GWJ IT Certifications Catch-All - (MCSE/MCTS/MCITP/CCNA/CCNP, etc!)


I'm getting into gear and finally getting the energy and motivation to fill in my certs a bit more. I already have a job in IT, but I'd like start getting some more credentials to move to some different teams (Tier 3) within the year.

I figured I'm only two tests shy of my MCSA 2003 so I might as well knock those off. After that I was thinking of skipping the full MCSE and hitting some Server 2008 certs to stay somewhat fresh and relevant for the work we're starting to take on.

I'm going through 70-291 now and just wondering who else has taken it. I've been drilling DNS/DHCP/IPSEC/RRAS and more into my head, most of it is sticking, but it's quite the range of topics to cover. Browsing the tech forums, this test is lovingly known as The Beast, with lots of people saying it's taken them multiple times.

I've been going heavily into the CBT Nugget videos for this series, as well as E-Learning courses at work. I've also setup VMWare and a couple 2003 Servers and XP Clients so I can break them as I see fit (bwahahahaah). I still need to pick up an official textbook at some point, but that stuff is pretty dry to go over.

So.. any recommendations on this test? My subnetting is down pat, I do a few questions daily from daily to get my brain into that frame of mind. I'm getting quicker, but it's practice, practice, practice.

Thanks for the advice in advance!

oh god.. I remember taking that test when it was on Server 2000 it was brutal... theres a reason I never updated my MSCE after that round of tests.

One of the guys I work with took the 2000 one as part of his upgrade path (or something) and he also said it was bloody brutal as well. I think they might have toned it down for 2003 but I might have to look into it a bit more.

If you've been doing actual exercises and setting stuff up in VM boxes you should be fine. If you want a peek at some real type questions try getting the SelfTest practice exam (Both SelfTest and Transcender are owned by Kaplan and the products are the same but the ST practice tests are cheaper) to see what the exam will be like.

This is the design test right? I took it for the 2000 series (the 2003 upgrades were pretty tame after I'd worked with it) and the biggest issue is the test format if it's the same as it was for the 2000. You'll get a whole page or ten about the company network setup and then a series of 3-6 questions about setting something up in the scenario whether it's merging two corporate networks, GPO's and such. The 110$ on a practice exam may not be a bad idea.

Postscript: The only difference in the actual software of Transcender and Selftest is that the Transcenders will have 3 or so 'preset' exams, meaning that test 1 will have the same 50 questions each time. There is a random exam (and you'll actually need to take a few of these to get all the questions the product actually ships with) option as well but random exams are the only type of exams you can take with the SelfTest versions of the tests.

Thanks for the tip Eezy. I've used Transcenders in the past with good success, but I might check out SelfTest as well.

Booked for March 31, wish me luck! I think I'm going to beat myself over the head with a DNS hammer in the mean-time.

Edit: Updated the title for a catch-all if anyone else is plunking through this right now too. Depending on how well the MCSA goes, I hope to stop there and focus on Server 2008 to stay relevant as we're starting to see more Server 2008 deployments with our customers.

I just finished up the MCDBA on SQL2000 since the exams are about to expire and I had the materials and 228 done (I was already MCSA/MSCE on 2K/2K3). So now I'm on the upgrade path to MCITP:EA on 2008. I hope to take the Vista test (620) on the 24th (it's mostly review at this piont) and then start on my upgrade test (649 I believe), then I'll have the EA test (647?) and I'll start working on the upgrade to SQL2005. Damn you SMS/System Center/sharepoint for sitting on top of SQL and me wanting to get to know that better!


