New Riders’ ExamGear exam prep software offers lively questions for the discerning MCSE-to-be.
Start Your Engine
New Riders’ ExamGear exam prep software offers lively questions for the discerning MCSE-to-be.
- By James Carrion
This test preparation software is the newest offering
from New Riders in an already crowded market of MCSE exam
preparation products. Despite the plethora of choices,
I welcome new products, as long as they combine quality
technical content that promotes learning with a full-featured
testing engine that has the essential bells and whistles.
This review evaluates how well ExamGear meets the criteria
and whether it receives my stamp of approval.
The installation is a breeze. Pop in the CD, run an EXE,
and you’re off to the races. If you’re online at the time
of install, you can register the product over the Internet.
According to the documentation, Internet Explorer 4.01
or higher must be installed in order for the product to
work properly. Since I had IE5 already on my system, I
didn’t bother to find out if the skull and crossbones
warning in the online documentation was really serious
about this requirement.When you launch the product, you’re
presented with three choices. Study mode feeds you random
questions from the pool of 177 available. One option lets
you end the test after a certain period of time has elapsed.
Although this can be adjusted and even turned off altogether,
I found it annoying when going through the exam in this
mode that I couldn’t continue the exam when the time did
When taking the exam multiple times, you can exclude
questions that you’ve previously answered correctly x
number of times or include only those questions that were
missed in the past; the engine keeps track of your progress.
Since the engine doesn’t provide a user profile option
(it’s licensed per computer, not user), having more than
one person taking exams on the same computer would render
this feature useless.
(MCSE Windows 98 version 1.0 module reviewed)
ISBN 0-73570-860-6, $75
While in study mode, you can show the answer before moving
to the next question. I really liked the format used in
displaying the correct and incorrect answers. Rather than
showing the explanatory verbiage on a different screen,
the correct answers are highlighted and the explanation
for each answer, right or wrong, is displayed immediately
under each choice. Randomizing questions from the pool
is a must for study purposes, but it would have been nice
had New Riders also randomized the order of the answers.
Maybe they’ll add this feature to a future version.
Practice mode lets you take a test that simulates an
actual certification exam. This is the standard, “Don’t
show me answers until I end the exam,” sweatshop mode
of gauging exam readiness. No peeking allowed.
Last, in adaptive mode, you take an exam simulation using
ExamGear’s adaptive testing technique. This is useful
for understanding how adaptive testing works, but isn’t
really very helpful overall for study purposes. For true
exam preparation, I would stick to the first two modes.
Overall, New Riders has done a pretty good job with the
ExamGear testing engine. In test preparation software,
accurate question content is more important than test
engine bells and whistles, although some of the right
bells can make the test preparation experience a little
more enjoyable (or should I say less painful?).
One of the unique things this test engine offers is the
innovative way in which scenario questions are displayed.
Rather than restrict you to a single, lengthy scrollable
screen, ExamGear provides tabs for each section of the
scenario, allowing you to narrow down the question view
to just the required result, or the optional results,
or the proposed solution, or just the answers. This is
a neat feature that alleviates eye and brain strain during
About Bad Timing...
|New Riders barely had its
product on the market for a month when
Microsoft announced the formation of the
“Microsoft Certified Professional Practice
Test Provider program” with the stated
goal of “encouraging the development of
the highest-quality practice materials
for candidates seeking Microsoft Certified
Professional (MCP) status. Microsoft will
provide program participants with technical
and content support for developing practice
tests, render quality checks, and assist
in marketing the tests to MCP candidates.”
In other words, Microsoft is putting its
stamp of approval on test preparation
software vendors, with two of New Riders’
existing competitors—MeasureUp Corp. and
Self Test Software—as the chosen ones
to meet these lofty ideals.
Now here’s the interesting part, Microsoft
has already stated on its Web site that
it’s currently not accepting any more
applications for the program. If this
by-invitation only party continues into
the foreseeable future, maybe Janet
Reno will be studying for her MCSE;
this doesn’t appear to be a fair practice,
at least as far as other exam vendors
are concerned. If quality is the issue,
then all exam vendors that want the
Microsoft stamp of approval should have
the opportunity to submit their products
for evaluation. That would be one small
step off of my soapbox, one giant leap
for MCP kind. But that’s another story.
Back to the review.
It’s also interesting that this product integrates with
IE to allow you to open a Web browser in the application.
You get links to the New Riders home page and a link to
“Direct Help Discussion Groups,” a Web-based discussion
forum that allows test takers to interact with peers and
online mentors. At the time I wrote this article, I didn’t
see much forum activity, and it appears that the earliest
posts dated to August 1999. You also have the option to
go directly to the ExamGear Web page and download sample
questions for other exams or even to purchase additional
question databases. A final option lets you check for
exam updates online.
Along with the standard single/ multiple-choice questions,
the exam also incorporates basic simulation questions
in which you perform a task using a graphical utility.
These questions aren’t actually graded when you choose
“Show Answer,” but simply show you what the correct input
should have been. Since the real exam incorporates simulation
questions, this is a valid practice feature, but I generally
found these simulation questions unchallenging; the interface
only allows you to click on the areas that are correct
For instance, answering one question was a no-brainer
since the only button that worked was the “Add Port” button.
