Studying Tips

Here is a collection of studying tips I’ve put together for my students. You don’t have to follow them on the word, but doing so will increase your chances of passing the MCSE certification tests – and even better – become a knowledgeable person, not just one of those “Paper MCSE“…

Do you have any tips for studying for the Microsoft tests?

Yes. I’ll try to give you a short version of what I tell my own students:

Rule #1: Practice!

My first and most important tip is to “Learn by Doing”. There are many ways to practice the skills you want to teach. You should base your studies on practice and practice and guess what? Practice. Don’t take my word for granted. Try everything out yourself. Build a home network, wreck it and re-build it. Try it all for yourself, and if you get to a point where you can’t do something yourself, go wreck someone else’s computer.
Work with the product. Use your imagination. Envision a scenario. Plan the scenario. Implement the scenario. Install and configure, try the various features, create error situations and troubleshoot them. Ask yourself questions about the process. Push the boundaries. Be conscious as you click the Next button.
To better your understanding of the OS you should use it every day. You cannot go on using Windows 98 SE while you’re trying to be a professional at Windows 2000 or any other OS for that matter. I cannot accept the sorry excuse that I hear quite often: “I can’t play games on W2K, that’s why I’ll stick with Win98… I can get a chance to practice at class, but at home I’ll keep Win98…” You must breath, smell and sleep with the product, that’s the only way to really KNOW it.
You can get a free copy of Windows 2000 right HERE. You can also buy the MS-Press books and you’ll get a free evaluation CD of both Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Professional. Go to the Book Recommendations page and see what titles are best for your needs.
See the following link for more info on how you can download 120-day trial versions of other Microsoft server products, such as Exchange 2000, ISA Server, SQL Server, SMS, SBS and other .NET features:
Download Microsoft Evaluation Products

Rule #2: Gather knowledge

You should gather as much knowledge as you can from any resource out there and lurk around on newsgroups and e-mail newsletters.
Attend or review the course you’re studying for. Attending the MOC Training course is an excellent method of gaining technical skills. The course you choose to attend should be delivered by an experienced MCT who has experience delivering Microsoft courses. If you cannot attend a course, review the materials and complete the labs in your own setting. Practice error situations. Complete the course labs and try to insert error situations into the lab.
Attend or review higher-level or complimentary courses. Attend a course or review the material of courses with content that complements or provides deeper technical information to supplement your technical knowledge.
Review technical papers that may be available and practice any techniques or procedures described. See my Links and Tools page for links to white-papers and step-by-step guides.
Before you do the actual tests, I suggests you first finish your books and topics. Sit down for a few days and go over all the topics covered in the MCP exam.

Rule #3: Practice doing tests

When you think you know it all – do one test. If you pass or fail is of no importance. Find out how you feel about the questions. If you miss a few, go right back to the books and see what your mistakes were. Trust no one, only yourself.
Practice the test environment by buying or downloading test simulations and guides. Some test simulation packages are better then the others.  is What testing program you use is indeed important. There are a few *good* testing programs in the market, and there are a lot of *crappy* stuff. Ask around in newsgroups and on various forums to get a feel for what’s considered ok and what’s not.
Don’t use pirated software, not even at home, where the risk of being caught is minimal. As I said before, stealing and robbing is NOT the preferred way into the IT world and yes, using pirated or cracked software is considered a crime in most countries.
Don’t cheat and don’t check yourself while doing practice tests. When I say “cheating” I mean pressing the “Grade Now” (or similar) button on the test interface BEFORE you are perfectly sure of what the correct answer is. You should be mature enough to have a self discipline and know that cheating will not help you in the long run. You must know the material and the product inside out, and cheating is not the right way to do it.
When you think you know it all, do another test, and correct yourself. Do it all over and over again. When in doubt, go to the books or ask your instructor (or me if you must).
As I said, you need to KNOW the material. Study, read the MOC, read additional resources, practice all the time, build a home network, know the stuff inside out. Then, go do some practice tests. Try one and see how you score. Go over it and look at all the answers. See which one you got wrong and why, and then go back to your books and see how it’s supposed to be answered.
Go over each failed answer this way. Draw your questions and make a keywords list. Then, when you think you know the stuff, go over that same practice test and see how much you got the second time. If you fail or get less than 900-1000 on the practice test, go back to your books until you know WHY you failed, and you know the material you failed on.
When you’re doing the practice test don’t guess the right answer. This is a practice test, not the real one, so you need to be 100% sure you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, go back to the books.
Do this to each and every practice test you have. For each test see how you got the first time, and go back to your books until you know WHY it’s the right answer. Don’t memorize, know why to choose this answer and not the other. Microsoft will re-phrase their questions and answers, and if you just memorize you’ll end up with the wrong questions and the wrong answers.