Also you should check out the Born To Learn blog, they post frequently. Here's a post that may also interest you; Free Certification Exam Preparation. Which contains a schedule of webcasts like how to get started on the MS learning track as well as things like:
March 17: Preparing for your Configuring Microsoft Windows Vista Client Exam (70-620)
March 24: Preparing for your Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Implementation and Maintenance Exam (70-432)
April 2: Preparing for your Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, Configuring Exam (70-631).
April 14: Preparing for your Microsoft .NET Framework - Application Development Foundation Exam (70-536)
April 16: Preparing for your Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 – Application Development Exam (70-541)
April 21: Preparing for your Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuring / Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure, Configuring Exams (70-640/642)
April 23: Preparing for your PRO: Windows Server 2008, Server Administrator / PRO: Windows Server 2008, Enterprise Administrator Exams (70-646/647)
April 28: Preparing for your Exchange Server 2007, Configuring exam (70-236)

As soon as I can afford it, I'm going to be going the test king/transcender/self test route for my MCITP certs. Test King has a 3 pack of the three tests I need for MCITP (640, 642, 646) for $188.

Good stuff Eezy. Have you heard how the upgrade tests are yet? I'd imagine they are pretty comprehensive.

I have not heard how they are, but going by the study guide and the free online courses MS has for the 'Intro to 2008' it looks to be pretty much like the 2003 upgrades, more worried about the new stuff than testing you on 'the basics'. So the networking/subnetting part will worry more about IPv6, AD/Windows will worry more about new roles and features (RODCs, HyperV, NAP etc) and so on.

If you've got the funds and hardware (A dell insipron 530 w/ a quadcore is like 400-500$) you can drop 350$ on a Technet Subscription (250$ to renew) to have all the licenses you need for a very usable test lab, but if you've got the hardware then using the eval copies of the OS from MS's site or books would work just as well.

Edit - Also I've never really liked Test King, while their price is right, the bad grammar and spelling in their questions (they were very popular with people where I last worked) make me not trust them. Also the new tests have simulation questions and while I've gamed the Transcender/SelfTest simulations (you keep clicking until it lets you do something, then repeat, then repeat until you satisfy the goals, reset the simulation and then do it in one clean motion) I haven't taken one of the new tests yet to see how the 'real' simulation questions are. I try to use the tests as the last step in my training, using the lab, MS Press books (the exercises usualy do a good job of making sure you go through all the wizards once) and whitepapers on weirder subjects (The IPv6 book is what I'm reading now) but I understand the desire to get them over with too.

Edit2 - For some free clinics from MSLearning look for:
Clinic 5935 - Hyper-V
Clinic 5936 - Security/Policy Management Svr2008 (It goes over NAP)
Clinic 5937 - Branch Office Management Svr2008 (Goes over RODCs and such)
Clinic 5938 - Terminal Service Presentation Virtualization in Svr2008
Clinic 5939 - Intro Server Management Svr2008

I haven't done the 38/39 ones yet so don't know what they entail. Search there also for a free e-book of Introducing Server 2008 by Mitch Tulloch (spelling?).

How long are those free cert preparation programs?

They are all early morning and I don't get home till 3-3:30 am. If they are all day things I don't think I can weather it. If they are just a few hours then awesome!

Is there anything else you can recommend for helping me get my MCITP certs?

They run about an hour. They go over the study guide, essentially giving you a cliffnotes version of the MSpress book (like if the test will be on NTFS/FAT and sharing drives it will have that stuff) but they obviously can't cover everything in that time. They also try to answer questions attendees may have and go over 1 or 2 test questions.

Do register, because even if you can't make it they usually send out links to download the presentation after 24 hours.

MS just sent me another one of those sign up and get a free retest emails. They also have an offer if you sign up for the retest you get the e-learning for the test(s), valued at $200-300, for $35. (90 days online viewing).

I don't know whether I have to take the test and not pass in order to qualify or whether I just have to sign up for the second shot and if I don't need it, then I don't have to use it.

You get the elearning for 35$ whether you use the voucher code for second shot or not. Just use it wisely since you only get the course for 90 days. I've not gotten a MS course (and will try one for 35$) but if they're like those free clinics above, I'll just keep to the MS press books, I mean I can read the material out loud too.

