MCP TechMentor, Day 2: Evolving Certification Landscape

Donna Senko, director of Microsoft's certification and skills assessment group, discusses testing innovations, keeping up with exam quality, and the impending Windows 2000 exams during Tuesday's keyno

San Francisco (August 24, 1999) - Raising exam quality, promoting certification within organizations, and thus, turning out more highly skilled IT personnel are goals that Microsoft hopes to achieve when introducing yet more improvements and innovative testing methods in current and new exams, said Donna Senko, Microsoft's director of the certification and skills assessment group worldwide, in her Tuesday morning keynote presentation.

[Click here to listen to the entire Tuesday keynote speech by Donna Senko, Microsoft director of the certification and skills assessment group. This audio presentation is 1 hour and 12 minutes (8.9 MB) and requires Windows Media Player; for best results, please use version 4.0.]

Senko outlined a few of the new forms of questions that test takers will face: cognitive and product simulations, adaptive testing, drag and drop, item seeding, and multiple forms of exams. If you've taken an exam since last summer, especially an exam in the revamped MCSD track, you've already run into one or more of these question types. In their simplest form, cognitive simulations are based on a case study scenario, and test a person's ability to analyze a problem and make a thoughtful decision to arrive at the correct answer. Product simulations, which have been added to some exams, simply test the ability to use a product to perform a task. Senko encouraged the audience to check out the demos of these new question types, available on the Microsoft MCP Web site at

Many of the new exam methods will be employed in the Windows 2000 track, which Microsoft will officially announce in three to four weeks. In the interim, Senko says the group is pondering a one-year experience requirement for future MCSEs, but wasn't explicit if this requirement will be announced at the same time as the new track. Senko said that the upgrade path for current MCSEs will be two Windows 2000 exams.

During the question and answer session tailing the keynote, an attendee wondered if Microsoft might consider using a lab format, akin to what Cisco uses in its program. Senko echoed the attendees sentiments that labs might raise the quality bar for the premium credentials, but said that the format "doesn't scale well" to a worldwide program. Still, she said that Microsoft is considering an architecture-type, hands-on exam, but planning is far into the future.

Senko also mentioned that Microsoft has been proactive in its efforts to track exam quality. It has compelled test centers to impose the exam retake policy and has done "secret shopper" visits to test centers worldwide. Senko says that the company has also been enforcing its cheating policy for individuals (Microsoft immediately revokes credentials if a test taker is found cheating during an exam), and has found some centers not upholding Microsoft's strict security policy. Senko cites the closing of "10 testing centers in an Asian country, where we found rampant cheating" during a secret shopper visit. Senko's group has also been active in shutting down Web sites that glean technical and test-related content from questionable resources. "We don't have a team," she says, but she says she gets numerous URLs via email, all of which are investigated.

Donna Senko says that Microsoft is pondering a "one-year experience requirement" for future MCSEs, but wasn't explicit if the requirement would be announced when Microsoft releases details of the new Windows 2000 exams some time in the next three to four weeks.
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