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
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
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.
Requirements and Defining Solutions Architectures
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."
Requirements and Defining Solutions
Number of questions
in reviewed version of exam: Six
"testlets" with approximately 52 questions
total (fewer testlets in live version).
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.
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
- Course 491—Designing Component Solutions;
- Course 493—Solutions Development
- Course 1298—Mastering Distributed
Application Development Using Microsoft
Visual Studio; instructor-led.
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:
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
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!
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
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.
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.
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?
ReleaseID=24518. 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).
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.
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!