How to Become a Microsoft Certified Professional
3.5. How to Pass a Microsoft Exam – Part 1
This is Part 1 of the final blog post in this series, where everything we’ve discussed in the previous blog posts should come together. In Part 1, we’ll go over the exam-taking process and try to make sure that the time and effort you’ve spent preparing for the exam are put to good use.
3.5.1. Don’t Look DownFinally, after months of studying, testing, and practicing, you are taking the exam. You are sitting in a testing center in front of a computer screen and fighting an attack of heebie-jeebies as you are wading through the pre-exam survey screens. It doesn’t matter whether you are a rookie or an expert; regardless of whether this is your first exam or fifty-first, the butterflies in your stomach are still the same. Not a very nice feeling, I must admit. You’ve worked hard to get to this point; you’ve gone over tons of technical materials and spent innumerable hours playing with the software, but what if all you’ve learned is wrong? What if you’ve missed something in your studies? What if the questions on the exam ask something you have no idea how to answer? It’s like walking on a fallen tree across a precipice. The tree trunk might be wide enough to camp on, and you may have walked it many times when it was lying safely on the ground. But now, when it is high in the air, it feels entirely different; a single misstep can ruin your entire day. And if you look down…
Well, that’s the first thing you should remember: don’t look down. To pass the exam, you need your head in good working condition, and letting your anxiety get the best of you would not be particularly helpful. So, adjust your breathing, get any signs of tremor out of your system, and concentrate on the screen.
3.5.2. Watch the TimeThe opening page will tell you the exam’s number and title (don’t forget to make sure you’ve got the right exam!), how many items the exam includes, and how much time you will have to answer them. Make a quick calculation: divide the number of minutes by the number of items. On a typical noncase-study exam, the ratio is usually about two minutes per item. It can be a little less on easier exams and a little more on harder ones. Of those two minutes, you should try to use an average of one minute to answer the question and then set aside an average of 30 seconds per item for a review of the entire exam after you've completed your first pass. Using an average of one minute to answer each question allows more time for a few items that might be harder than others. Read each item very attentively so that you don’t miss anything important, but don’t overdo it. There is a timer in the upper right corner of the screen; give it a quick glance every now and then and see whether you are going fast enough. It is likely that you could start falling behind the schedule at first because it might take you four or five items to get used to the language, style, length, and level of difficulty. Make sure you catch up sooner rather than later.
If you feel you can’t crack an item quickly enough, don’t dwell on it; just pick a choice that looks more promising to you at the moment, mark the item (there is a check box in the upper left corner of the screen) so you can come back to it later, and move on. It is important that you always stay within the proposed schedule (one item per minute), even at the cost of leaving an item or two behind with potentially wrong answers if necessary. Always provide an answer. You don’t score any points if you leave an item unanswered, and you are not losing any of your scored points if your precipitate answer turns out to be wrong. If you happened to encounter a difficult item early on and spent just an extra couple of minutes on it instead of answering it without much thinking and moving on, you might spend the next couple of hours trying to catch up, rushing, missing important scenario details, making silly mistakes, and ultimately failing the exam. Except for certain types of interactive items, which might or might not be included in your exam, each item is worth the same number of points. So you are better off hastily answering and potentially missing one particularly hard item rather than spending too much time on it and, as a result, almost certainly missing half-a-dozen easy items that you would have gotten right if only you had had enough time left for them.
If you manage to finish the first pass in about an hour, you probably have another hour or so left for a cleanup. After you answer the last item, you are presented with a review screen. You can choose to review the entire exam, or you can go to individual items. If you marked any items, they are highlighted on this screen, making it easy for you to spot them right away. Count the number of marked items, and calculate how much time you have for each of them. Review each marked item, think it through, and change its answer if necessary. If you still have time left, go over the entire exam one more time and make sure you are happy with the answers that you have provided. Don’t try to second-guess yourself and make last-minute changes just because you think you may have missed something important. Remember that, on the first pass, you had a full minute to ponder on each item and now you probably have just a few seconds for nothing more than a quick look. The purpose of this second pass is not to rethink each item but to merely catch silly mistakes, like clicking while the mouse was still in motion and thus accidentally selecting choice B, whereas your intent was to select choice C. During your second pass, if you still have doubts about some of your answers, either keep those items marked or write down their item numbers on the dry-erase board or piece of paper provided to you by the test administrator. If you still have time left after the second pass, take yet another look at those items that you are still uncertain about
3.5.3. What’s Next?
If you prepare for an exam properly, you will find few surprises and will most likely pass the exam with flying colors. But what exactly does it mean to prepare properly? The relevant technical knowledge is certainly Number One on this list, but there are some other things as well. There will almost always be a few problematic items that, despite their low number, can easily spoil all the fun if you are not expecting them or don’t have a strategy for tackling them. In Part 2 of this blog post, we’ll discuss several specific types of problems that might come up on your exam.