Clicking on the other tabs in the dialog box didn’t display
any additional properties. In order for simulation questions
to be challenging and more like those on the real exam,
New Riders should have allowed the other tabs to be clicked
on and their properties shown.
The “hotspot” or “click on this area” questions were
better structured and also show up on the real Microsoft
exams. You’re presented with a scenario and asked to click
on the relevant area of a graphic or dialog box that will
provide a solution to the problem.
Any of the various tabs or areas of the dialog box could
be selected and would be highlighted in red. This click
was recorded as the answer to the question.
In this “Build List and Reorder” question type you’re
presented with a scenario and asked to move items from
the right pane to the left pane in the correct order.
Even though I moved the items in the correct order, the
exam graded the question as incorrect. Figure 1 includes
their explanation and doesn’t reflect the order in which
I placed the items. Be careful; some of the item options
are “fluff” and aren’t needed.
|Figure 1. The Build List and
Reorder questions don’t always function correctly
in ExamGear. Here, the program has moved the reviewer’s
responses and graded them incorrectly.
In the online documentation, ExamGear claims there are
no “fluff” questions. I’m not sure if this means all questions
map directly to exam objectives or that the questions
themselves are straightforward with little or no “fluff”
within the question content. I found a good number of
the questions to be complex and somewhat lengthy (partly
because of the fluff they included), but technically accurate
overall. The explanations were adequate and thorough.
The question in Figure 2 is one of the more complex ones
offered, but still manageable. The main problem here is
that a system policy file (config.pol) was created, but
the restrictions defined in the policy aren’t being applied
to users for some reason.
|Figure 2. This is one of the
more complex questions offered. The main problem:
even though a system policy file exists, the restrictions
it defines aren’t being applied.
Answer A doesn’t make much sense. Setting up centralized
policy restrictions should have nothing to do with the
local Windows directory.
Answer B could be the correct answer if the users were
logging on to an NT domain and being authenticated by
an NT domain controller. The path shown in answer B is
the folder shared as NETLOGON and is exactly where the
policy file should be saved if we were dealing with an
NT Domain environment. The scenario describes three Novell
Servers that will eventually be migrated to NT, but this
hasn’t occurred yet. There’s mention of an NT Server hosting
printers, but doesn’t explicitly tell us what role this
NT computer plays (member server or domain controller).
Answer C is a correct answer if the Windows 98 machines
are using the Novell servers for primary logon. Since
it’s not absolutely clear that this is the case, we must
make some assumptions here and guess what the logon sequence
is for these client computers.
Answer D isn’t a possibility. Enabling user profiles
allows users to manage their local desktops environments
on a shared computer. System policies are applied to the
computer and user portions of the registry when a user
logs on to a server-based environment, irrespective of
the profile settings.
So we’re left with either B or C. When taking a Microsoft
exam, sometimes you have to play the role of assumption
manager. Since it appears to be a primarily Novell environment
and doesn’t mention the role the NT computer is playing,
let’s assume that the 98 users are logging on to the Novell
servers for resource access and that answer C is the most
correct. The ExamGear test agrees.
More Question, Dissected
|The following figure shows
a fairly easy question from ExamGear;
the question in the figure follows:
You are the recently hired network administrator
for a new network that needs to be installed.
You will be installing two servers running
Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 and
45 desktop client computers running
Microsoft Windows 98. You have chosen
the single domain model for the network.
As you set up the client computers,
you want to ensure that a user can share
one or more folders on their computer
running Microsoft Windows 98. You also
want to ensure that the users can assign
specific access permissions to groups
of related users from the Microsoft
Windows NT Server 4.0 domain.
What should you do to accomplish these
Select one answer.
- Configure share-level access control.
- Configure user-level access control.
- Configure the Client for Microsoft
Networks for Quick Logon.
- Configure the Workgroup setting
in the Network Properties dialog box
to match the name of the Microsoft
Windows NT Server 4.0 domain name.
Answer A is incorrect because Share
Level security is based on passwords.
When sharing out a folder using share-level
security, you can assign a Read Only
password or a Full Control password,
but there's no way for you to deny or
grant access explicitly to users based
on their credentials (access token).
So if your Full Control password leaks
out and gets spread around via rumor-net
at the cafeteria, any company employee
who knows the password will be able
to get access.
Answer B is the correct answer. When
you choose to implement User Level security,
you need to specify a Windows NT server
that will act as 98's back-end security
provider. Since Windows 98 can't authenticate
users based on credentials (access token),
the 98 computer can pass through the
request to the NT server to perform
the authentication. Setting up User
Level security essentially gives the
share an access control list that can
be populated with accounts from the
NT SAM database.
Answer C has nothing at all to do with
the question. Quick logon affects a
user sitting down physically at the
98 computer, not accessing the share
remotely from across the network.
Answer D is also a setting that only
affects the local workstation and not
the users that will eventually remotely
accessing the share.
In summary, I like this program. The testing engine is
sound, with some nice extras. There’s room for improvement,
especially with the simulation questions and making sure
that questions are correctly graded. The technical accuracy
is fairly good overall with an occasional ambiguous question
thrown in here or there. The explanations are thorough
and conducive to learning. I found some of the questions
to be challenging although too lengthy at times (concentration
is essential). On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate the Windows
98 ExamGear technical content and exam engine a rousing