Rule #4: Don’t rely on Braindumps

The good thing about braindumps is that they give you a clue to how the actual exam looks like. The downside is that by reading them 2 things might happen to you:

  1. You might get fixated by the questions and answers, and lose grip on reality. You’ll expect to get the exact same questions and sets of answers in the real exam, and when you won’t, you’ll panic and forget that the exam is there to make sure you really know stuff, not memorizing answers. Memorizing the questions and the right answers is not the way to study. What you need is to really know the stuff.
  2. The second thing is that in fact you’re actually cheating (did you get a copy of your final exams while you studied for your BA? I don’t think so…), and by writing and reading braindumps you’re breaking the EULA for the Microsoft’s exams. I haven’t heard of anyone that was arrested because of that (See my Opinions page), but you don’t want your MCP and other MS certifications revoked only because they suspected you of pirating their exams, do you?

Braindumps are not useless, but they are very misleading and have a lot of wrong answers. The problem with Braindumps is that they will give you all sorts of so-called scientific reasons for why this or other answer is in fact the correct answer, and this can be very problematic for someone who doesn’t know his stuff in the first place. Furthermore most dumps are full of mistakes, and since each dump is a copy of the previous one, the mistakes are propagated along as time goes by.
After scoring 1000 on all your legal practice tests and knowing the material inside out, you CAN go and look at braindumps. See how poorly worded they are. See how pathetic their answers are. See all the errors and mistakes. Know why they are wrong.
Get a feel for the questions other people had. You’ll end up reading the first line, and already knowing the answer, because you KNOW it, not because some 17 year-old kid wrote a dump saying it should be A not B…
Remember it’s only a test. The worst case scenario is that you’ll have to re-write it.

Rule #5: Don’t become a “Paper MCSE”

Remember that the Microsoft exams will not prove your knowledge of the product. They will test you ability to read, remember and quickly answer questions, but they will not prove that you actually know the stuff inside out. It’s up to you to prove it, and waving a paper certificate isn’t the way to do it. Read more about it on the Paper MCSE page.

Do you have any tips for passing the Microsoft tests?

Yes! Here are some helpful tips and tricks for passing the exams:

  • Read every word of the question carefully.
  • Read the answers before reading the question. This will help you to anticipate correct answers.
  • When reading the questions, think of the correct answer before re-reading the choices.
  • Watch out for qualifying words; statements that use absolute terms (never, always, only, necessary, must, etc.) are rarely true; statements that use relative terms (like, often, seldom, perhaps, generally, etc.) are often true.
  • Re-read the question as you read through each choice. Look for specific hints.
  • Watch out for double negatives (“There is no time when this is not true”).
  • Don’t be misled by jargon or familiar phrases used in an incorrect statement.
  • Always choose the “best” answer; this is often the answer that uses a word or phrase specific to the course.
  • When in doubt, eliminate all wrong answers and then guess (there is NO penalty for wrong answers).
  • Answer short questions first. All questions (or at least most of them) have the same score weight. Answering a 5-second question will give you the same points as will the 10-minutes teeth breaking question. When you see those LOOONNNGGG questions – mark them and return to them later, after answering all the short questions.
  • Cross out wrong answers (i.e. use a process of elimination).
  • Select answers you learned. Do not choose an unfamiliar term just because it is unknown.
  • Most exams allow you to redo questions you’re not sure you have answered correctly. This is NOT true for the ADAPTIVE tests.
  • If your answer includes “Dragging & Dropping” or other “Select & Place” type of answers – re-reading your answer will probably cause your answer to be erased! Remember what your answer was BEFORE pressing the view button. Don’t spend all that time on a question only to find out that you have to re-answer it…
  • Start by answering all the questions you’re absolutely sure you know the answers to. The questions you’re not sure of mark with the MARK button at your upper left corner of the screen.
  • Don’t change your choice unless you are absolutely sure!
  • When you get to the last question go back and answer the marked questions that you have a clue as of how to answer (Unmark each question as you answer it).
  • Now you can make another round of answers and unmark more questions.
  • Finishing your exam with marked questions will not cause you to lose points (unless the marked questions were left un-answered or had wrong answers).

The purpose of this technique is that reading more questions before answering a specific question sometimes reminds us of the answers. Instead of wasting valuable time on questions we don’t know how to answer, we proceed and answer the majority of the questions and are left with only a few questions we’ll need to guess.
Good luck!

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