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Step 10: Best exam prep practices

When it comes to pursuing Microsoft certifications, nothing beats well-rehearsed preparation and practice. Though the details involved in pursuing the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification differ somewhat from those involved in pursuing the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) credential, the same general approach works well in both cases. This learning guide provides a step-by-step approach to helping you prep for certification.

Microsoft examinations derive from objectives that define their coverage and content. All exam prep activity should do likewise. But best preparation methods for individuals (self-study or class-driven) should work as follows:

  • Review the exam objectives: Use them to identify what's on the exam and to focus your study and practice efforts on topics you don't already know well.
  • Use a practice exam or self-assessment tool: This will help you validate the study and practice focus you create in the preceding step and concentrate your efforts where they'll do the most good.
  • Dig into study materials and practice key tasks, skills and problem-solving techniques: This will help cement your understanding of concepts and terminology. It will also help you develop the real-world skills and knowledge necessary to apply cert learning in the workplace (which also matches the intent of Microsoft's exam questions and scenarios).
  • Keep taking practice tests until you consistently beat minimum scores: It's a well known psychological phenomenon that your actual exam scores will be 5-10% lower when compared to practice test results. So use practice exams to focus your studies and develop additional skills until you can consistently beat minimum passing scores by no less than 5% (and 10% or better improves the odds of passing).
  • When readiness assessments show you're good to go, take the real exam. If you do not pass it on the first try, be sure to write down the topics, tools and skills that gave you problems during the exam. Use that information to guide further study and get ready for a second try.

Hundreds of thousands of MCSAs and MCSEs have been granted, so you already know it's possible to pass these exams. You just need to adjust your study routine and incorporate enough prep materials to help you get ready to pass it yourself. If you try self-study and fail on your first exam attempt, you might want to try the class-driven approach for your next attempt. On the other hand, if your score was close and you know what you need to do to pass your next attempt, self-study may still provide the key to success. Those who start on the class-driven path may also take comfort from most training companies' offers of free refreshers to people whose first exam attempts don't end in success.

Good luck with your exam preparation. A measured, focused approach can't guarantee positive results in every case, but it will certainly help!


 Home: Introduction
 Step 01: Choose your target Windows version
 Step 02: Establish exam choices and order
 Step 03: Deal with the desktop first
 Step 04: Security options may appeal
 Step 05: Digging into server and admin requirements
 Step 06: Complete outstanding electives (optional)
 Step 07: Completing the Core Exam (MCSE only)
 Step 08: Prepping for individual exams (The self-study prep approach)
 Step 09: Prepping for individual exams (The class-driven prep approach)
 Step 10: Best exam prep practices

Ed Tittel, author and columnist
Ed Tittel is a frequent contributor to, Series Editor for Exam Cram 2 and contributing editor and columnist for Certification Magazine. Ed has written numerous books on Microsoft certifications. Ed can be reached at
Copyright 2005 TechTarget

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