Watch Out for Case Studies
There are some who say that real world experience is the only knowledge that counts and that concepts taught in books or classrooms just doesn’t cut it. For many years, Microsoft took the approach that understanding the concepts and methodologies were the way to go.
Both of these methods have their place. Experience helps you get a real understanding of how a particular technology works while classroom learning can explain the topic in a general way to give the attendees a look at how technology is intended to work.
The problem with classroom-only learningand sometimes the questions to go with itis that there is only one right approach to the exam. Choose the right answer, even though there are many likely ways to solve the problem. This is where case studies come in.
A case study presented on an exam still has a selected right answer or answers, but it presents the question in terms of solving a problem with knowledge of the back story. The idea for this article came from experiences I have had with case studies while practicing for a certification exam; because this type of question is rather new, I was a bit surprised by the amount of focus taken.
Most exam questions have just a little back story; for example, consider the following:
You are an administrator for Stuff, Inc. The company has a single Active Directory Domain with three Windows 2008 R2 Domain controllers. You need to ensure replication is occurring between these domain controllers. Which of the following commands will report replication status?
- Netsh replication
- Repadmin /showreps
- Repadmin /syncall
- Ipconfig /replication
The answer that meets the requirements of this question directly is B; however depending on a larger situation or problem, there might be other things taken into account regarding replication, which would lead to a more in-depth solution than just looking at success or failure of replication.
The question provides just enough detail to let you know about the environment, and asks a question based on that information. It is a standard exam question where little detail is provided.
A Case Study Question
In a case study, you will learn a good deal more about the organization and their technical environment. Some of this information will be relevantsome will not. Part of the method to solving a case study question is to separate what you need to know from what you do not.
Typically, a case study will have several sections for you to read, which will then be followed by 10 or so questions related to the case study. There are several ways to look at these type of questions, but the method that typically helps me the most is to review the related questions after getting a bit of a feel for the document itself.
For example, briefly reading the entire case study, rather than memorizing it, has been a much better approach. Following that, take a look at the questions to see if things stick out as you can review the case study again while answering the questions.
Case studies work much like exhibits in that they are reusable. You can view the case study, then the questions, and reread the case study as needed. There is no harm in going back and forth between the two. In fact, it can help separate the need to know information from the not so important items. For example, there may be one or two case studies that start off at Nutley Corporation. One may cover a DNS issue while the other focuses on Organizational Units; in both cases, you may see something about how many client computers the company has. Depending on the question, the number of clients might be irrelevant. Getting stuck on irrelevant details can cost valuable time during the exam, just as much as missing valuable information.
An example of a case study
The following is an example case study created to illustrate the layout and question types associated with what you might see on an exam:
Jim is the systems administrator for Lucky Lollipops, which offers a large assortment of lollipops for sale in gas stations and retail outlets all over the world. Lucky Lollipops and Cogswell Confections have been in talks of a merger for several months. If the organizations merge, access to all of the resources in Lucky Lollipops will be needed by the Cogswell staff to help them gain information about inventory and business practices at Lucky.
Lucky Lollipops has a single Active Directory forest with a single domain spanning four sites throughout the world. Each site corresponds to a regional sales office. All domain controllers run either Windows Server 2003 R2 or Windows Server2008. All clients are running Windows Vista or Windows XP.
Cogswell Confections has three sites within one Active Directory domain. Most of the users work in the corporate office; however, the two plant locationswhich also serve as branch locationshave their own domain controllers to improve logon times. The Cincinnati branch also has its own file server. All users at Cogswell and the management staff at Lucky will need access to the file server in Cogswells Cincinnati location.
Users at Lucky Lollipops use smart cards to logon to resources throughout the company. As employees from one office prepare to work in another office, they must request access to local resources within that office. Depending on the length of their visit, access is provided to specific resources. If they are only visiting for a few days, they will not receive access to the file server in that location, but printers will be available. Employees from Lucky will need secure access to Cogswell’s file servers.
The owner of Lucky Lollipops is in discussions with Cogswell Confections to form an exclusive partnership between the two companies, allowing Lucky brand lollipops to be sold in Cogswell stores and providing a footprint for Lucky that is triple the size of what they have today.
To help provide all the information needed by members of both companies, a trust must be established to allow Cogswell employees to read information and access resources in the Lucky Lollipops Active Directory Forest.
In addition, whenever the executives and sales people from Cogswell visit the Lucky offices, they will need access to the Internet and other company resources. The division managers will work with the Cogswell users to ensure they have only the access that they need and nothing more prior to their visit. Cogswell employees use smart cards to access resources within the company, and the IT administrator there would like those cards to access information on the Lucky domain to avoid user confusion.
Once all of the information is provided, the questions begin. Because the case study contains considerably more information than the standard question type, it is a good idea to look at the questions and reference the case study where time permits.
If the case study has questions asking about the type of trust relationship that would be best suited to the two companies, it might be helpful to review the requirements against the answers to exclude answers that are definitely wrong. There are also likely to be questions about each section of the case study. Sure, they are technical in nature and not likely to ask the name of the systems administrator, but keep the layout of the document in mind when reading the questions, so you can go back and review certain sections to answer a question.
Knowing that Cogswell Confections sells candy isn’t as important as knowing about the types of trust relationships that are possible; and of those, comparing the list of answers to the requirements is a good start.
If I were selecting a trust type for the two companies, I would hope that there was some detail about Cogswell’s environmentspecifically about the number of domains they have to allow decisions to be made about trust types. Because it may be excessive to implement a forest trust between the organizations at this time, and there may be words like “with the least amount of administrative effort” or “with the fewest changes to current permissions,” these details can prove very important.
Knowing that you can flip between questions and documents when reviewing case study questions is a huge plus for the test taker. If something sticks out to you when reading the case study, jot it down on the provided scratch paper so you don’t forget about it, but remember to re-check the document portion of the case study if you are unsure of which answers to choose. Doing this may not put the answer into your head (depending on how you prepare), but it can help to weed out the information and answers that just don’t work.
Most of all, take your time and think about the question and its listed answers. This way you can find related information within the document rather than guessing or choosing the command that sounds the most correct.