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Posted Mar 4, 2001

Preparing for your first Microsoft Exam

By Andy Warren

Thinking about taking your first exam? Here are sixteen tips that will help you prepare!

1 Visit the MS Certification site and read about the different types of certifications, testing methods, and start thinking about which direction you'd like to go. Visit Certification Magazine, MCP Magazine, and ExamCram as well.
2 Start with an exam about the product you're most familiar with. When you choose this exam you want to keep in mind your long term goal and take an exam that supports it - don't take Windows 2000 Professional if you are interested in the developer certification.


Go back to the MS Certification site and PRINT the Preparation Guide for the exam you've selected. As you study, refer to the "Skills Measured" section of the Prep Guide. By the time you're ready to take the test you should be comfortable with every item listed!
4 Buy two books about the exam. I usually like to buy one that has a lot of exercises and covers the material thoroughly (Sybex, Osbourne, New Riders) and one that gives me a very focused review (ExamCram or MS Readiness Review). Try BestBookBuys to find the cheapest prices, also Half.com often has some great deals on used books.
5 Sign up to receive tips of the day and practice questions for ALL of the exams you plan to take. Just dump them into an email folders for now. 2000Tutor.com and TipWorld are some of the ones I use.
6 Get the hardware and software you need to prepare for the exam. For a lot of the exams you'll need two computers with network cards. Use evaluation copies of the software to keep your costs down.
7 Assess yourself. Take the practice test from one of the books before you begin to study. This will start to get you into that "test mode" and it gives you something to base your study plan on. In my experience these practice tests are NOT as difficult as the actual exam - but they are a good place to start.
8 Estimate how long you need to prepare. A good way to do this is to time how long it takes you to read one chapter, do the exercises, and do the end of chapter review. Multiply that by the number of chapters in both books. For example, if it took 3 hours for one chapter and you have a total of 22 chapters between the books, that is a minimum of 66 hours of studying. Add at least 10 hours to that - you'll need time to review weak areas and to take more practice tests.
9 Set up a study schedule based on the number of hours you projected and how soon you'd like to take the exam. If you need 80 hours to prepare and you'd like to take the test in 4 weeks, you need to schedule 20 hours per week. Be realistic about this and discuss it with your family. I suggest limiting each study session to 2 hours, no more than 4 days a week.
10 Make your study time count. Close the door, read the material and work the exercises, make notes about things to revisit or to research further. Try to learn the material, not memorize it! As you go keep an eye on your progress - is three hours per chapter enough or too much? Adjust your plan if you need to, just be consistent!
11 Once you've completed your scheduled study hours, start working through all those tips and questions you've stockpiled in your email. Find something you don't know? Back to the book!
12 Time for another assessment. At this point the questions in the book aren't a good indicator because they are usually drawn from the end of chapter questions. Plus, you want to start getting a good feel for how the exam will be presented. If you can afford it, Transcender is the way to go - they offer exam simulations that are as close as you can get to the real exam. If you're trying to keep costs down, take a look at RapidAssess. What you want to do is find the gaps in your knowledge BEFORE you take the test! Depending on how you do, make a list of your problem areas and schedule some more study time.
13 Review the notes in the front of your books about the format of the exams. MS uses a lot of different question formats and several different exam formats. Don't be thrown off by this, the key is to have a good idea of what to expect when you finally take the exam.
14 DON'T bother with brain dump sites. One reason is that you can't depend on the information you find there being correct. More importantly, you've come this far on your own - go all the way!
15 Set aside a couple hours before the text to do a final review. Find a quiet place and randomly work through some of the end of chapter questions. Go back over the "Skills Measured" list too.
16 Once you're done with that first exam, review these tips and think about which ones worked for you and which ones didn't. In particular think about your original estimate of how much time it you estimated it would take to prepare versus how long it really took so you can do a more accurate estimate for the next exam. Then take a couple week break from studying!

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