Tons of Fun: Pass That Exam! MCSE in a Box

Some vendors suggest you can become an MCSE simply by working through their massive bundles of books, CDs, and practice exams. But can you? We'll tell you which products really pull their weight.

We live in an age where one-stop shopping is the preferred purchasing method. All you need to do is head down to your local Wal-Mart Supercenter for a 31-inch TV, diapers, and a gallon of milk, while you simultaneously let them rotate your tires and develop your baby pictures.

Now the technical professional has a similar resource. With the growing popularity of the MCSE certification, many companies now offer what has come to be known as the “MCSE-in-a-box” approach. These sometimes-behemoth study kits promise everything you need to obtain your NT education and MCSE certification. No more searching for the right study guide and practice exam product. No more wondering what test to take next. And no more excuses!

In this evaluation, we look at seven products that purport to teach you all of it. We chose these products for review specifically because they offer the promise of a complete education—lessons, quizzes, hands-on labs, sundry exercises, and practice exams. Note that with all of these products, (with the exception of the product by Microsoft Press) the one thing that isn’t in the box is the product software you’ll need to get hands-on experience. For that, if you’re not running the products, you can use the 120-day evaluations that Microsoft offers at seminars and throughout its Web site.

What Makes Up an MCSE in a Box?
The products evaluated here vary in components and content. But all have one thing in common: They provide comprehensive training materials to help you prepare for the core exams for the MCSE title. The core exams include:
  • 70-058, Networking Essentials
  • 70-064, Windows 95, or 70-073, NT Workstation
  • 70-067, NT Server 4.0
  • 70-068, NT 4.0 in the Enterprise

Several also cover elective exams to help you complete your certification. The most common electives addressed by these products include (but aren’t limited to):

  • 70-053, TCP/IP on NT 4.0
  • 70-077, Internet Information Server 3.0, or 70-087, Internet Information Server 4.0

While buying by the pound can save money (as shown by our special pricing chart), it won’t necessarily enhance your study process. The fact is, individual products don’t always meld well even when joined together in the same box. As our reviewers found, the mix can become boring for the student to work through.

Likewise, the price of a bundle isn’t always a measure of its true value. One of the least expensive products reviewed here gets the highest marks.

The product What's included Price if pur-chased sepa-rately Wt. Exam Objec-tives (A) Qual-ity and accu-racy (B) Va-lue (C) Sample ques-tions for exam prep? (D) Tech-nical prep or exam prep? Pros and Cons
IDG Books Worldwide
MCSE Core Requirements Study Kit
2 books: NT suite, NE $139.98 7 lbs. A A B B Exam prep

Complete, compre-hensive, and readable; labs are well thought out.

Value of CDs appears to consist in allowing you to install Internet Explorer, so you can go on the Web and get up-to-date information.

Complete MCSE Exam Training Series with MasterExam
$1,899.95 for CDs or videos; $1,995.95 for a bundle that includes Sybex study guides
30 CDs: NT suite, NE, TCP/IP, Exchange 5.5 $2,119.70 7 lbs. C B D A Both

Good multimedia presentations. Handy interact feature. Decent exercises. MasterExam provides accurate measurement of your readiness for real exam.

Awful setup program and lousy searching. Superficial treatment of subject.

Microsoft Press
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer Core Requirements Training Kit
microsoft. com

4 books: NT suite, NE $379.96 12 lbs. C B C B Both

The Gospel according to Microsoft. It would be pretty embarrassing if something were on the test and not in here. Plus, you get evaluation version of the product.

Lots of redundancy and methodo-logical inconsis-tencies among volumes. CDs (other than the product evals) add little value. Visual presentation (user interface) is boring.

New Riders Publishing
MCSE Complete
ISBN: 0789715643
2 CDs and 2 workbooks Not available 2 lbs. A- A- A++ A Exam prep

Navigator is great! If you happen to skip ahead, you always know what you have left and where you stand.

Exam prep questions need improvement. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to make the online study guide more product-oriented instead of just exam-oriented.

PC Age, Inc.
ISBN: 1577390326
One CD: NT 4.0 suite, NE, TCP/IP 4.0, IIS 4.0 $1,770 Less than 1 lb. A B A A Exam prep

Good study material. Nice testing engine. Exam-specific throughout. Easy to use.

Simulations are too picky about mouse clicks/ keystrokes. No search capabilities in study material. Not all test explanations have cross-references to study material.

Sybex Network Press
MCSE Core Requirements, Second Edition $149.96
ISBN: 0782122450
4 books: NT suite, NE $199.96 14 lbs. D C B C Slightly better for technical prep than exam prep

Information is thorough and accurate. Well-designed exercises. Lots of exam tips.

Exam-specific material is scattered throughout book and isn’t indexed. No explanations provided for answers to review questions. CDs are difficult to use.

Wave Technologies
MCSE Career Pack
$1,995 complete; $1,295 limited
Complete version: 9 books, 1 CD, online training access, digital upgrades. Limited version doesn’t include online training or upgrades. $1,995 for complete version 22 lbs. A C+ A- A Both

Something for everyone. Entire system designed so that you not only prepare for exam, you also acquire in-depth knowledge of the products. Plus, training manuals provide an excellent desk reference.

Tools seem fresh out of production. Additionally, test engine is difficult to navigate and the review section provides no help for wrong answers.

A. How closely does the product map to exam objectives?
B. Is the product error-free and accurate?
C. Does the product give you good value for its price and quality?
D. Are there sample questions that map to the exam or help you prepare for the exam?

NT 4.0 suite includes modules for NT Workstation, NT Server, and NT Server in the Enterprise exams.
NE = Networking Essentials; IIS = Internet Information Server

Each of our reviewers holds at least an MCSE title. Their job was to evaluate each bundle inside and out, then gauge its relative worth for two groups of people: those seeking an education in NT from the ground up, and those already working in the field but wanting to get certified. The real finds in this group of products do both well.
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