Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCT) are great sources of information and advice about technology, certification and IT career. As such, they often get questions about study tips and certification exam preparation. In the guest blog post below, MCT Bert Wolters shares some solid tips gathered from years of teaching and his own experiences with certification exams. Bert's post was originally written in Dutch here, and we appreciate his careful translation into English for sharing with Born to Learn blog readers. If you'd like to connect with Bert, please see his profile here.
Ask an MCT: How do I prepare for an exam?
As a trainer I’m often asked how I prepare for an exam and how I cope during those exams. Most of the time these are students of mine, preparing for their first exam, or people who failed for their exam the first time. Nerves are also playing tricks on people. On some occasions I’ve had students in my class who did fine on a practice run in a measure-up session. “Fine” in this case means 850 points or more, but froze during the real exam…
In this blog I like to give you some tips and tricks to prepare for all (Microsoft) exams in general, with the cooperation of Microsoft Learning, just to make sure I don’t tell you something illegal. Ok, now we’ve cleared all of that… Here we go, this is how I prepare for an exam.
Take the course, do the mileage
Since I like to work with the newest technology available, courses aren’t always available to me. But whenever I do get a chance to do so, I run through the courseware. These courses are written by experts in the field and will get you started to understand the technology tested in the exams, and used in the real world. I want to emphasize the “get you started” in my last sentence. Is just reading and memorizing the book enough to pass the exam? No. The exams are more and more about using the technology mentioned in the book in day to day situations.
I know we don’t all work in an enterprise environment on a day to day basis and that some of the exam content might seem a bit “over-the-top”, but when you show on your exam you have the insight to use the Microsoft technology in a big environment, with all complexity and dependencies of that environment, we know you can apply that knowledge in smaller environments too.
Don’t understand some things during training? Ask Questions!
This is something I personally had trouble with in the past. “What if people think I’m thick headed?” or “Other people don’t ask questions, so they must understand this way of explaining by the trainer…” or, and this is by far the best one: ”I’ll look it up later...”, trust me, you won’t. You will not even remember what you needed to look up, unless you write it down. Please don’t think in this way! I’ve come to realize over the years, that all trainers love technology and people. So please “bother” us with your questions…. If you don’t understand something when we explain a subject, ask us to clarify it again, or with different examples. That’s what gives us trainers a good feeling,… you understanding the subject matter at the end of the day! Please, never hesitate to ask us. And in the isolated case we don’t know the answer for your question (for sure) from the top of our head, we’ll look it up for you and answer you as soon as possible, when necessary by e-mail. That can happen sometimes, since we’re told by Microsoft that we’re only human. ;-)
Do the labs!
Don’t just consume the theory, but make sure you also know how to apply the technology, know the exceptions. When I read about DHCP, I can picture the console and think of the Powershell cmdlets that are applicable. When you’ve got the time, ask your trainer if you can work beyond the lab-assignment to do some experimenting of your own. More and more computers for home use are virtualization-capable. When you have the time, download an evaluation copy of windows server and set up your own home-lab to dive deeper into the content.
(When under 18, or when someone else is buying the computer for you, please consult them before making a dual-boot system)
Read articles on Technet/MSDN
In my earlier years, I once explained Kerberos authentication at an Active Directory training, based on additional reading I did on sites like Wikipedia. The senior trainer in the room stopped me and had to correct me, since there were some giant holes in the theory on that user-managed website. It’s very easy to assume that everything published on the internet is true, but beware of assumptions, data from specific configurations and features from different versions/service packs. Microsoft Technet and/or MSDN is the place to be for correct and in-depth additional reading material.
Check the Microsoft Learning website
My colleagues and I always check the website of Microsoft Learning for the latest exam-topics. At the “Skills Measured” tab you’ll get a nice overview of what is expected from you. Do you see new topics, such as (for example) “Secure Dynamic DNS”, Goo… ehhh Bing it! ;-)
Unsure? Take a test-exam!
Also mentioned on the Microsoft Learning website, mentioned under preparation materials, we’ve got official Practice exams. You will not find the exact exam questions there, but it will help you to get used to the way of questioning in the exams. The providers are MeasureUp and Selftest.
In High School we still see that students are cramming for a test or exam all night long. We also see students who study up until five minutes before the test starts. Research has shown that all of that time is wasted and people could have been better off, starting in time and having a good sleep the night before the exam.
I hope this blog post has given you some pointers in the right exam direction. Do you have additional tips and tricks? Let me know and I’ll add them! My next blog post will be on exam taking tips. Stay tuned, and good luck on your next exam!