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Liberty Munson Dishes on MS Beta Cert Exam Prep

Dr. Liberty Munson is not just the Principle Psychmetrician for Microsoft Learning -- and as such, a driving force in exam development and delivery -- she's also a calm, reassuring, and often funny voice for the organization. In a recent Born to Learn blog post, she provides some excellent advice on how to select oneself, and then to prepare for beta exams that is useful enough to be restatement and further examination. It bleeds nicely over into general exam preparation techniques, in fact.

While Liberty's question is right on the money, there's a lot more useful information in this post than its title may suggest. Let's review the key points from her summary advice, with some commentary from yours truly (each of the numbered items below is a verbatim quote from her blog post, but the following commentary for each item is mine):

1) Do you have the skills and experiences described in "Who should take this exam?"
The impetus in a beta exam is to sanity-check exam content among a population of test-takers whose skills and knowledge match a carefully and clearly stated profile and related job responsibilities. Liberty asks -- and I concur -- that prospective beta exam candidates review these criteria carefully and in great detail, to make sure they understand what's being described and how they relate to the content being covered.

2) If so, which of the skills measured do you have? Which tasks can you preform? Which don't you have or can't you perform? Be honest!
Once you understand what's being tested, you have to decide which of the skills you actually possess, and what tasks you know how to accomplish. Unless you know or can do at least half of what's on the test menu, you probably won't be able to pass, no matter how hard you study. This is the key to self-selection, and determining whether or not you should sit for the beta exam, or wait until exam prep and study materials become available to help you learn and master what you don't already know or can't already do.

3) Practice, practice, practice
Even for those who know and can do what's on an exam, some facility and expedition is necessary to finish all the questions in the typical 120-180 minutes allotted to take any of the MCP exams. That's why Liberty's admonition is so apt, even if it's stolen from the answer to the question: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?"

4) Still can't do it? Ask experts how they perform the task. Understand how and why they do it that way. Are there any situations when they would perform the task differently? Why?
The ultimate arbiters of skill and knowledge are those folks who are experts in the exam domain, so that's why you should turn to them for input and advice when you get stuck on something. Having trouble finding an expert? Search the list of Microsoft MVPs (Most Valuable Professionals) which the company chooses yearly for their active and helpful presence in online communities as they relate to specific Microsoft platforms, tools, and technologies. Hint: search on topics directly related to your area of difficulty and/or the software, tools, or technology being tested.

5) Do a Bing search for white papers and MSDN and TechNet articles, or similar for other insights into those skill and the tasks covered by the exam. Explore MVA for training and learning options that are related to skills being measured by the exam.
This is probably the nonpareil piece of advice in this collection of pointers, though I'm not as sold on Bing as Liberty herself is, and might allow that you could use your favorite search engine instead. MSDN and TechNet are indeed key sources of information for beta exam info, since they normally cover leading and bleeding edge topics before the trade press and content publishers of all stripes latch onto such things. MVA is, of course, the Microsoft Virtual Academy, and a source of reams and reams of free and useful online training from Microsoft.

Overall, Liberty's advice is pure gold when preparing for ANY Microsoft cert exam. For those no longer in beta, one need only add a discussion of Exam Crams, study guides, practice exams, flash cards, and so forth and you'd still be more than ready to rock 'n roll. For all kinds of great information on this topic, see the section of my IT Certification Success e-book entitled "IT Certification Planning Preparation and Training" avaialble for FREE right here at PITC.