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How to pass your Microsoft exam

Having read Jonathan’s post on not studying for your exam, I thought I’d add my experience. I’ve passed 20 exams over the years and have done some studying for each one. I’ve also run the certification program for staff at a Microsoft shop.

First, there’s no substitute for experience and I suggest you have some on the relevant subject matter, particularly if you’re using the certification as evidence of competence. If you have little or no experience then do a sample project as a first step.  Crack open Visual Studio (or whatever program relates) and get your feet wet. Try to write a complete app.

If you’ve got decent experience and feel competent with the subject matter after reviewing the outline Microsoft publishes, it can’t hurt to just go for it and take it. Particularly is this the case as they frequently offer a second-shot for free option.  Sometimes that’s really free, other times you pay something like 15% on top of the exam fee. The latter is the option at the moment for a single exam purchase, or if you buy two or more exams, you get a discount along with the second shot for free. If you’re a student, you get the second shot option for free for any “72” prefix exam.

In my case it so happens that I had some experience but just not enough to pass without some studying. Many folks use the Microsoft Press books. They’re just too much reading for me, and feel more like reference books than “brush up and go” materials.

I’ve always favoured practice tests. Be careful: if you Google for those you’re likely to come up with vendors who have copied the test questions verbatim. That’s not what you want, and not fair to anyone, particularly yourself.  I mention this because they are crafty and their domain names and ads make it seem like they’re the real deal. Take my advice, stay away from them and do this the right way around.

So I suggest using official Microsoft Certified Practice Test Providers (PTPs). These include MeasureUp.com and SelfTestSoftware.com. I love this method of study. It allows me to go at my own pace. If I know the questions I can breeze through them, if I don’t I can read the detailed explanation provided and optionally go off to do some more research or even write some code. For the speediest path through the practice tests, just read the question and the explanation the first time through. Then repeat through the questions (on another day).

A couple of other great resources I recommend: 1) Find a related MSDN Magazine article – those are very thorough and include sample code, and 2) Find a related webcast – that can be tougher as there are some presenters that don’t do the subject justice so you’ll have to dig to find a good one.

I allow about 2 weeks from the time I start using the practice test to the time I take the exam. Always book your exam that far ahead – it makes sure you’re committed. Then do some studying each night. It’s ok to cram on the day before the exam, but not late into the night. Have a good breakfast the day of the exam (I always schedule mine for the early afternoon on a day I’m not working). Then treat yourself to something after you pass!

Well, there are my tips. Also, here is Microsoft’s write-up on how to prepare for an exam. Happy test-taking.


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