IT Certification and Training Blog

3. Microsoft Exams’ Inner Mechanics

Posted by Kelson Lawrence on Apr 2, 2015 9:15:00 AM

How to Become a Microsoft Certified Professional

3.3. Practice Exams 101 – Part 2

By Val Bakh

In the first part of this section, we discussed the general characteristics that distinguish good practice-exam products from bad ones and how you can recognize braindumps. In this blog post, we’ll continue this discussion.

3.3.5. Terminology

From this point on, our discussion becomes more specific, and we should establish the proper terminology to ensure that the same words mean the same things for all of us.

  • A real exam or simply an exam is a test provided by a vendor, such as Microsoft, with the intent of evaluating your knowledge in a specific field.
  • An examinee or a candidate is a person taking an exam or preparing for it.
  • A test engine is a software application that implements exams or emulations thereof. A test engine presents questions, accepts your answers, and calculates your score based on the answers that you provide.
  • A practice-exam product is a software application that emulates a real exam. This application consists of a test engine and a set of questions, answers, and explanations (as a general rule). The purpose of a legitimate practice-exam product is to help you prepare for a specific exam.
  • A user is a person who is using or is considering using a practice-exam product.
  • An item is a unit of testing. In real exams, an item consists of a scenario, a question or task, and choices. In practice-exam products, an item typically also includes an answer, an explanation, and references.
  • A scenario is part of an item. A scenario describes a fictitious environment in which you are supposed to imagine yourself operating. A scenario also provides specific technical details and formulates a problem that you are required to address or a task that you are required to perform.
  • A question is an interrogative sentence located after the scenario. A question asks which course of action you should take and can also formulate the considerations based on which you are supposed to select one or more choices that you deem to be correct. For example, a question might ask you what the best solution is to the problem presented in the scenario.
  • Interactive items, which are sometimes referred to as simulations, can contain a task rather than a question. A task usually consists of one or more declarative sentences that tell you what you are supposed to accomplish and clarify the actions that you are supposed to take. For example, a task might tell you to drag choices to targets or to click the appropriate choices.
  • A choice is part of an item. In regular items, a set of verbal choices appears after the question; each choice represents one possible answer (correct or incorrect). In interactive items, choice formats can vary. For example, a choice can be an object that you are supposed to drag to a target or it can be a target that you are supposed to click.
  • An answer is the text that indicates the correct choice or choices, or it can be a graphic that presents the end result in a correctly completed interactive item. When an item in a practice-exam product is first presented, the answer is not displayed. You usually need to click a special button in the test engine to see the answer.
  • An explanation is the text that follows the answer and explains why correct choices are correct and why the other choices are not.
  • References indicate the technical documentation or other technical information sources that supposedly corroborate the explanation or provide additional information relevant to the scenario or to the issues discussed in the explanation.


It is quite common to refer to items as questions. It is acceptable to do so in general discussions about real exams or practice-exam products. However, in more detailed discussions about specific exams, specific products, or their design principles, the two terms should not be used interchangeably.

3.3.6. How to Compare Legitimate Practice-Exam Products

Suppose you are looking for practice-exam products so that you can prepare for a specific Microsoft exam. You’ve found several products that appear to be legitimate, and you now need to choose the one that will be the most helpful for your purposes. Here are some of the characteristics that you should pay attention to and a few examples to illustrate the points. These examples have nothing to do with any IT issues that might come up on a Microsoft exam, but they are indicative of the types of items that we are discussing.

Example 1

What kind of force keeps the moon near the Earth?

A. electromagnetism
B. gravity
C. acceleration
D. mechanical


Microsoft exams usually do not include such trivia-style items. Such items might be appropriate in training manuals, which often include a few questions after each chapter to help you review the material in that chapter. However, these types of questions are of little use in helping you prepare for the real exam items, which tend to be significantly more focused and realistic. If you discover trivia-style items in a demo of a practice-exam product, it’s a sure sign that the product has little relevance to the exam. Such questions purportedly evaluate your theoretical knowledge. But in the world of IT, at the level at which most examinees operate, there is not much that can be considered truly theoretical; virtually all IT issues that system or network administrators or technicians deal with on a day-to-day basis are practical issues. Consequently, trivia-style questions usually test not how well you can resolve real-life technical situations but rather how well you remember the content of a book, manual, or some other form of training material that you are studying. Microsoft exam items tend to be designed in the form of a scenario, a tiny story of what you are likely to encounter in the course of your work.

