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Why MCSEs take the AD design exam

Microsoft Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure is by far the most popular design course, find out why.

Everybody who pursues an MCSE knows that in addition to the "Core 4" exams -- those exams on Windows XP or 2000 Professional (70-270 and 70-210 respectively), Windows 2000 Server (70-215), Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure (70-216) and Windows 2000 Directory Services Infrastructure (70-217) -- there's another category of required exams called the Core Design exams. After finishing the Core 4, candidates must choose and pass one design exam, plus two electives, to earn an MCSE.

The Core Design exams are interesting in several ways. Let's begin with a list of the possible choices open to would-be MCSEs:

I recently conducted an informal analysis of choices current MCSEs made for this exam and the results are pretty revealing.

Exam ID Percentage chosen
70-219 (Directory Services) 65
70-220 (Win2k networking security) 19
70-221 (Win2k network infrastructure) 14
70-226 (Highly available solutions) 02
Mathematical margin of error is 1-2%; statistical margin of error is 10-12%.

The numbers are based on my survey of approximately 80-plus colleagues and peers who hold the Windows 2000 MCSE. I believe this sample mirrors the distribution in the MCSE population at large since independent ratings of the three sequential Core Design exams show that 70-219 is much easier than either of the other two. In fact, 70-221 has the reputation of being among the most difficult exams in the entire Windows 2000 certification collection.

Here are some additional reasons for the skewing:

  • Active Directory is a technology that drives many organizations to adopt Windows 2000. Because 70-219 gives MCSEs more exposure to and experience with AD, many employers request their employee candidates to take this design exam rather than the others. With over half of all MCSEs still paid for by employers in whole or in part, this alone might explain the tilt.
  • The vast majority of boot camps or comprehensive MCSE training programs that offer one-stop training to prep for the Windows 2000 MCSE offer 70-219 as their design core option. In some cases 70-220 or 70-221 may be available as an alternative to 70-219, but that's the exception, not the rule. I found nobody with such a program offering 70-226 as a design core option.
  • I see little or no evidence that there's significant interest in 70-226, perhaps because Web design and activity falls outside the normal charter for network and system administrators (the core job description for MCSEs), or perhaps because other Core Design exams fit employer and IT professional training needs better.

I must also confess that while I had a strong sense that 70-219 was the most popular of the Core Design exams, I didn't expect that it would constitute a simple majority across all such exams as well.

What's to be garnered from these numbers? For one thing, candidates need a compelling reason to take a Core Design exam other than 70-219. For another, those who tackle 70-220 and 70-221 should prepare themselves for unusually difficult exams. And finally, only MCSEs who work at ISPs, Web hosting companies or other organizations with investments in high-end Microsoft-based Web servers and services ought to consider taking 70-226, if anyone.

About the author:
Ed Tittel is a principal at a small content development company based in Austin, Texas, and the creator of the Exam Cram series. He has worked on over 60 books on Microsoft, CompTIA, CIW, Sun/Java and various security certifications.

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