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What's the hardest test of all?

Although the new slate of tests for the Windows 2000 MCSE raises the bar considerably with respect to the Windows NT exams, I'm often asked "What's the hardest exam for Windows 2000 MCSE?" Leaving the 70-240 Accelerated Windows exam aside (and I hope it's obvious that any single exam that replaces four individual exams is going to be harder than any single-topic exam), I'd have to say that 70-216 Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure wins this dubious distinction.

Why do I say this? Because it's been the consensus of those whose opinions about such things I trust most -- including such noteworthies as Herb Martin, the proprietor and chief instructor at LearnQuick; and one of the most sophisticated consumers of educational and exam output from Microsoft -- that this exam is a "real booger." As a veteran of all the exams for Windows NT 3.51, 4.0, and the MCSD tracks, Herb confided to me that this exam was the only one he'd ever taken from Microsoft that he though he might fail. (Just for the record, he passed, but just barely).

So now that you're properly scared about this exam, what should you do? The one-word answer is, of course: "Study." But what? Now that Networking Essentials isn't part of the MCSE drill any more, if you don't have a strong basic networking background, I suggest tackling the CompTIA Network+ exam as a way to get yourself started on this topic. After that, you'll want to work your way systematically through the objectives for 70-216 and make sure you understand them theoretically and from a hands-on installation, configuration, and troubleshooting perspective. You'll find these objectives online here.

You'll want to chew your way through as many as such study guides, exam crams, and practice tests as you find useful and informative. For my money, that means the following at this point in time (bear in mind that the number of offerings in this space will soon be increasing as more books and exams make it to market):

1. Study Guide. Syngress Media's "MCSE Windows 2000 Network Administration Study Guide," by Thomas Shinder and Debra Littlejohn Shinder. Available here.

2. Exam Cram. Microsoft Press's MCSE Readiness Review Exam 70-216 "Implementing and Administering a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure," by Dave Perkovich. Available here.

3. Practice Exam. As usual, Transcender's products are, at $149 retail, a little too expensive, but still of great quality follow the link to NetCert. The Self-Test Software exam, at $99 is as good, and $50 cheaper.

Additional offerings are arriving regularly as more vendors catch up with Microsoft, so keep your eyes peeled for the "best of breed" whenever you're ready to tackle this exam.

The key is to make sure you're comfortable with all the topics, services, and system facilities covered in the objectives before you take the exam. Familiarity is the best booster of test results I know. So get really friendly with the material -- and equally familiar with the various Windows 2000 Server services you must master. I'm sure you'll make it through this exam. But good luck, just in case!

Ed Tittel is a principal at a small content development company based in Austin, Texas, and the creator of the Exam Cram series, and has worked on over 30 certification-related books on Microsoft, Novell, and Sun related topics.

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