Example 2

The night sky contains an illuminated object named the moon. The moon appears each night and moves from east to west across the sky. You need to identify the most likely reason that causes the moon to remain in the vicinity of the Earth.

Which reason should you identify?

A. the interaction between the electromagnetic fields of the moon and the Earth
B. the forces of gravity between the Earth and the moon
C. the afferent acceleration of the moon’s movement
D. the mechanical force caused by solar winds


This example demonstrates how the trivia-style item in Example 1 would probably be presented in a Microsoft exam. However funny this item might sound, it is a reasonably accurate imitation of a typical Microsoft exam item. Even though it requires the same knowledge as Example 1, it is presented as a practical matter rather than a purely academic one.

Example 3

You are planning to drive to work in the morning. You get into your car and try to turn it on. However, the engine doesn’t start.

What is NOT the reason for that? (Select all correct answers.)

A. the full moon
B. solar storms
C. lack of gas
D. bad weather
E. a blown fuse

Although there is no rule against negative questions, they are extremely rare in Microsoft exams. From an exam developer’s perspective, negative questions are best avoided because they add an element of unnecessary confusion without expressing anything that a positive question cannot express. If a demo for a product contains negative questions, there is a good chance that the product is focusing on your ability to solve riddles rather than on your technical knowledge. And one other thing: note the contraction, “doesn’t,” in the last sentence of the scenario. I don’t recall seeing contractions in Microsoft exam items.

Example 4

You are planning to drive to work in the morning. You get into your car and try to turn it on. However, the engine doesn’t start.

What is a likely reason for that? (Select all correct answers.)

A. the full moon
B. solar storms
C. lack of gas
D. bad weather
E. a blown fuse
F. all of the above
G. none of the above

In all the years that I’ve been taking Microsoft exams, I don’t recall ever seeing items where all or none of the choices were correct. Occasionally, I have encountered items with no correct choices, but clearly that was not intentional. Microsoft exam writers can make mistakes just like the rest of us. I have also never seen real exam items with choices like “All of the above” or “None of the above.” These choices are supposed to always be the last ones (because they explicitly indicate that the other choices precede them); therefore, they do not work well when choice randomization is enabled in the test engine. I see no reasons for such choices to be included in a product other than to deliberately confuse you or simply to save the author the trouble of coming up with a proper choice that suggests an ostensibly plausible solution.

Example 5

You work for company named ABC Inc. as system administrator. You main job function is to manage computers on the company network. At present time you are tasked with installing, configuring, and troubleshooting Windows Server 2012 servers for your company. Your manager notifies you that to do your job you required to achieve the MCSE status.

You book a sit in testing center to write Microsoft certification exam 70-410 “Installing and Configuring Windows Server 2012.” In the morning you enter in your car to drive to testing center to seat the exam. You put the key in your ignition switch and turn it, but the car engine doesn’t turn on.

You need to figure out what prevents your car from turning on. What could be the reason? (Select all correct answers.)

A. It could be the full moon preventing you to start your car.
B. It could be solar storms preventing you to start your car.
C. It could be empty gas tank preventing you to start your car.
D. It could be bad weather preventing you to start your car.
E. It could be blown fuse preventing you to start your car.
F. It could be all of the above preventing you to start your car.
G. It could be none of the above preventing you to start your car.

 

Some authors of practice-exam products feel that detailed scenarios are somehow better than concise ones. In reality, wordy scenarios with lots of inconsequential information do not add any value to a product and only obscure the important technical facts that you are supposed to focus on. Somehow, the wordiest items happen to be the least literate. This style is also characteristic for one particular category of pirates. In the first blog post in this series, we have already discussed the pirating of Microsoft exam contents, and in the previous blog post we discussed how to recognize pirated exam items. Typical pirates just steal real Microsoft exam items, package them into a test engine or simply into a PDF document, add “correct” answers, and sell them as practice-exam products. By contrast, the aforementioned special category of pirates masquerade the stolen real exam items in an attempt to pass Microsoft exam items for their own. They change the original language of Microsoft exam items, change any names that appear in those items, add a few sentences with irrelevant information, and sometimes also provide “explanations” written in the same semiliterate manner. The idea behind this approach is to shroud the actual Microsoft content in hard-to-read jibber-jabber, thereby making the stolen content harder to recognize and thus appear legitimate. Stay as far away from such “products” as possible.

