Exam Reviews

At the Heart of Development

New forms of questions test your hard-won experience in the field.

Prior to the introduction of Visual Studio 6.0 early last fall, Microsoft announced that it would be overhauling the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer certification program. Along with new exams mapping to the new products came a new set of requirements for attaining the MCSD title. The revamped requirements state that you must pass a total of four exams—three core tests and one elective.

The core exams are made up of one “desktop” exam, one “distributed” exam, and one “design” exam. Passing either 70-176, the Visual Basic exam, or 70-016, the Visual C++ exam, currently satisfies the desktop exam requisite, while passing 70-175 for VB or 70-015 for Visual C++ satisfies the distributed exam requirement. [See coverage of the Distributed and Desktop VB exams in the January and March 1999 issues, respectively.—Ed.] The final core test, which is completely new, is titled Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solutions Architectures (70-100). You have to pass this test to earn the MCSD title.

Many developers had a first peek at the new exam when it was revealed in its beta form in January 1999. Designed to replace the previous Windows Architecture I and II and WOSSA I and II exams, the new test brings the skill set being measured up to a new level. Even if you’re not tackling the new core exam for the MCSD title, this test gives you a glimpse of what kinds of problems Microsoft has in mind for MCSE tests as well.

Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solutions Architectures (70-100)
Reviewers’ Rating: "Get some good ol' experience designing component-based applications, in the field, on a paying job. Do that for a couple of years. Then you'll be ready for this test."

Title: Analyzing Requirements and Defining Solutions Architectures.

Number of questions in reviewed version of exam: Six "testlets" with approximately 52 questions total (fewer testlets in live version).

Time allowed: 4 hours and 25 minutes for the beta. Less for the live version, though Microsoft anticipates an exam that lasts longer than the typical 90 minutes.

Current Status: Live as of August 1999.

Who should take it? Anyone wishing to attain the MCSD certification; this exam is a core requirement.

What classes prepare you?

  • Course 491—Designing Component Solutions; instructor-led.
  • Course 493—Solutions Development Discipline; instructor-led.
  • Course 1298—Mastering Distributed Application Development Using Microsoft Visual Studio; instructor-led.

Exam Layout

Gone are the days when an exam consisted of 65 to 75 multiple-choice questions. The Analyzing Requirements beta consisted of six individual “testlets,” groups of questions following a particular style. Only one of these testlets even remotely resembled any of the exams I’ve tackled in the past.

In the five remaining testlets, I was presented with an opening scenario or case study outlining the requirements for an application under development. Though the case studies varied from testlet to testlet, in essence they offered insights into a fictitious company’s background, current system, problems and challenges, and desired system. Once I finished reading the testlet’s case study (some were rather lengthy), I had to answer a variety of questions based on the information I had gathered in the case study. The breakdown on the beta exam that I sat through looked something like this:

Testlet Type Questions Time allowed (minutes)
1 Case Study 10 40
2 Multiple Choice 30 40
3 Case Study 5 45
4 Case Study 8 50
5 Case Study 2 30
6 Case Study 7 60

As you can see, I didn’t face a significant number of questions. Then why were we allowed over four hours to complete the six testlets? The answer is twofold. First, a few of the case studies were lengthy and required some careful reading to pull out the pertinent details. Second, along with introducing a new testing format, Microsoft has introduced three new types of questions that require additional time to answer properly. (See “New Question Types.”)

What To Study, What To Study

If you’ve passed the WinArch or WOSSA tests and expect to breeze through this exam, you may be in for a surprise. Only one of the six testlets I was exposed to even remotely resembled anything from a previous MCSD core exams. In my case, the multiple-choice-oriented testlet recalled for me the content of the WinArch exams. Questions in this testlet covered such topics as user interface layout, COM DLLs vs. COM EXEs, advantages of multi-threaded applications, and collection objects.

This testlet didn’t seem to coincide directly with the exam objectives posted to Microsoft’s MCP Web site. In fact, in writing this review I carefully looked over the objectives and found no mention of having to know when multi-threaded applications are advantageous. However, the types of questions raised in this testlet would correspond in an indirect way to the overall exam objective of analyzing requirements and defining solutions architectures. Perhaps having this testlet included alongside the new case study based testlets will give current MCSDs a feeling of vaguely familiar ground. (Microsoft’s test writers may also have included these questions as a kind of control group for gauging the merit of the new testing approaches.)

The remaining testlets each presented a unique pseudo “real-world” scenario and then asked a variety of application requirements and design questions. [According to Microsoft, the scenarios are based on actual applications developed for real organizations.—Ed.] To be successful in this section you must have a solid grasp of the business case and problem at hand, based on a careful reading of the case study. You’re expected to model the application on both the physical and logical levels. Fun, eh?

Prepare to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty when you take on the case studies. Along with multiple-choice, you’ll face three new types of questions: 1) build a list and reorder, 2) create a tree, and 3) drop and connect. These new question types force you to match up business components to application requirements and then model the application at hand.

Yes, folks, it appears that the halcyon days of exam cramming just prior to leaving for the testing center may be drawing to a close. To succeed with the new question types presented on this exam, you must actually possess some real-world knowledge and experience. What a concept!

