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by Ed Tittel, Series Editor, MCSE Exam Cram, Certification Insider
As of mid-January, the world of MCSE testing shifted considerably on its axis as the last two elements of the so-called Core Four Exams—Windows NT Server (70-067) and Windows NT Server in the Enterprise (70-068)—went adaptive. Thus, they joined the other two elements of the Core Four—Networking Essentials (70-058) and Windows NT Workstation (70-073)—in reaching that status. This is part of a general movement toward across-the-board adaptive exams from Microsoft.
This shift in exam type is not without consequences but caused more of a ruckus in the ranks of would-be MCSEs than may have been warranted. From my perspective, it's entirely true that adaptive exams require a different approach than the older fixed-length exams did. But they do come with some major benefits, provided you're properly prepared: You will only seldom see more than 25 questions on an adaptive exam and usually not more than 15 or 20. This means that exams that used to require 90 to 105 minutes to complete are almost always over in under half an hour. When it's all said and done, I think that's a bonus, not a bane.
On the other hand, in an adaptive exam, you don't have the luxury of reading through a test in its entirety before you get serious about tackling questions. You don't get to see the next question until you answer the one that's in front of you. Nor can you return to questions that you've already seen to remind yourself of details or terms they may have included or torevisit simulator screens that may remind you about key administrative utilities, dialog boxes, and so forth.
That's where Adaptive Lesson #1 comes in: Leave room on your note sheet to take notes about questions you see early in the exam to use later in the exam. Even though you can't go back, you have enough time to take plenty of notes on whatever is in front of you at any given moment. So take notes if it's possible that you might need to refer back to the material at hand in any future question.
The next problem that you're likely to encounter on an adaptive exam is time management. Because questions appear randomly and must be answered before you can proceed, take the following approach to budgeting time. If you get stuck on something, assume you will see 25 questions on your test. Divide the total time period for the test by 25 and start guessing if you come within a minute of that number (for most adaptive exams, that means you don't want to spend more than 5 minutes on a question).
That's Adaptive Lesson #2: Watch the clock, and make your best educated guess if you've worked on a question for five minutes. However, if you're making headway on the question, take the time to finish it up.
Because you get only one shot at an adaptive question, everything you know about reading skills on Microsoft exams goes double here: Never answer any question until you've read it at least twice (and beware of "obvious answers"—they can be traps). Read as carefully as you possibly can. If you start blanking out in the middle of a question, go back and start over at the beginning. Make sure you understand the assumptions that are driving the question, the words it uses, and chew carefully on any details that appear to be extraneous in a question. Sometimes, the answer lurks in the least likely looking bit of trivia that you might otherwise be tempted to ignore.
That leads to Adaptive Lesson #3: Read slowly, carefully, and thoroughly. Then read it again. Keep at it until you can restate a question in your own terms.
The final and most important key to success on an adaptive exam is: Know the material. This means you must spend time with the software and learn its ins and outs. It also means you must take and pass one or more practice tests with a comfortable margin for error. If the minimum passing score is 65 percent, shoot for a 75. That way, if you flub something on a question, you might get a chance to make it up somewhere else. Download Microsoft's test objectives for any exam you plan to take and make sure you know at least a little bit, if not a lot, about each and every objective on the list. Work with a study guide, read through any appropriate Resource Kits, check the brain-dumps online, and read any relevant Knowledge Base articles about test topics that vex you. If you know what you're doing and have the experience to back it up, you will pass these exams, whether they're adaptive or not. Then, when you finish early because the exam is adaptive, you can take your time on your way back to work to reward yourself for a job well done!
For more information about Microsoft's view on adaptive exams, please read the FAQ entitled "Frequently Asked Questions About Adaptive Exams".
Please let me know if you have any other adaptive testing tips you'd like to share with our readers. I've tried to hit the high points, but there's always more to learn about this stuff. Send your comments and critiques to email@example.com. Thanks!