Book Reviews

Prepping for MCSD Certification

Want something more than the usual study guide for the Solution Architectures core exam? This book is an excellent tool.

This guide is for those looking to pass the Solution Architectures (70-100) core exam for Microsoft Certified Solution Developer certification. Not only will this book help get you there, but later it can serve as a valuable reference tool as you design and develop applications. And because it covers the entire solution development lifecycle, it's also a good book for new developers.

If you're an experienced programmer who just wants to hit the highlights to prepare for your test, you'll love this book's layout. Each chapter begins with objectives, an outline, and study strategies. "Exam Tips" throughout each chapter identify items that may or may not be on the test. They also highlight quirks in the exam that may catch you off-guard. In the chapter covering conceptual design, for instance, one tip points out that the test uses drop-and-connect style questions for workflow model development. While this is an otherwise easy topic for the experienced developer to handle, the question type might require practice to master.

Each chapter ends with a summary containing keywords and specific concepts, followed by exercises and exam questions that will reveal what areas you need to read again. All of these tools make it easy to identify your weak spots so you don't have to read the whole chapter, a plus for the busy developer.

The book also comes with the Exam Gear computerized practice exam. This simulated exam takes you through several practice tests, giving you experience with the different types of questions you may face. This includes simulations where you see a key tool component, such as Enterprise Manager from SQL Server, and are asked questions specific to that item. It might also include creating a stored procedure or index. Another question type allows you to show relationships between entities such as tables or workers. In drop-and-connect questions you drag an object onto the work surface and connect the objects showing relationship and direction. Relationships between tables are a common subject for this type of question. You drag tables onto the work surface and then connect the tables showing the type of relation (one-to-many, many-to-many, etc.) Although not that difficult, these questions might throw you for a loop on the test if you're confused by the format.

Using just these components, an experienced developer should be able to skim through the guide and pass the exam fairly easily. If you quit there, though, you'll miss some of the book's best parts. The chapters are organized into a logical progression that follows a "typical" development cycle. The case study, I found, is the book's most impressive component, and almost every chapter has one. These studies are important because the Solution Architectures exam prominently features them, with questions growing out of them. In fact, learning to digest these case studies is so key that the book's Appendix E is devoted to the task. A blown case study and some other misses and you might be taking the test again.

The book features 15 case studies covering various scenarios. Each study dissects a problem from several perspectives, including management, developer, clerk, and user. Because I'm a pilot, my favorite case study is the one titled "New Riders Airlines." Using the illustration of an airline wanting to offer "vacation packages" that are beyond the scope of that airline's current information system, the study shows how the changing nature of business drives the need for change in information systems. Now, if planes aren't your thing, don't worry-the case studies cover a broad spectrum of other industries as well. You should be able to find at least one study close to your work or interests.

The book's only real area of weakness involves the Exam Gear practice exam. In several multiple-choice questions, explanations for why an answer is incorrect should have been more thorough. For instance, one question asks how Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) allows storage and sharing of data outside of an object. Only the correct answer (Shared Property Manager) contains an explanation. It would be nice to know that two of the answers are completely false. The new types of questions offer no comparison between the user's answer and the correct answer, leaving you to wonder exactly what part you missed. Fix these problems, and you've got an entire 70-100 exam course in a box.

If you want to pass the Solution Architectures core exam and want something more than the usual "pass it" study guide, this book is an excellent tool. I don't think it'll gather much dust on my shelf.

About the Author

Paul G. Brown, MCSD, a developer, speaker, and a frequent contributor to, lives in New Berlin, Illinois. When not in front of the computer, he can be found chasing Jerry, Wesley, Jordan and Dillon for Mom.

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