New Question Types

With this exam, Microsoft introduces three new types of questions. I captured these screenshots in the demonstration version available at www.microsoft.com/trainingandservices/default.asp?PageID=
. I encourage you to download the file and try it out, even if you’re not planning to take the Analyzing Requirements test. You can bet that with time, we’ll be seeing comparable types of questions in the exams for the MCSE title too.

The build a list and reorder question type presents two lists. In the first sample graphic shown, the list on the right side includes a list of Roles. You’re required to move the roles to the list box on the left side of the screen. Once the roles are included in the list, they must be reordered in a specific order described by the question.

Build.JPG (61909 bytes)

In the next sample graphic, the create a tree question type presents a list of possible requirements for an application. You’re asked to move the possible requirements to the appropriate node in the tree on the left side of the screen. An important point: Not all items from the right list must be used, and they can be used more than once if necessary.

Create.JPG (86761 bytes)

The next graphic shows a drop and connect question. This question type presents various objects and a list of connection types. You must select specific objects and then chose the type of connection that should be made between the selected objects. It’s important to keep in mind that not every object has to be used and that each connection type can be used multiple times.

drop.JPG (76967 bytes)

T.K. Herman

So How Do You Prepare?

The box at the beginning of this article mentions three courses you can take to prepare for the exam. However, it’s nearly impossible to find a training center that offers either the 491 or 493 course. Developer-oriented classes don’t dominate at the typical Certified Technical Education Center or Authorized Academic Training Provider. And although the 1298 course is widely available, it falls a good distance short of properly preparing you for the exam. While the course may touch on analyzing requirements and defining application architecture, it lacks the detail and depth necessary to successfully answer the majority of the case study questions.

So, how do you prepare? My first suggestion: Download the case study-demonstration from www.microsoft.com/downloads/release.asp?
. Downloading this simulation is a must. It will give you a precise feel for what a case study-based testlet is, and also show you the three new question types prevalent on this exam. Next, read one or several of a handful of books that deal with application design and development. One recommendation: Designing Component-Based Applications by Mary Kirtland and published by Microsoft Press (ISBN 0-73560-523-8, $39.99). Last but not least, get some good ol’ experience designing component-based applications, in the field, on a paying job. In fact, do that for a couple of years. Then you’ll be ready for this test.

Two Tips from Me to You

Normally, we spread out the tips in these exam reviews. This time, I’m going to share them all in one big lump. They have to do with these new question types.

First, note that as you finish one testlet and move on to the next, you won’t be able to go back to the previous testlet. Once you’ve finished a testlet, that’s it. You’re given an opportunity at the end of each testlet to review and change your answers for that testlet—but only that testlet.

Second, read the instructions for each testlet and its associated subsequent questions. If you fail to read the instructions you could miss some important facts about answering the “create a tree” and “drop and connect” questions. For example, not all items listed must be used; some items can be used more than once. This isn’t always apparent in reading the question but could be explained in the instructions for each question. This oversight could really hurt you if you don’t discover it until after you’ve already gone through a few testlets (remember, you can’t go back to previous testlets once they’ve been completed).

Parting Thoughts

My initial reaction to this exam was disappointment. As an MCSD, I expected an exam that would test my ability to write code and develop applications; I was taken aback by the nature of the exam. After completing the beta, I asked myself, “Where were all the hard questions?” But after a few days of absorbing what I had experienced, I began to have a change of heart. I was asked plenty of hard questions, just not in the format I was accustomed to seeing on an exam.

I believe Microsoft has developed a solid exam that appears to meet a major objective: analyzing requirements and defining solutions. All too often, talented developers create mediocre solutions because they neglect the most important part of just about any application development project—creating a solid design that meets the client’s current needs and allows for future growth.

Some of you will argue that an individual with good reading and comprehension skills could pass this exam. However, without the appropriate level of experience, this would be a stretch.

Additional Information
You’ll find the Preparation Guide for this exam at www.microsoft.com/

You can view answers to frequently asked questions about the case-study-based test demo at www.microsoft.com/trainingandservices/default.asp?

You can find the demonstrations of the new question types at www.microsoft.com/trainingandservices/default.asp?PageID=

Before closing this article, I feel obligated to discuss one last issue: the beta nature of this exam. Given the number of postings on the MCP Magazine Online discussion forums and MCT newsgroups, it’s obvious that more than a few of you suffered the same frustrations that I did. First, it took me over a week to schedule the exam due to a delay in the delivery of the test CD-ROM to the testing center (the exam is actually run from a CD). Once the CD arrived, the exam software crashed more than once while I was taking it. At one point I had two questions left on the last testlet and—WHAM—fatal error. Luckily, all of my previous responses had been saved and I could recover gracefully. Yes, my heart did double-time while the computer was rebooting. [Microsoft has said that test-takers who were unable to finish this beta exam due to technical difficulties will be graded fairly based on the portion of the exam they were able to complete.—Ed.]

While the new testing format introduced on this exam is a great addition to Microsoft’s test-giving arsenal, more than a few technical difficulties need to be worked out by the testing centers and Microsoft. I’m sure Microsoft is working diligently towards correcting the problems, and you’ll have better luck taking the live exam than did those of us who tackled the beta. (Remember what “beta” means? Something that still needs work.) Best of luck on your attempt!

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