When Did You Say You Got Your MCSE?

Hiring managers may soon be asking IT candidates a new question: When did you take your Microsoft certification exams?

Microsoft Learning is adding hands-on simulation questions to most of its core exams for the Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) tracks. The process starts with exams 70-290, Managing and Maintaining a Windows Server 2003 Environment, and 70-291, Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining a Windows Server 2003 Network Infrastructure, later this month.

The move is a welcome change for the Microsoft certified community, which for years has been clamoring for the kind of hands-on testing that Cisco, Red Hat and Novell have for their certification exams. "It's a sure-fire way to weed out those who aren’t ready or qualified to become Microsoft certified," says Andy Barkl, owner of Phoenix-based training firm

While Microsoft seeded unscored simulation items into at least one exam a few years ago, this is the first time the company is prepared to do a large, full-scale rollout of scored simulations.

According to Al Valvano, group product manager for the Microsoft Learning Group, the rollout didn't take place sooner because the technology on both the testing and exam-delivery side has only recently come together. "The technology is incredibly complex," he said, "particularly if you want to develop it and roll it out on a scale the size of the Microsoft certification program."

While Microsoft contends that other question types introduced over the past few years—including case studies and scenario-based questions—also fill the performance-based bill, the success of the Cisco and Red Hat programs show the cachet that true hands-on items can bring. Even a sprinkling of simulation questions throughout an exam can boost the reputation of a credential significantly, because it reduces the ability to pass exams using self-study guides or online cheat-sheets called "braindumps."

Lori Chung

"A significant portion of the exams
[will be simulations]."

Al Valvano, Group Product Manager
for the Microsoft Learning Group

Trying to guess the answer—which you can do with multiple-choice or drag-and-drop questions—isn't an option for performance-based questions. The knowledge gleaned from daily maintenance of a Windows server offers the best hope of getting simulation questions right.

And it appears the number of simulation questions added to at least some of the core Windows 2003 exams will be substantial. "Our goal is a significant portion of the exams [will be simulations] where it makes sense," Valvano said.

IT hiring managers already use certification as a resume filter. As they get wind that these newer exams test hands-on skills, employers may scrutinize transcripts to see if exams contained performance-based questions.

However, Microsoft won't be making it easy for hiring managers to figure out who’s taken what versions of the exams. According to Valvano, the company considered several options, but decided not to distinguish those who passed exams with simulations.

This is where it will come back to the "when," at least in the short-term: Only by comparing the dates of when exams were taken to when particular exams were released will hiring managers be able to tell which contained simulation items.

Even so, MCPs who fear being passed over for candidates who have "better" credentials might consider re-taking some exams. Microsoft doesn’t expect hordes of MCSEs to take this route, but the potential exists if hiring managers begin to emphasize the newer exams.

"People will form opinions on the value and worth of this. We do feel pretty strongly though, that we will always have credential tracks that comprise multiple testing methodologies. What we're just trying to do here is elevate the program as a whole and to utilize this technology in the right way and with the right kinds of questions," Valvano said.

About the Author

Michael Domingo is the editor of Becky Nagel is the editor of and

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Dec 19, 2005 Pablo Casado NY, USA

Personally, I think it is a shame, Micosoft Action Packs is the best as I have seen that lots and lots of other manufacturers don't do to help business ownners .. Microsoft helps Small business ownner to boost their productivity and sales providing them with tons and tons of information and solutions in materials and softwares, and opportunists like those gives a bad repution to others good and loyals Microsoft partners

Mon, Aug 22, 2005 Anonymous Anonymous

the problem is that microsoft seems to ask the most obscure items that in the real world - using 2003 every day - you still may not use often. the other thing that is a bit annoying is some of the diagram items use symbols that are not recognized as correct for diagrams.

Wed, May 18, 2005 Dilberto California

Its about time a practical approach to certification is deployed. Initially a paper MCSE in 1999- I finally rolled-up my shirtsleeves and went the hands-on route(70-290) to ensure I was marketable, with all validation. So, if you are sharp- even a single install of a Windows 2000 Advanced Server Domain within a home/office environment will instill enough knowledge of simulation content to confidently pass. Just like my new Porsche 911- there is simply NO substitute.....for using your nugget these days.

