Can a Web-only exam-prep product get you ready for the Windows 2000 tests? The answer here is "yes."
- By James Carrion
It seems that Windows 2000 practice-exam vendors have multiplied faster
then free-range bunnies in the last year-especially in the last three
months as the NT 4.0 MCSE upgrade deadline looms ahead. With so many choices,
it's not only difficult to select the right vendor but just as challenging
to select the right delivery media-paper-based, Windows 32-bit custom
test engine, or a completely Web-based solution. Because I've reviewed
many practice exam solutions that come as traditional WIN32 applications
on a CD, I thought it'd be great to take a look at one that's completely
Web-based. This month I look at a relative newcomer to the practice exam
field: ActiveCert.com, www.activecert.com.
After purchasing your exams online from ActiveCert (Figure 1), you can
logon using the username and password you received from the registration
server. Once you've successfully authenticated, you can click on the "My
Tests" link to display a listing of the exams you've purchased.
|Figure 1. ActiveCert's home page has a clean,
easy-to-follow look. (Click image to view larger version.)
Each exam has four study modes: Deep Study mode, Quick Study mode, Mixed
Study mode, and Fast Facts Review study mode. In Deep Study mode, shown
in Figure 2, the exam questions are longer and harder than in the other
study modes. The answer explanations are also more complete, with the
goal of teaching you subject matter for the objective being tested. Deep
Study mode also includes a variety of additional learning materials such
as audio explanations, how-to exercises, screen images, tips, training
videos, and links to external third-party Web sites. I found the links
to third-party sites (mostly Microsoft Knowledge Base articles) a valuable
feature. If I found myself disagreeing with an answer, I'd immediately
follow the links to review the source technical documents.
|Figure 2. Deep Study mode questions, like this
one, can include audio explanations and links to external sources.
(Click image to view larger version.)
Where Deep Study mode is designed to let you linger on a question so
you can learn the objective being tested, Quick Study mode is designed
for the person who's already mastered the objective and is looking to
test their knowledge by answering shorter questions. The answers and explanations
are also more matter-of-fact and to the point.
Mixed Study mode is nothing more than a combination of Deep Study and
Quick Study modes. Finally, Fast Facts Review mode is a compilation of
critical exam facts, listed by objective, which can be used as a cheat
sheet to refresh your memory just before taking a test (just don't take
it into the testing center with you!). Of the four modes described, you'll
probably find Deep Study mode to be the most beneficial for learning Win2K
subject matter and Quick Study mode for exam readiness assessment.
ActiveCert WIN2K Practice Exams
$59.95 per practice exam
Four-cylinder Test Engine
I found the Web-based test engine to be functional, though not as feature-rich
as some of the competing practice-exam products distributed as WIN32-based
applications. For example, many WIN32 test engines will not only randomize
questions but also the order of answers or will remember the questions
answered correctly. This helps if you take the exam again, as it'll focus
on presenting only the questions you'd previously answered incorrectly.
These features are lacking from ActiveCert, but I think they could be
easily implemented. I was impressed, though, by ActiveCert's ability to
replicate the look and feel of the real exams-complete with exam timer,
drag-and-drop questions, point-and-click questions, a review screen, and
the ability for a test taker to comment on questions. The comment feature
is a great way for ActiveCert to get feedback from its clients so that
inaccurate technical content or ambiguous questions/answers can be corrected.
I like the Web-based test engine concept, but can it really be a viable
and comprehensive platform for practice exam content delivery? I think
so, but there are technical challenges, such as browser compatibility.
From what I could see, the ActiveCert site is primarily dynamic HTML-based
and appears to be ActiveX control-free, which helps in the browser-compatibility
department. The other issue is maintaining the connection state. The last
thing I want is to spend an hour going through an online practice exam,
only to have my exam terminated because of network latency or other Internet
connectivity problems. Instant and correct feedback is very important
to the test-taking process. Although I didn't experience these connection
issues while reviewing the ActiveCert site (through my satellite connection),
it's something of which ActiveCert, along with its Web-based competitors,
must be conscious. This is even more important when providing content
to users with low-bandwidth Internet connections.
I found the technical content not only quite accurate but also very representative
of the exam objectives. The content creators have done their homework
here and offer you the right technical facts in the right dosage to help
prepare for the Win2K exams. The answer explanations are thorough and
promote learning, especially when used in combination with the links to
third-party technical documents. Does this mean that you can pass the
Win2K exam with just these practice exams in your tool belt? Not likely,
as you'll still need a good measure of hands-on experience, troubleshooting
know-how and solid NT 4.0/Win2K knowledge to pull it off.
I like this product primarily for its technical accuracy and comprehensive
coverage of exam objectives. Although the Web-based test engine isn't
as feature-rich as a WIN32-based test engine, it's functional enough to
do the job, especially when simulating the look and feel of a real exam.
I also think the Deep Study Mode, with its comprehensive explanations
and links to other technical documents, serves as an excellent learning
tool to help you prepare for the exam by building your own Win2K knowledge
base. If you're looking for a practice exam that gives you that needed
edge to pass your Win2K MCSE exams, ActiveCert delivers.
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.