Scaling the Certification Mountain

As you negotiate the tricky trail leading to the summit—your Windows 2000 MCSE certification—will New Riders’ ExamGear product provide a lifeline?

This month, as I continue assessing Windows 2000 MCSE exam-prep materials, I hit the trail with New Riders’ ExamGear 2000. ExamGear consists of seven question sets, one for each of the four Win2K MCSE core tests, plus three design exams. Let’s put ExamGear through its paces and see if it’ll help you scale the Win2K certification mountain.

The ExamGear 2000
Testing Engine ExamGear 2000, which New Riders developed in conjunction with MeasureUp, differs from most other Win2K exam-prep products—instead of being made available as books or CD-ROMs, ExamGear question sets must be purchased and downloaded at New Riders’ Web site. When you initiate a question set, you’re presented with three options: Study Mode, Practice Exam Mode and Adaptive Mode.

Study Mode is where you’ll probably spend most of your time with ExamGear, perusing the question database and increasing your Win2K knowledge level while simultaneously focusing on problem areas. In this mode, you select the number of questions to be presented, plus determine a time limit for a practice exam (or set no time limit). You can choose questions from all exam objective groups or just from groups where you need reinforcement. In addition, you can 1) select from all available questions, 2) exclude questions you’ve already answered correctly a certain number of times, or 3) select only questions you’ve missed a certain number of times.

Study Mode allows you to display the correct answer to a question you’re currently tackling via the “Show Answer” option. The answer is highlighted and a brief explanation of why that answer is correct, and the other answers aren’t, is displayed. I like the way the New Riders exam engine presents these explanations, embedding them in the questions themselves rather than in separate dialog boxes. But this feature can be quirky, as the explanatory text sometimes is truncated and difficult to read. In addition, many of the explanations could have been fleshed out a bit more, although they’re generally adequate.

Practice Exam Mode simulates the Win2K MCSE exams, presenting you with the same time limits and approximately the same number of questions as the actual tests. Questions are randomly selected from all test objective groups; just as with the real exams, you can’t display answers on the fly. You can review questions, but only at the end of a practice exam.

Though Microsoft has backed away from adaptive certification exams, many practice exam vendors still include an adaptive exam option. I recommend you skip the Adaptive Mode option and instead focus on the study and practice exam modes.

ExamGear’s question types include the traditional multiple-choice, plus drop-and-connect items that require you to form connection relationships between objects (roughly analogous to connect-the-dot drawings). Other question types include select-and-place, where you label a list of objects, and build-and-order, where you’re asked to place appropriate items (steps or tasks) in a list and order them a certain way.

When you finish an ExamGear practice exam, you can exit or ask to be presented with a review screen. This screen shows your passing percentage score in the form of a large bar chart; in the same format, you then can view a breakdown by objective of how well you did.

Technical Content
ExamGear’s technical content appears to cover most of the Win2K exam objectives. The majority of questions are straightforward, though some are vaguely worded and open to interpretation, making them difficult to answer. I found myself disagreeing with some ExamGear answers because of unclear wording, as more than one answer seemed plausible (Figure 1).

Figure 1. A question from New Riders’ ExamGear 2000.

This question contains information that appears contradictory. The question says you have a dual-boot configuration: Win2K and Windows 98. It also says the system partition is NTFS. But here’s a puzzler: The system partition is the one that operating systems boot from, yet how is Win98 starting up on a file system that it doesn’t support? This question is ambiguous. Is it saying that the boot partition, and not the system partition, is NTFS? Or, does the computer in question presently not support a dual-boot configuration? The answer explanation supports the latter, but the question could be answered in various ways depending on your interpretation of it.

Another shortcoming is that ExamGear features the occasional question concerning Win2K Resource Kit utilities, which you aren’t tested on in the actual exams.

For the most part, ExamGear’s questions are technically accurate—with some exceptions. One question, for instance, asks how you go about optimizing the paging process on a Win2K computer with two hard drives. The ExamGear answer is to move the pagefile from the boot partition and place it on the system partition, which is correct, but then the second part of the answer says to create a second pagefile and place it back on the boot partition. This is counterproductive, as the reason for moving the pagefile from the boot partition is to avoid competing with system files.

I also found some of ExamGear’s order-and-list questions to be overly complex; there were just too many steps to order.

Final Thoughts
In ExamGear 2000, New Riders has a good product that’ll help you along the road to your Win2K MCSE certification. The testing engine is sound, and the question pool covers the exam objectives well. Technical content is good, although—as we’ve seen—some questions are ambiguous and should be reworded and sharpened. At the same time, many of ExamGear’s answer explanations aren’t detailed enough and need to be expanded upon. New Riders should consider refining ExamGear and putting it through some more field-testing. If the company does that, then I think ExamGear will prove a high-quality, reasonably priced Win2K MCSE exam-prep product.

About the Author

James Carrion, MCM R2 Directory, MCITP, MCSE, MCT, CCNA, CISSP has worked as a computer consultant and technical instructor for the past 16 years. He’s the owner of and principal instructor for MountainView Systems, LLC, which specializes in accelerated Microsoft Certification training.

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