Well hopefully they'd be more comprehensive. At least I'd hope that MS wouldn't charge $300 for an hour of reading cliff notes that you can play online over and over for 90 days.

I have a programming background and was thinking about getting the MCITP DBA cert over the summer. Do employers care? Is it worth the time?

Minase wrote:

I have a programming background and was thinking about getting the MCITP DBA cert over the summer. Do employers care? Is it worth the time?

Basically, I haven't seen the certs change much yet on the job descriptions for many companies, so I'd go from that, especially since a lot of places seem to use word searched from the job description to the resume to see who is a decent fit. It comes down to your use (I hear the DBA tests for 2005 have a lot of simulations and are a breeze for people who USE the program), time available to study and desire for the gibberish on your resume.

My last job cared quite a bit, firing people who didn't their MCP or 2003 MCSE in a year depending on their position. Microsoft is getting away from the 'Engineer' title though because many places say that engineers need to be board certified/approved.

I have the materials to upgrade to sql2005 and will do so after my upgrade of my MCSE to 2008.

I just found out that one of the links on Born to Learn offers a Promo Code for 40% off MS certification exams (75$ vs 125$).

The code is NAM40UP (that's a zero I made that mistake the first time) and it expires on the 13th. The exams need to be taken by May 31. I'm taking one Wednesday so will be able to tell you then if the code can be used more than once as I'll schedule my next exam for late April.

Wow that's a great deal. I wonder if it stacks with second shot? Also, do you know if the simulations/layout have changed since the beginning of last year, and is the test in general the same format?

The deals don't stack, unfortunately.
I have no idea on the rest, the last two tests I've taken were older (228-229 for SQL2K) and the ones before that were for small business server and 2003 MCSE upgrade. Based on the practice test for 620, the questions are about the same as always with whole sections/exhibits being there sometimes just to throw you off from the actual question asked. I'd say pay attention there, because you may have a question like:
You have a computer running Windows OS Cheap-A$$ edition, it has this feature. You configure this feature. You notice later that this feature doesn't work.
Which if the following is NOT correct for this feature:
1) You need to upgrade to Windows OS The Goodness Edition to use this feature
2) This feature does not work with network features
3) This feature can milk a cow
4) This feature can bring you fame and riches

(Obviously I made this whole question up, I don't want to be accused of breaking some NDA for the tests) On a question like this the lead in may be longer but the question is quite simple, almost, it is asking in the most awkward of ways, which of 1-4 is FALSE.

So the lead up can make you think the question is going to be about one thing the but actual question is on the feature itself not the configuring or issue that you may have hit. Also notice the word NOT, you may skim it while taking the test, to slow down I usually use my doodle/dry erase sheet they give me to cover the answers and force myself to read the whole question twice, seeking out what they actually want on a third pass.

I've not taken any exams with simulations, 620 will be my first on Wednesday I'll let you know how the simulations compare with SelfTest/Transcender. Did I mention they've increased the times for the exams this one gives you 4 hours. I'd sh|t bricks if I was in a test for 4 hours.

EDIT - Also, they've gotten much better about the "Check all that apply" type questions that made the NT era sux0r. There are still some but not many per test and the answers/options aren't quite as ambiguous, especially if you know the product.

Adaptive tests have gone the way of the dodo right? The one I took last year was 45 straight up.

Swat wrote:

Adaptive tests have gone the way of the dodo right? The one I took last year was 45 straight up.

Yeah, they're gone.

Eezy, would you recommend going the Exchange 2003 route for the MCSA: Messaging designation, or going with a vanilla MCSA and going for Exchange 2007? Knowing both will be ideal, our customers are starting to adopt 2007 more frequently now, but we still have a bunch of legacy 2003 servers out there.

I hear 2007 dives heavy into Powershell and such.

