He Shoots, He Scores

How we're being tested—now and in the future.

Your dear Auntie was woolgathering the other day when Fabio’s dulcet tones intruded on my reverie. “You never listen to a thing I say,” he complained. I was quick to protest, of course. Perhaps I don’t hear every word, but I certainly got the gist of the fabulous one’s complaint, to wit: that I wasn’t doing a very good job of meeting my deadlines, and if I didn’t get busy, the gravy train was going to pull out of the station without me.

But naturally, the precious boy was right. A quick glance at my task list showed a river of red, and this column was at the top of the list. Fortunately, the topic was ready-made: The folks in Redmond never listen to us, do they? Surely I could rant (I mean, opine) about that for 700 words or more.

There’s only one problem with that theory: They do, in fact, listen to all of us on occasion. Take the case of the MCP score reports. In the olden days, exam score reports showed your strong areas and gave you an overall grade. But, if you took any certification exams in 2002 or early 2003, you might have been a bit shocked at the lack of detail on your score report. Gone were the area-by-area bar graph and the numeric score. Instead, there was only one piece of information: if you passed or failed.

MCPs everywhere howled about these changes. Some pointed out that knowing one’s own weaknesses would lead to intense study in those areas and consequently increase the pool of MCP knowledge. Others speculated darkly about whether Microsoft was even bothering to be honest about the pass ratios. How could we know whether the scores were based on our own actions if there were no details? Very few people had anything good to say about the pass/fail scoring.

Well, somehow, the howls got to the right person at Microsoft. Starting with the Windows Server 2003 exams, score reports include a numeric score and a bar graph with each bar running from “needs development” to “strong.” (Isn’t “weak” the opposite of “strong”? Or is that politically incorrect these days?)

Microsoft says this is a new score report, redesigned on the basis of customer feedback, but it looks a whole lot like the old score report. Perhaps they think we’ve forgotten.

Still, nice as this move is from our point of view, one can’t help wondering whether Microsoft thought it through. Now that we know our howls can bring about change, what else might the Microsoft Learning folks (formerly known as Training & Certification) be forced to change? Imagine the scene in their offices in another year or two…

A junior manager slams the cracked-open door and pushes a desk in front of it: “It’s getting ugly out there. They’ve surrounded the building and are threatening to cut the fiber-optic lines, leaving us with only dial-up!”

A senior manager, head in hands: “What do they want? We’ve given them $10 certification exams. We’ve given them open book exams. We’ve handed out exam vouchers like candy, let people invent their own titles and gotten rid of all the hard questions. If you get the Microsoft Certified Systems Guru credential, Bill Gates comes over and personally washes the windows on your car! We’ll be the laughingstock of the certification world if this keeps up!”

A rock flies through the window with a note attached.

The junior manager reads: “They want us to count their high school GPA toward certification. A 2.0 gets an automatic MCP; a 3.0, an automatic MCSE.”

The senior manager, in resignation: “Offer them a 2.4 and a 3.4. We need to keep some standards.”

Uh-oh. Fabio says I’ve been woolgathering again. Doesn’t he understand that this goofy smile comes from thinking about the future of certification? I’m working, darn it! And with that thought, I’ll leave you to apply your own pressure to Microsoft.

About the Author

Em C. Pea, MCP, is a technology consultant, writer and now budding nanotechnologist who you can expect to turn up somewhere writing about technology once again.

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Reader Comments:

Sat, Dec 20, 2003 Gill S'Pore

I agree with Richard P. Cloakey. One more thing, the MCT papers must be different from the one students use to sit. I remember many years ago, a CNI (Novell) would have a different exam code compared to a normal-student-taking-exam exam code. Finally i would love to see lots of simulations, hence some real hands-on experience would be required.

Fri, Dec 19, 2003 Richard P. Coakley Austin, TX

Microsoft listens? Really? I might be inclined to agree if they continued to reverse some of their (IMHO) insane "Business Decisions". For instance, now that we can see our test scores, why don't we make it a requirement that a MCT pass the test before they are certified to teach the class.

Thu, Dec 18, 2003 SomeBloke Anonymous

Who the hell is Fabio?

