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Best practices to prepare for your MCSE: Messaging exam

One Exchange MVP answers four common questions admins have as they prepare for their MCSE certification exams.

The modern Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer exams are tough, but they're achievable and well respected in the IT marketplace. Those who take the time to learn the skills required stand out from the crowd when on the job. The MCSE: Messaging certification is a worthwhile qualification to earn, whether it's to help your employer achieve a partner status or to advance your career.

To prepare for the MCSE certification exams, Exchange admins must decide which route they'll take to achieve that certification before they can begin studying the areas covered on both exams. Once these actions have been taken, admins can start asking questions about what kinds of things they can do to be as prepared as possible. But if you're expecting to have answers to common exam questions, you'll be disappointed. This leads us to the first and most common question asked:

1. Should I use an exam brain dump?

The simple answer is no. For those not in the know, an exam brain dump is a list of exam questions and guesses at answers. Assuming you trust the cheat that copied the questions down to provide you with the right answers, these may or may not help you pass. If you or others have the same incorrect answers, you may even get caught. This reason alone will not help you be capable of doing the job, after passing an exam from a brain dump, so any career gains would be short-lived. You'll also miss out on the satisfaction of having completed the MCSE: Messaging exam based on your own skill. Spend the time learning the material for yourself.

2. What about practice tests? Are they as bad as brain dumps?

Practice tests from reputable publishers don't contain any questions from the real exam. They'll give you a feel for how well your learning is progressing and where your skills excel or are weak. As someone who has taken many Microsoft exams, they can be valuable when assessing progress. They aren't essential by any means, but they probably provide the most value to those with experience who need to know how much extra effort they should put in for the exams.

3. I'm worried about wasting money and failing the exam. Any tips to help pass the first time?

Learning the key areas in the exam is the best tip there is. But if you want a better chance of only needing to pay for each exam once, look out for the Second Shot exam offers. These offers give test takers the opportunity for a free exam retake should they fail.

Failing an exam can be demoralizing for anyone, especially if you've invested a lot of time and effort. You won't be the first to fail nor the last. Many MVPs, myself included, have failed multiple Microsoft exams. This often comes down to lack of preparation, but you may sometimes fail even after putting in the effort. If at first you don't succeed, try again. Hang in there -- you'll eventually pass!

4. What's in it for me? Should I pay for my exam, or should my employer?

I'm often surprised to meet people who must pay for their own exams. The effort to study, usually in your spare time, far exceeds the trivial cost of an exam to an employer. I've heard from some people that the company they work for is scared that their employees might leave if they're offered training. If that sounds like your employer, it's probably worth paying for your own exams so you can find a company that values its employees and wants to have a skilled workforce. If you're forced to pay for your own exams, your next role is your goal.

If you're lucky enough to work for an employer that will pay for your exams (and this should include every Microsoft Gold or Silver Partner as they need certified staff), you're already working for a company that values having a skilled workforce. An internal promotion isn't a promise, but new-found qualifications will most likely result in an interesting project or potential reward come your performance review. With up-to-date qualifications, you'll also find yourself well-protected should your employer face some sort of future difficulties.

About the author:
Steve Goodman is an Exchange MVP and works as a technical architect for one of the U.K.'s leading Microsoft Gold partners. Goodman has worked extensively with Microsoft Exchange since version 5.5 and with Office 365 since its origins in Exchange Labs and Live@EDU.

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How will you prepare for the MCSE: Messaging exam?
We encourage our exchange admins to start asking questions internally about the kinds of things they should do to be prepared as much as possible. However, we acknowledge the fact that they still have to study to pass.

Everyone should understand that becoming an MCSE is not a trivial pursuit.  I use one of two methods.  The first method involves purchasing a book on the exam (usually Microsoft if available) that has a electronic exam included.  I read the book cover to cover.  I do the labs if included.  I take the test in Certification mode until I score 90%.  I then purchase another book on the same test with an electronic exam.  I only read the sections of the second book which were not covered in the first one.  When I score 90%, I purchase a third book and repeat the process.  When I can take any of the three tests and score 90%, I take the real test.  I have passed approximately 20 Microsoft tests this way.

The second method is where I purchase test materials.  These are interesting as many times the questions and/or answers are out of context (ie wrong).  The key here is to read the questions, understand their implications, and then consider the given answer.  If you agree, you move to the next question.  If not, you research both the question and the answer.  This usually leads to a much deeper understanding of what is being asked and what the solutions are.  Sometimes you may have to actually do some labwork on a test system understand everything.  I have passed approximately 20 additional Microsoft exams this way.

If you use the Braindumps and just memorize, you will probably fail the exams as the Braindumps are very iffy.  I suspect that some people contribute to these to actually cause issues for others.  I also suspect that Microsoft contributes to these (after all who checks the background of those who contribute) so they can see who is using the Braindumps and at the same time put questions out on newer technology that Microsoft would like to see used more widely.  After all, their best sales/marketing group in composed of the Microsoft professionals who recommend their products and everyone knows that an effective salesperson is one educated in the product they are selling.     

The first time I attempted the MCSE Messaging exam, I failed. For the next try, I utilized practice exams, and passed. Well worth it.