I've not done any exchange tests and haven't ever managed it other than to create some mailboxes here or there. Since there are no cert 'upgrades' involved and you actually use it, the 2003 would probably be a good base and then you can always add the 2007 later on. As for the Messaging designation, the places I worked didn't really care much about them (the designations), because for the most part the MCSE is like a degree, even if you don't use it for what you learned it shows you can set a goal and meet it.

You can use the discount code above for more than one test, I just scheduled my 649 mcse->mcts with it and I had already used it for my 620 vista test. I tried to schedule my 647 with it but the two colleges near me both stop their scheduling calendar in early May (I'm taking 649 at the end of April and the next one hopefully by the end of May if not earlier, I expect a lot of knowledge to transfer from the design to the admin test).

Speaking of the 620, here are some vague things to take from it:
-It was under 70 questions.
-About 10% of them were simulations.
-Transcender/SelfTest simulation questions work similar to the actual exam simulations, things that don't pertain to the answer don't work and you get a message saying "Not available". That isn't to say you can't F it up as most things are available when you get to the options screens for a particular feature, but you can hit reset and start over. It says that the simulation remembers the final state so hypothetically I guess you don't have to reset but I like a clean process. Simulated questions are good if you're iffy on the knowledge since they're pretty easy to figure out.

There were some vague answers to some of the questions but to be honest, it's not like I studied too hard for this one, I relied quite a bit on my experience installing/configuring Vista on the 6 PCs in the house and my years experience doing client deployment over the years. I spent a week reading on things I wasn't too familiar with (IPv6, which didn't have an impact on my particular exam) and doing some practice tests from SelfTest (they're a sister company of Transcender). I wouldn't have wasted my time with the cert if I didn't need one of the Vista client ones for the Enterprise Admin cert.

After studying my arse off and getting hands-on in my VMs, I decided to try the Transcenders to see how I measured up. Lets just say, not too happy I got a 37,% then a 45% the next time around.

70-291 really is a beast. The content is fine, but it's almost as if this test should have been split. DNS/DHCP is pretty in-depth as it is (knowing when to use Stub Zones, Conditional Forwarders, Delegated Zones, etc depending on situations), but add on a ton of other stuff like IPSEC, Templates, Monitoring and RRAS situations and it becomes a lot to chew through.

For me, the hardest questions are the "choose all that apply", then they list around 8-10 options. There is no partial scoring, so if you miss/select one extra choice you have effectively failed that question.

The good news is that when reviewing the answers I got wrong, almost all of them went over topics and areas I had not even known about yet. Thinks like dusting off my knowledge of Shadow Copies and WSUS from 70-290. To be fair, I don't have the official books yet and have only dove into the CBT Nuggets and my labs (and Technet articles), so I realize now that the CBT Nuggets are more there to "Enhance" the training then provide the actual meat of what to learn. I should have known better.

Still, the Transcenders have done a good job of kicking my ass, but at least telling me why I was wrong. Some of the questions are ridiculously complex in length, and I swear to god it takes longer to read through them then to figure out what it is that is needed. I know they throw in all that stuff to test you, but dear god, it is intimidating at first glance - especially with the countdown timer ticking off on the top right of the screen.

I've worked myself up to the mid 60% now - I have exactly 2 weeks before my test date (and I have a second shot - but I would rather do it right the first time). I'll push back the test until I can start hitting solid high 80s-90s, with full comprehension of my answers.

So yeah, brain hurts.

Edit: Dawn of War II has been my only saving grace. After my head feels pummeled by MS, I take solace in knowing I can take a break and pwn some Orks with my chainsaw.

Here are my suggestions for the Transcender.
These aren't global settings they are per exam.
-Go to the Exam Preferences.
-Set the passing score to 90%.
-Make sure Item Optimizer is enabled, but not Eliminate Questions/Answers.
-Enable Randomize Answers.
-Update the settings.

