Beating the Certification Clock

Transcender’s Win2K test-preparation products offer solid, well-researched content — just in time.

The clock is ticking. Dec. 31, 2001 is the deadline for upgrading your MCSE certification from Windows NT 4.0 to Windows 2000. But rest assured, you’re not alone. Thousands of MCSEs face the same grim reality: Pass the Win2K exams or be decertified. This month, let’s look at Transcender’s Win2K MCSE core practice exams and determine if they can help smooth your transition to the new certification.

In addition, to achieve your Win2K MCSE you’ll need to pass at least one Win2K Designing exam. Transcender recently released its Designing exam simulation.

Transcender Test Engine
Each Transcender practice exam comes on its own CD, and my product installations went off without a hitch. It’s recommended you install the security files to your hard drive so you don’t have to pop a CD in every time you want to take a test. But be warned — the security files alone take a whopping 300MB of disk space per product!

You can customize the engine display by choosing from various fonts and sizes. On the main screen, you select the exam type you’d like to take. There are three conventional exams per product (with the same number of questions you’ll see on an actual exam). You also can choose a random-question or adaptive-simulation exam that draws questions from the conventional pool. The random exam selects questions so you don’t memorize these based on their placement in the conventional exams, while the adaptive exam simulates adaptive testing based on weighted questions. Finally, you can create custom exams by choosing the number of questions from each objective.

If you want to take a break in the middle of a Transcender practice exam, you can save your exam to a file and load it later — exactly where you left off. Writing notes for each question and saving these notes with the exam file are other nice features of the practice tests. As you answer questions, the “Grade Now” button is disabled by default. It can, however, be enabled through exam options, allowing you to check the answer to a question before finishing a practice test.

Transcender Windows 2000 MCSE Core Practice Exams
$149 per practice exam:
ProCert 2000
ServerCert 2000
NetCert/Admin 2000
NetCert/Design 2000
DirectoryCert/Admin 2000
DirectoryCert/Design 2000
SecurityCert 2000

Transcender Corp.

I did encounter one annoying problem with Transcender’s test engine, specifically, with an exam’s interactive questions. Here, you click on part of a graphic as the answer to a question. You’re given an initial exhibit that contains clues on how to answer the question, and then you click on a separate exhibit as your answer. But — and here’s what’s problematic — you can’t tile both exhibits full screen at the same time. Instead, one of the exhibits is nested in a miniscule window within the other exhibit, which is full screen. You have to scroll through a tiny window to view the first exhibit. Still, even with this difficulty, I found Transcender’s test engine to be robust and functional overall.

Practice Test Content
I found Transcender’s exam content to be technically accurate, with excellent answer explanations. In fact, the explanations are probably the product’s best feature. An exam-preparation product shouldn’t just help you memorize test questions, but help you intelligently answer questions based on knowledge. The explanations also point you to various technical references for further information.

Be aware that the actual Win2K exams can be quite tricky, with both questions and answers worded in roundabout ways. Prepare yourself for this. Fortunately, Transcender has gone to great lengths to replicate not only the exam questions you might expect to see on the real exams, but the slippery wording as well.

I found only one thing not to like about Transcender’s content — the occasional question testing your knowledge of Resource Kit utilities. Note that this is something you won’t be tested on in the actual Win2K exams.

Exam Questions Explored
Now, let’s examine two questions drawn from the Transcender practice exams. The first is from the ProCert 2000 exam; the second is from the ServerCert 2000 exam.

To answer the question from the ProCert 2000 exam (Figure 1), you must know what backups can be performed by the Win2K Backup Utility and exactly what each backup does. For routine backups, you’ll perform a full backup every day (in Microsoft terminology this is known as a normal backup) or combine a normal backup with differential or incremental backups.

Transcender’s ProCert 2000
Figure 1. This question from Transcender’s ProCert 2000 exam tests your knowledge concerning backups. (Click image to view larger version.)

Let’s summarize these backup types:

  • Normal — Backs up all files selected, whether or not the archive attribute is turned on. The archive attribute of a file is turned on by your computer when a file is newly created or recently modified.

  • Incremental — Backs up only the files that have the archive attribute already turned on. After the backup, it turns off the attribute.

  • Differential — Backs up only the files that have the archive attribute already turned on. After the backup, it does not turn off the attribute.

Now that you know the mechanics of backup types, you can easily answer the question. As incremental backups are done on weekdays, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday backup tapes in the question scenario contain the data files that were modified or created on those days. The problem day is Thursday because the backup failed, and no files were backed up that day. But because Friday’s backup was successful, it would have picked up all the files that were created or modified from Thursday in addition to Friday’s files. So the most recent date you could restore to is Friday (Answer F). In reality, you’d restore the normal backup from Sunday, plus all the incrementals that were successful since the normal backup.

On the Win2K Server exam, you’ll be tested on a number of troubleshooting utilities. The question from the ServerCert 2000 exam (Figure 2) asks how you go about replacing a missing system file.

Transcender’s ServerCert 2000
Figure 2. In this question from Transcender’s ServerCert 2000 exam, your knowledge of Win2K troubleshooting utilities is assessed. (Click image to view larger version.)

You can eliminate most of the answers right off the bat. For example, Answer B is incorrect because you can’t boot from an Emergency Repair Disk. Answer C is incorrect because to restore from tape you must be able to boot back into Win2K first, which you won’t be able to do because NTDETECT.COM is a critical system file. Answer D is also incorrect for the same reason. Safe Mode is just a variation of a standard Win2K boot, but with basic drivers.

That leaves the correct answer as A: Use the Recovery Console. Recovery Console is a feature that essentially gives you command prompt access to Win2K in case you can’t boot into the operating system. It works even if your system partition is NTFS. The key is to install Recovery Console beforehand so it appears as an option on your Boot.ini menu (so you can readily select it if you can’t boot). Or, if you’ve forgotten to install Recovery Console beforehand, you can still get to it by booting a Win2K CD or setup floppies and invoking Recovery Console from the Repair Screen.

The Final Word
Transcender offers a solid group of exam prep products for the Win2K MCSE core exams. The testing engine is functional (with a few minor quirks), while the practice exam content is rich and well researched and explained (with the exception of those pesky Resource Kit questions!). In the past, Transcender typically led the pack with its NT 4.0 exam prep products, and it looks like it’s set to do the same with its Win2K products.

About the Author

James Carrion, MCM R2 Directory, MCITP, MCSE, MCT, CCNA, CISSP has worked as a computer consultant and technical instructor for the past 16 years. He’s the owner of and principal instructor for MountainView Systems, LLC, which specializes in accelerated Microsoft Certification training.

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