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Practice makes perfect

Utilizing self assessments to improve exam perfomance.

This past April, Microsoft and practice test provider MeasureUp rolled out free skills assessments on four major Windows Server 2003 related exam areas. Since it's been a little over six months since the debut of these self-assessments, I did some follow-up to get a sense of how they're doing. In researching this topic, I learned that site visitors have taken a huge number of self-assessments -- over 150,000 -- and that the program has been pretty darn successful.

According to totals** from MeasureUp, the number of self-assessments taken to date is more than 150,000, and is averaging roughly 25,000 self tests a month. That's an amazing tally and one that certainly justifies the program, since the total of 150,000 self-tests is somewhat higher than the number of Microsoft exams dished out over the same period, as measured by increases in the Microsoft Certified Professional population during that same time period. (Microsoft doesn't share details on exams taken, passing or failing, but only on certifications earned.)

By my reckoning, the program is heavily used by aspiring MCPs at a rate slightly higher than aggregated monthly certification rates. This argues strongly that if you're interested in exams related to these assessments, you should check them out and use them to identify areas where more study can boost exam results. You may also want to visit MeasureUp ( to check out its excellent battery of practice tests on both Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003 topics.

I also find it interesting that although the ratio of MCSA/MCSE to MCSD/MCAD is about 4 or 5 to 1, the ratio for self-assessments is less than 2 to 1. Could this indicate growing interest in developer certs? I am shy about drawing that conclusion, though it is tempting to do so.

It's worth noting that some of the self-assessments are pretty new. For example, the first Exchange Server exam (70-284) isn't publicly available yet -- it's expected sometime in late October 2003; objectives have only been available since August 21. Thus, these numbers don't truly reflect category averages for the whole period, except for Windows Server 2003 and developer categories that have been there from the get-go.

If you're interested in the raw results mentioned above, you'll find them at Microsoft's Training and Certification Web site. Each major topic area is divided into subcategories. Within individual categories, multiple skills assessments are often available. After you complete an assessment, you not only get a percentage score and a shot at the highest scores list, you also get a customized learning plan to help you prepare for the assessments' related exams.

Here's a list of the topics and categories for which skills assessments are available, along with assessment names (the large, if not astonishing, counts of assessments completed appear in parentheses beside each one):

  • Windows Server 2003 [90,149 category total]
    • Evaluate: Introduction to Windows Server 2003 (74,055)
    • Secure: Managing the Deployment of Service Packs and Security Updates (5,020), Protecting the Perimeter of Networks (1,748)
    • Migrate: Migrating from Windows NT 4.0 Directory Service to Windows Server 2003: Planning (2,372), Deploying (676)
    • Deploy: Deploying Windows Server 2003 Networking Services: Name Resolution (3,355), DHCP (1,965), Remote Access (958)
  • Windows Storage Server 2003 [404 category total]
    • Implement: Implementing and Managing Microsoft Windows Storage Server 2003 (404)
  • Visual Studio .NET [57,205 category total]
    • Evaluate: Introductions to Microsoft .NET for Developers: VB.NET (28,245), C# (2,256)
    • Develop for Windows: Developing Enterprise Windows-based Applications with .NET: Rich Client (7,112), Data Access (2,454)
    • Develop for Web: Developing Enterprise Web-based Applications with .NET: ASP.NET (13,225), Data Access (2,380), Web Services (1,533)
  • Exchange Server 2003 [3,863 category total]
    • Evaluate: Introduction to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 (849)
    • Deploy: Deploying a Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Organization (1,953)
    • Manage: Managing a Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 Organization (1,061)

**Note: Self assessment totals reported by Microsoft on its high scores pages are lower than actual what MeasureUp reports. MeasureUp's attributes this discrepancy to Microsft's counting process, which it says resets each time a new high score is added to the top score.

Ed Tittel has been a writer since 1986, is series editor for Exam Cram 2, and writes regularly on cert topics for various TechTarget Web sites.

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