Fri, Apr 22, 2005 Jim Ohio

I agree the simulations are needed for proper testing. But I took the exams and the simulations do not work. You are very limited as to how you can complete the tasks, I had to stop the sim and restart it so the mouse would even respond. During the 291 the test crashed. Should I even bother with Microsoft certs?

Thu, Apr 21, 2005 Vince DC

I was a "Charter MCSE" member for the Windows 2000 MCSE and have to say that the only thing the cert did was get the interview. You still must get through an interview. It's no different from a college degree. You don't get hired on the degree, you get the interview, then you have to sell yourself. I also felt that the testing was not very effective. The problem is the tests are never real world, they are full of Microsoftisms. The scenarios often reflect "Microsoft would do it this way", when no one in their right mind would ever do it that way (i.e. "configure a windows server to act as a router to handle the enterprise internet traffic". Ummmm yeah...sure Bill.....

Wed, Apr 6, 2005 Tammy S. Maryland

I am glad Microsoft is doing this. I have the MCSA 2000 and paid a huge amount of money to a "training" place a few years ago to help. I did not feel like I got the material and failed exam after exam because I was trying to LEARN vs. just PASS. The "camp" was for MCSA and MCSE. I walked away with only 2 exams passed and empty pockets. I finally completed the MCSA on my own, but I don't feel satisfied and I am preparing to upgrade it to 2003 within the next year, but now when I pass, I will feel much better about my skills and less like an industry lurker.

Fri, Mar 11, 2005 Becky Nagel Editor,

Hi Crue -- Prometric may say that somewhere, but we talked with Microsoft and they said that retaking was fine; in fact, they even expect a small percentage to do so. I would suggest that if you get any pushback from your test center you contact MS directly for written confirmation or try another center. HTH some! -- Becky

Tue, Mar 8, 2005 arijan Anonymous

This is good, I took cisco and micro before, and I have to say on think that Cisco is much better with testing, so Micro is going the Cisco way

Mon, Mar 7, 2005 Crue Arlington

The Second to Last paragraph is simply wrong.
I guess it's too much to ask for - thorough research from writers and contributors.

"If you have passed an exam, you cannot take it again." -

Thanks for the FUD article!

Sun, Mar 6, 2005 John Detroit

Too many exams and requirements, too little time, not enough money and to little definition between exams and job scope. MCSE represents advertising $$ for Microsoft, but the cost of materials, tests, etc. can be overwhelming for an individual and many companies are significantly (if not all) cutting back on training $. It's also difficult to get to a design and architectural certification without having to go through all the administrator stuff and then you are certified, not on design and architecture, but rather the care and feeding of your server and server software. Couple this with the need to be versed in other manufacturer product certifications, i.e. Cisco and other technology certifications would about kill most time and money wise (unless all they have time to do is study and take exams). Most at the design and management levels need to be versed on 4 to 5 product groupings, as well as, 5 to 8 technology groupings.

Need a better way to present and accomplish all of this (unless you are in the certification industry, then sit back and get the money).

Thu, Mar 3, 2005 RobinZ Canada

I've been an MCSE since 1993. I gave up with the testing in 2000 because of the idiocy of the questioning. I would welcome a better form of testing.

Thu, Mar 3, 2005 Karla Cleveland

I think it's a good idea. I do better on hands on that multiple guess. Practice is better than theory anyday.

Thu, Mar 3, 2005 Peter England

Having taken both MS and Cisco exams and passed both without problems, I can't see the need to panic as it will not change the way people hire MCSE's as you will still get paper MCSE's from boot camp's, and they still won't have a clue

Thu, Mar 3, 2005 Roger Anonymous

About time MS did this... I for one think this will get rid of paper MCSE's

Thu, Mar 3, 2005 Stan Anonymous

Microsoft exams were formed on a good basis similar to labor unions of eras gone by. Today, exams are merely money makers for Microsoft. As far as unions today, well I'll let today's economy speak for itself.

Wed, Mar 2, 2005 joe new jersey

Iam sorry i made a mistake i thought the hole exam was going to be changed iam a jerk

Wed, Mar 2, 2005 joe new jersey

how are we suppose to study for these test now , you can read that microsoft server book untill the cows come home and still not pass the exam

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