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Microsoft's Simulation Exams Don't Live Up to the Hype

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At one time in his life, Kurt Hudson learned how to fly private airplanes. Based on his experiences in the air and the server room, he would tell you that Microsoft's flight simulator program more accurately simulates flying an airplane than their simulation questions simulate using their operating systems. Read on for some alarming true stories.
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I've been a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) since 1996. As revised exams became available, I upgraded my certifications. Consequently, I've seen several question types come and go. While I'm generally impressed with the certification process, I'm distinctly unimpressed with a new addition: Microsoft's simulation questions. In this article, I explain why.

Microsoft and Simulations

For the most part, Microsoft's certification team, which is now part of the department named Microsoft Learning, does excellent work with their certification exams. They spend a lot more time and effort creating good questions than most people might think.

Microsoft Learning recently added performance-based simulation questions to their certification exams. Although their web site touts the simulations as a "certified breakthrough," and some tech writers regard the addition of the simulation questions as an improvement (one magazine editor has even deemed the new simulation questions "the death of paper MCSEs"), I believe that these simulation questions miss the mark.

I'm an advocate for performance-based questions, but many people (including me) are finding that these new simulations don't measure up to the hype; in fact, sometimes the simulations don't work as expected—or at all.

Microsoft experimented with simulation questions in 1998 by including them in the Implementing and Supporting Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0 exam. I took and passed that exam in 1998, but I wasn't impressed with the simulations. I had to take the exam a couple of times before I received a test with working simulations.

Although Microsoft had originally planned to add simulation questions to additional exams, they didn't do it until recently. All these years later, Microsoft's simulation questions don't seem to be working any better. A couple of months ago, I took and passed Exam 70-290: Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment with the new simulation question, but the simulations don't seem any better to me than those clunky simulation questions from the IIS exam in 1998. One of my colleagues claims that these new simulation questions function even worse now than those old IIS 4.0 simulations. Based on my experience and the stories that have been relayed to me, I'm inclined to agree.

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