To keep things relatively simple here, we are not considering exams that include case studies. I’d like to note only one circumstance. In case study exams, Microsoft sometimes intentionally includes redundant information in their case descriptions. There are two main reasons for that: (1) The same case can include different sets of items each time someone takes the exam. The facts that are redundant in one instance of the exam are used in items that are included in another instance. (2) The main goal of the case study format is to evaluate your ability to quickly read and understand technical information and to distinguish between important and irrelevant details. In regular, non–case-study exams, most scenarios are very focused.

Example 6

You live near a sea shore. You often watch the sea and discover that the water level in the sea periodically rises and drops. What is the main reason for this phenomenon?

A. the moon orbiting the Earth
B. the Earth orbiting the sun
C. the forces of gravity
D. the rotation of the Earth

This is an example of an item designed to trick you rather than test your knowledge. The scenario is referring to sea tides, which occur because of a combination of factors: the forces of gravity, the proximity of the moon and the sun to the Earth, and the rotation of the Earth. Each of these factors can be deemed a reason for sea tides. How can you possibly decide which of them is the main reason? Even knowing the answer that the author meant to be correct, you might still be unable to unequivocally determine the reason for the author’s decision unless the author explains it. Even though you might know enough physics, mechanics, and astronomy to explain the exact nature of sea tides, the only way for you to provide the right answer is to guess what the author had in mind.

Trying to formulate a set of rules for comparing practice-exam products is as difficult a task as trying to explain how to compare novels. Examples demonstrating various exam-writing techniques could easily fill hundreds or thousands of pages. Rather than trying to squeeze them all into this blog post, let’s just briefly go over some other important characteristics that distinguish high-quality practice-exam products from less worthy ones.

Products are bad if they contain:

  • Items with supposedly correct answers but without explanations.
  • Primitive, rudimentary explanations: “Not A, because … (three–four words why choice A is not the correct answer). Not B, because … (three–four words why).” And so on…
  • Incoherent explanations, that is, explanations with faulty or no logic or with logic that cannot be clearly identified.
  • Mindless quoting from legitimate technical sources without clear relevance to the scenario or choices or without an explanation of how those quotes lead to correct answers.

Good products:

  • Present realistic scenarios: something that does, or is reasonably likely to, happen in real life.
  • Adequately emulate the corresponding real exam’s level of difficulty or are even a bit harder than the real exam.
  • Have the general feel of the real exam: a serious, deliberate, and unhurried manner of presenting scenarios and choices.
  • Contain the same or similar types of items as the ones on the real exam. Note that only the types, or formats, of items (not the contents) are the same.
  • Never present the exact Microsoft exam items or items that are just slightly reworded versions thereof. A good product should provide the technical information and perhaps some helpful tips that will enable you to correctly answer exam questions, but the questions must be different. Note that this rule might sometimes be inadvertently violated. Some concepts or scenarios are so straightforward that there is very little room for significant variations. A skilled exam developer will always try to identify such areas and avoid writing the most obvious, straightforward items that a Microsoft exam writer might be tempted to write. However, without having seen the entire pool of items for a real exam, it’s impossible for an author to completely avoid such coincidences, but they should be very rare exceptions.
  • Help you focus on the subject areas that are included or very likely to be included in real exams.
  • Provide good-quality distracters (incorrect choices) that are, whenever possible, not entirely without merit. An intelligently designed product will use those distracters to cover concepts relevant to the exam.
  • Provide meaningful, logically coherent, and relatively easy-to-understand explanations covering all choices, both correct and wrong ones.
  • Provide references to the relevant original materials published either by Microsoft or through Microsoft. The former includes TechNet Library and MSDN Library. Examples of the latter are various blog posts under the umbrella of TechNet or MSDN.

 

3.3.7. What’s Next?

In the next blog post of this series, we’ll discuss Boson’s ExSim-Max products for Microsoft: their general design concepts, their relation to real exams, and the best way to use them to achieve the best results.

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Tags: Val Bakh, Exam Preparation Options, exam engines, how to become a microsoft certified professional, good questions, bad questions