Wed, Dec 17, 2003 Erick Dallas

Microsoft has also missed the boat in regards to what they charge for the materials and test...I spent 8K last time getting my MCSE. I wont do it again. They instructed the class and basicaly couldnt tell me what I kept missing on the first test. We finally figured out the test was incorrect and I change to a wrong answer and passed. Everytime Microsoft releases a new operating system Im supposed to fly down and get tested...BS!! Most companies are still using NT4.0. Economics dosent present itself to allow me to keep bugging the boss for time to study and take the tests. It also dosent economicaly present itself that companies are going to buy the latest and greatest software. Think microsoft....If your going to test make the tests cheaper, More usefull in grading and above all get some people in the field to write the Damn questions, NOT engineers...Working for a company with 1000s of users you are not going to rebuild the entire network, no matter how much you want to. Get realistic with your questioning and think about how you present them to the test taker.

Wed, Dec 17, 2003 Former Microsoft enthusti Michigan

I always thought that Microsoft was shoving it down our throats and forcing us to buy Prep Software by not showing
the score. Because there response was buy the prep software,
and I would say I already bought the Prep,
so did i fail by 1 quesiton or 10 on the 70-215.
Microsoft your pride is bringing you down.
We spend too much effort certifying,
so if you get us mad we go else where.
That is why I now do hard core Oracle, Sun, Ibm,
and NCR Teradata instead.

Good article, but Microsoft totally upset me about
the lack of a score.

Wed, Dec 17, 2003 roger foley usa

I use to be hard core Microsoft certs, then I just gave up.
I spent most of my time nowdoing Oracle, Sun, IBM,
and NCR Teradata. I kept getting tired of losing
certs. All certs should be version driven.
THe MCDBA should not require a server test.
At one time you had to do 3 server tests, so at least there listening.

Needs improvement is another way of showing the score, but not really. Did I miss by a question or by 10.

Wed, Dec 17, 2003 Bill Mitchell Phoenix AZ

I am an MCSD on VB6, which exams were scored and charted. When I sat for the 70-300 .NET architectures exam I received a PASS. Realistically though, scoring only has value if you FAIL, and even then without knowing which questions were incorrect, there's limited usefulness. The best way to pass is to know the product inside-out.

Wed, Dec 17, 2003 Eric Anonymous

I recently took and passed the two MCSE 2003 upgrade exams, which are still passfail. Microsoft's decision to bring back numerical scores is a good one, but one that should also be included on the upgrade tests. 70-296 is particularly challenging, with a lot of questions on topics that typical IT people don't get assigned to deal with in a large corporate environment. It would have been nice to know which of these difficult questions caused me to fail it the first time I took it. (Hint: Read everything you can on certificates, PKI, etc. before taking this exam.)

Wed, Dec 17, 2003 Kevin Wood Anonymous

A retraction or re-implementation of a former action is neither listening nor thinking.
They made a very bad, poorly thought out decision without checking with 'reality'. When it bit them in the butt, they backed off and said 'we're listening'. Not the same thing.

Wed, Dec 17, 2003 Chris Anderson US

The thing that concerns me is the fact that the bottom of the scale scale reads "needs development" -- so that means if you don't completly blow it you don't need any development? That doesn't seem right. On the other hand, I don't see a need for the bar graph. Tell me if I passed or not, and give me the number or right/wrong for each section. Whether or not MS "thinks" I need improvement is subjective. When taking the VB6 exams for MSCD, I constantly fail the deplyment sections. Why? I don't use the Package & Deployment Wizard. We use a different tool. Plus, that's something that's usually left to the CM dept.

Tue, Nov 25, 2003 Malcolm UK

Having passed both 70-210 & 70-215 at the first attempt "PASS" was good enough. However, with two more exams for my MCSA, then another to upgrade to Server 2003 knowing weak areas if I fail would be a real benefit.
Also, someone told me that MS had changed to simple "PASS" or "FAIL" to prevent certified professionals from stating their percentage score. Such as "MCSE with 80% pass rate." Hence reinforcing the MS doctrine - and quite right too - that an MCP is an MCP - period.
in this, or just another myth?

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