Try to take 1 or 2 practice tests a day, you can do more but keep in mind you're really doing each one twice, once while you take it another time to reread through it for why the answers are the answers, especially the ones you got wrong. But even the ones you got right are good at telling you WHY the other answers are wrong (thus a good way to look for wrong answers on the real thing). Review ALL the answers at first.

Don't take it personally! I will still sit there sometimes in the beginning of my practice test stage and look over a question for 10 minutes before I answer because I don't know it off the top of my head. Don't hem and haw on these, just pick an answer, if you don't get it right you'll learn the right answer going over them. It's OK to fail the practice tests, they're not costing you 125$ a pop.

Take the Preset Exams only once or twice if you really want to and then just start doing random exams. If the product has 300 questions but only 3 preset exams of 50 questions each, you're not going to see all of the questions. The preset exam questions don't change, hence their name.

If you're still getting consistently low in a particular area after a while you can go to the Optimize Exam Experience and make a practice test of just the questions contained for that area. This is also good to use to see how many question of each area is included in the product.

After you've scored 90% on more than 3 random practice tests in a row you are darn well as close as you're going to being ready.

Finally why I chose the options I did:
90% because I like to lose a few questions and still pass. 90% with 50 questions is 2 wrong, the real exam may have 40-60 questions and you're shooting for a 700/70%.
The Item Optimizer is enabled by default and doesn't delete questions by default. I like it this way because I'm paranoid that while I may answer a question 2-3 times (you can customize the setting to be whatever you want I suppose) I may not answer it right EVERY time.
I like randomizing the answers because I already run a risk of memorizing questions, but if I randomize the questions the less chance that I'll click a spot because of where it is, I have to find the right answer in the mix.

Also, on the real test there usually won't be any "Pick all the correct ones" questions. MS for the most part got rid of these types of questions after the 2000 series of tests. Most times now-a-days there will be something like this:
Choose #, each will be part of or a complete solution (depending on the question).

Thanks for the tips, it didn't occur to me to review my correct answers, but that definitely makes sense. I'll try running Transcender using your methods. I'm off to pick up the official MS Exam Guide from Chapters in a little here, I believe they still come with the Practice Exams so there's a whole other pool of questions to hit up at least.

Amazon has a great bundle price for 70-640, 70-642, 70-646 MS press training kits. It $100 for all three. It think I'd prefer that than the $35 per test for 90 days of online training.

Apparently the only problem with the MS press training kits are some typos, wrong commands and other errata in the 70-640 training kit. Does anyone know if they've made a later revision of that kit that fixes these?

It also mentions that the labs use the free trial edition of 2008 server to make some virtual machines. I was just wondering how immediate that is. I would assume that I could probably make a small partition on my XP sp3 formatted HD to install 2008 server on and then install some virtual machines on that? Any ideas on about how much space I would need?

Hmm, I got that three book set for 85$ on I got the 643 book for 3$ there as well.

Since I use the PDF's if you want to pay shipping I can send it to you. I don't have ISBN's on me at the moment (Amazon may be useful for that) but you can use MS's site to get updated errata info.

Also I don't have my VMs in front of me but if you can spare a whole box with a ton of RAM iyou would really benefit but as long as you have enough ram to run at least two VMs at the same time that will be enough to get the principles down. The default MS VM behaviour is to use dynamic VHDs which means while it says it's something like 16GB it will actually be smaller (the actual data amount) but will grow to that 16GB size. You can also make VMs with fixed size VHDs.

I'd be all over that. I could use the money I'd save to buy some RAM. Newegg has some DDR2 @ $44 (19.99 after $25 rebate) for 4GB (2x2GB). My mobo apparently handles up to 8GB. Should I go ahead and pull the trigger on that? I'm thinking maybe I should just buy 4GB and see if it works with my existing 2GB for a total of 6GB.

I currently only have 2GB of RAM. I have 90+ GB of free HDD space.

I'll send you a PM with my info.