short-form tests—you are not penalized for guessing the correct answer(s) to questions, no matter how many questions you answer incorrectly.

Coming soon: Part Five: Strategies for different testing formats

Table of contents:

What to expect at the testing center
Exam layout and design
Design and special exam question formats
Microsoft testing formats
Strategies for different testing formats


Dan Balter is the chief technology officer for InfoTechnology Partners, Inc., a Microsoft Certified Partner company. He works as an IT consultant and trainer for both corporate and government clients and has worked with several network operating systems throughout his 24-year career. Dan holds the following Microsoft certifications: MCDST, MCSA, and MCSE.

Patrick Regan is a senior design architect/engineer and training coordinator for Miles Consulting Corp (MCC). He holds many certifications, including the Microsoft MCSE, MCSA, and MCT; CompTIA's A+, Network+, Server+, Linux+, Security+, and CTT+; Cisco CCNA; and Novell's CNE and CWNP


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