Professor James G. Lengel, Hunter College School of Education,
New York

In March 2013, Microsoft introduced the new Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) 2013 exams, a new format that improves the testing experience by enabling even more real-world functionality and project-based outcome testing. How does this change the testing experience? James G. Lengel, professor at the Hunter College School of Education in New York, shares his experience preparing students for the new MOS exams.

As rumored, the new format for the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) exams is a complete departure from anything that's been used before. You are given a blank document, and shown a picture of sample document, and must reproduce that document exactly (and I mean exactly) using the program being tested (only Word and Excel are available right now). You get 50 minutes. If you produce the document exactly, you pass; if not, you fail. They don't care how you arrive at the results; it's the results that count.

In building the document, you must: create and manage documents, format text, paragraphs and sections, create tables and lists, apply references, and insert and format objects.

In short, you must do all the things an Office user must do in the real world. The exam is very much like a real-world task; you must know how to design a document from scratch, import various kinds of files, format text and objects, and use many of the new features of Office 2013 that are not available in Office 2010.

The old exams presented you with a single very specific task at random, that you had to perform; then you would go on to another unrelated task; and so forth. No overall approach. And the old exam preparation materials did the same thing, teaching discrete tasks rather than approaching the document as a whole from scratch.

If we want our curriculum to mesh well with the approach taken in the exams, we'll have to provide more real-world, from scratch, problem solving tasks, and we'll have to provide plenty of practice in reproducing sample documents exactly. And focus on the new tools available in Office 2013 -- if you try to build the document in the exam the old way, you'll never have time to complete it.

The exams are actually a breath of fresh air. They are practical tests of a candidate's ability to use the Office suite in a real world situation, and to produce quality, exacting work efficiently. They fit well with what many successful teachers tell me:

"We have found that the most successful way to teach these products is in the context of real-world problems: present a meaningful situation and set of data to students, then show them how to use the MS Office tools -- singly and in combination -- to design and execute a solution to the problem. Much more engaging than watching videos of a teacher's lecture or completing exercise after exercise on disembodied ribbon commands."


James Lengel earned his degrees at Yale College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education and has worked in government, academic, and industry organizations for 42 years. After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Marshall Islands, James began his career as a public school teacher in Vermont, where he worked his way to the post of Deputy Commissioner of Education, and was appointed to a Fulbright Scholarship in China. James taught at Boston University and developed the digital media program at the College of Communication, and helped build a center for teaching excellence. James continues as a professor at Hunter College of the City University New York, while consulting with organizations around the world on the application of new technologies to teaching and learning. James has authored nine books on education and communication, including Education 3.0 from Teacher's College Press, publishes a weekly column and podcast on teaching with technology at, and is licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard as a Captain in the Merchant Marine. He cruises and races his sailboat Top Cat along the coast of New England during the summer season.