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Test-Taking Skills 101: Case Study Items

By  Jul 21, 2008

Topics: Certification

In my experience as a technical trainer and IT certification coach, case study items tend to strike fear into the hearts of most test-takers. In this essay I will explain why I think this is the case, and how these items are best tackled in a live testing environment.

Some certification vendors, Microsoft in particular, use the case study (also called testlet) item format.

To give yourself a better idea what these items look like, please download the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) Exam Demos from Microsoft and check 'em out.

In a nutshell, I believe that case study items can be problematic for some test-takers for the following reasons:

  • Case study items present a much more complex interface than other types of items
  • Case study items generally involve a lot of reading
  • Case study items are individually timed, so the psychology of "I have 10 minutes to complete this testlet" tends to weighs heavier on the mind of the examinee than "I have 2 hours and 10 minutes to complete this exam"

Tactic: Scan the Case Overview Quickly and Then Analyze the Item Set

All case study testlets that I have encountered on IT certification exams present an Overview tab that describes a fictional company's environment from a high level.

Spend a minute or less scanning the case overview to familiarize yourself with the fictional company's context. Next, spend the next few minutes analyzing each item in the testlet's question set. These testlet-specific item sets generally contain between 4 and 15 questions.

The reason for this suggestion is that you need to know in advance which sections of the case study are most relevant to answer each item. For example, you might have one item that can be answered from the Network Infrastructure section of the case, and you might have another item that is easily answered from the Problem Statements section of the case.

Strategy: Be Sure to Finish Each Case Completely Before Moving On

As we have already discussed, a case study-based certification exam typically consists of 4 to 8 individually timed testlets.

When you submit your answers for one testlet and proceed to the next, you are not allowed to return to the previous testlet. Consequently, you should exert every possible effort to ensure that all items are answered before you transition to the next case in the exam.

I hope that you found these tips helpful. There is much more to come in future installments of this series--stay tuned!

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