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Exam Prep Software: Learning by Doing

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Have you ever used an exam simulator? Do these simulation packages really work? This article is a review of some popular exam simulation packages. If you’re shopping for exam prep tools, you owe it to yourself to read this article before you buy.
Joseph Phillips writes a weekly column on professional certification for InformIT. See all of Joe's articles at Joe's author page.

MCSE. MCSE. MCSE. Can we hear just a little more about the MCSE? We all know what it is, what it's supposed to do for us, and how it's the cornerstone of most IT careers because Microsoft is so prevalent in our industry. And we know that to earn that title, we have to study on a regular basis, pass a ton of exams, and keep learning to stay ahead of the pack.

Each of us has our own tricks that we use to prepare for any exam, and practically all of us have used or been tempted to use exam simulation software to test ourselves prior to coughing up that $100 fee for the privilege of taking a Microsoft exam.

There are several different exam simulation software packages available—but which one to choose? My four favorites: Transcender, Beach Front Quizzer, Exam Gear, and Certification Corner's TestPro. In this article, I'll show you the ropes of each of these software packages and share with you my likes and dislikes.

For this review, and to be fair, I am using each company's product for the Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional, Exam 70_210.

Transcender Rules

Transcender is without a doubt the giant in the certification exam software arena. Its ads are in every IT magazine known to man, and Spike, its lovable cigar-chomping leader, offers advice and tips like he's your favorite uncle.

Transcender's software, however, is excellent. Its exam questions are very Microsoft-centric; its software mimics the testing environment, and it has the same feel as the actual Microsoft exams. This is great, especially if you've never taken a Microsoft exam, because its software gets you familiar with the testing process.

As you plow through the Transcender exam, you'll be challenged with essay-like questions, interactive responses, and questions that require multiple answers. Just like the Microsoft exams, you'll have to thoroughly read each question to determine the probable answer. You can mark questions for later review, and go forward and backward through the exam program.

After you finish the exam, a score report will let you know if you passed or failed. You can then view your answers to see the questions marked as incorrect. I like that during the review process there are helpful explanations about why the different choices were correct or incorrect.

In addition, the question writers supply references to Microsoft material that you can use to further investigate. However, in the version I used, the references were pretty vague. I'd rather see Knowledge Base article numbers and specific page numbers rather than just chapter numbers for Resource Kit references.

Another product from Transcender is the TranscenderFlash. This software creates a flashcard simulation to help you learn key facts and terminology. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my flashcards on index cards rather than on my computer screen.

Overall, I highly recommend Transcender exam simulation software. You can buy and download the software from its Web site. Single exam packs cost, on average, $149 and up. You can save dollars by purchasing all the MCSE exams in a bundled format. Finally, Transcender does offer LAN and Workstation licensing for multiple users of the software—a value for companies that have multiple people taking exams.

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