Preparing for your first Microsoft Exam

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

1 Visit the MS
site and read about the different types of certifications,
testing methods, and start thinking about which direction you’d like to go. Visit
, 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
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.
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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