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Hints for Answering Simulation Questions on Microsoft Certification Exams

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Book knowledge – knowing terms, processes, and coding – are vital for succeeding on Microsoft certification exams, but in order to verify that you really know the material, Microsoft also includes simulation questions that require hands-on knowledge. Some of these questions can be daunting and can mean the difference between pass and fail. In this article, Brien Posey provides some important keys to mastering the simulation questions that appear on Microsoft exams.

I have a confession to make. Back in the 1990s, I was under a lot of pressure from the US Army (who I worked for at the time) to get my MCSE Certification. At the time, getting an MCSE meant passing a series of six certification exams. Four of the exams were standard, but two were electives. The Army insisted that I take the Microsoft Exchange exam as one of my electives, but left the other elective up to me. For that elective, I chose to take the Internet Information Services (IIS) exam.

So what’s so scandalous about that? At the time I had never so much as even seen IIS before. The Army gave me a deadline for earning my MCSE and by the time I had passed my fifth exam I only had about a week left before the deadline. The reason why I chose the IIS exam was because when I went to the book store to look for exam study guides, the IIS related study guides were the thinnest. The IIS exam seemed like it would be easy to pass (and it was).

My point is that I read a book about IIS and then passed the certification exam even though I had never even seen, much less used, IIS before. Things are different today, however. Microsoft takes measures to prevent certification candidates from pulling this type of stunt. One such measure is the use of simulation questions on certification exams. Simulation questions insure that the person taking the exam has actually got some hands-on experience with the product on which they are being tested, rather than simply memorizing material from a study guide.

It is easy to assume that if you have worked with the product on which you are being tested then you will have no trouble getting through the simulation questions. For the most part this is true, but simulation questions can sometimes be tricky. As such, I decided to write this article as a way of providing you with a few hints to improve your odds of being able to work through simulation questions.

Make sure you understand the assigned task

Any simulation question that you might encounter is based on a goal that you are required to achieve. This goal might be based on one task or on a series of tasks. Hence, one of the keys to getting the simulation questions correct is to make sure that you understand exactly what the question is asking and to make sure that you complete each of the required tasks. I realize that this probably sounds obvious, but it can be very easy to accidentally overlook one or more of a question’s requirements.

Remember to Adhere to Microsoft Best Practices

Probably the single most important thing that you can do to answer simulation questions correctly is to keep Microsoft best practices in mind as you work through the simulation. Often there are several different ways to achieve the required result, but some methods are more correct than others.

To give you a better idea of what I mean, imagine that a simulation question on a Windows Server exam asked you to give three users Read access to a particular folder. You could achieve the required result by manually assigning NTFS level permissions for the folder to each user. However, Microsoft best practices stipulate that you should avoid assigning permissions on a per user basis. Instead it is better to create a security group, assign the security group permission to the resource (in this case a folder), and then add users to the group.

It is worth noting that Microsoft exam questions go through an extensive review process prior to being used on certification exams. Although my non-disclosure agreement with Microsoft prohibits me from discussing the question review process in detail, I can tell you that one of the goals behind the review process is to ensure that exam questions are written in a way that avoids ambiguity. As such, the wording of the question may provide hints as to how Microsoft wants you to approach the assigned task. For instance, in the situation described above, Microsoft might specifically tell you to create a group, add users to the group, and assign the group permissions to the folder.

There is actually a fine line between what Microsoft will tell you as a part of an exam question and what they expect you to know. Microsoft’s website specifically says “the candidate is evaluated on the accuracy of the end result, not the path that they took to complete the task.” Having said that, there are simulation questions that are specifically designed to block you from performing tasks in certain ways. Although Microsoft’s newer virtualization-based simulations tend not to block any of the approaches to completing a task, your solution could potentially be scored as incorrect if your approach falls too far outside of Microsoft’s recommended best practices.

Find Out How Many Simulation Questions to Expect

Before you register for a certification exam, it is a good idea to try to find out how many (if any) simulation questions you can expect to encounter. Of course, this seemingly simple idea is more complicated than it sounds. Microsoft does not disclose the number of questions on their certification exams, nor do they tell you how many simulations you will have to complete.

The best way to get a feel for the number of simulation questions that you might encounter is to do a web search. The Internet contains numerous message boards for each exam. Often someone will spill the beans about the number and types of questions that they encountered.

For the sake of clarity, I want to explicitly state that I am not telling you to visit the brain dump sites. Microsoft expressly prohibits the use of brain dumps, and there can be rather severe consequences to using them. As such, it is a good idea to stick to using the message boards.

So why bother trying to figure out how many simulation questions you might encounter on an exam? Microsoft only gives you a finite amount of time to complete an exam. Simulations can sometimes take a while to complete, so if you can figure out how many simulation questions you are likely to encounter, you will be better able to manage your time as you take the exam.

One thing to keep in mind is that Microsoft exams draw questions from a pool of potential test questions. As such, the information that you read online regarding the number of questions (or simulation questions) on an exam might not exactly match what you see when you take the exam. Even so, you should be able to at least roughly anticipate the number of simulation questions that you are likely to encounter.

Be on the Lookout for Potential Simulation Questions

One last tip that I want to give you is that once you have confirmed that the exam you plan on taking does indeed contain simulation questions, pick out some potential simulation questions as you study.

Believe it or not, this isn’t as tough to do as it sounds. Just about any study guide for almost any Microsoft certification exam is chock full of facts and figures that you will have to memorize in order to pass the exam. Although important, you most likely won’t see any simulation questions based around this type of information. For example, if you were taking an Exchange Server 2010 certification exam, you would probably be expected to know that the minimum supported memory for the Edge Transport Server Role is 4 GB. However, you probably would not see a simulation question based on this information.

Simulation questions are based around actionable items. Therefore, it is a good idea to look through the stated objectives for your exam and pick out any actionable items for which a simulation question might exist. For example, the very first part of the objectives for Exam 70-662: TS: Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, Configuring states:

  • Prepare the infrastructure for Exchange.
  • This objective may include but is not limited to: prepare schema; prepare domain; prepare Active Directory; ensure the domain functionality level is correct;

This is a perfect example of an actionable item for which Microsoft might create a simulation question (to the best of my knowledge there is no simulation question for this item; I am only using it as an example). The items listed in the above exam objective excerpt are all tasks that must be performed in sequence prior to deploying Exchange 2010. It would be conceivable that Microsoft could create a question requiring you to know how to prepare the schema, domain, and Active Directory for an Exchange 2010 deployment.


Ultimately, it is impossible to know ahead of time exactly what tasks Microsoft will choose to build simulation questions around. However, by taking an educated guess based on the exam objectives you will give yourself the chance to rehearse tasks that could potentially be simulated on the exam.

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