Practice, Practice — Then Pass?

Osborne states its Test Yourself MCSE practice exam books will help you ace the Windows 2000 exams. Will they?

Last month, I dissected Sybex’s series of study guides and exam notes for the Windows 2000 MCSE exams. This month, I take a hard look at yet another set of books meant to prepare you for the Win2K exams: Osborne/McGraw-Hill’s Test Yourself series.

Product Info
Osborne/McGraw-Hill Windows 2000 MCSE Practice Exam Books
Test Yourself MCSE Windows 2000 Professional (Exam 70-210)
Test Yourself MCSE Windows 2000 Server (Exam 70-215)
Test Yourself MCSE Windows 2000 Network Administration (Exam 70-216)
Test Yourself MCSE Windows 2000 Directory Services Administration (Exam 70-217)
Test Yourself MCSE Designing Windows 2000 Directory Services (Exam 70-219)
Test Yourself MCSE Designing Security for Windows 2000 (Exam 70-220)
Test Yourself MCSE Designing a Windows 2000 Network (Exam 70-221)

$19.99 per book (includes downloadable ExamSim software)

Osborne promotes these books as resource materials that will help you test your Win2K knowledge before taking the actual exams. The publisher’s motto for the series is, “Don’t let the real test be your first test.” Here, though, let’s turn this statement into a question — “Will these books adequately prepare you for the real tests?” — and discover the answer.

Separation is Bad
Osborne has adopted the marketing technique used by other Win2K MCSE certification publishers, for example, Sybex, of creating two distinct sets of exam-preparation tools — one a book series that essentially amounts to a set of paper-based practice exams (Test Yourself series), and the other a more fleshed-out book set designed to build knowledge (MCSE Study Guide series). Because of space constraints, I’m concentrating strictly on the Test Yourself series in this piece. In a future column, I’ll focus on the Study Guide series.

In my opinion, the separation between the practice tests and study guides shouldn’t exist, as simulated exams and knowledge-building books are designed to achieve the same goal — help you pass the Win2K MCSE exams. Upon close examination of the Test Yourself books and Study Guide series, I found overlap in both technical content and scope. The Test Yourself volumes help build basic knowledge while the study guides feature practice exam questions and exam tips. Make no mistake — you can’t have one without the other if you’re serious about passing the Win2K exams.

Osborne does tie together, by objective, the Test Yourself books and study guides. So, for instance, if you’re reading a Test Yourself volume and find you need more detailed reference material on a particular objective, you can turn to the corresponding guide. Though this is pointed out in each Test Yourself volume’s preface, it isn’t on the covers, potentially leading buyers into thinking (erroneously) that the Test Yourself books alone are comprehensive enough to help you pass the Win2K tests.

Test Yourself Format
All Test Yourself books follow the same format. Each volume is divided into chapters, with each chapter covering two to nine interrelated exam objectives. Each objective begins with a short technical summary, usually no more than two pages long, followed by a series of multiple-choice or scenario-style questions.

At the end of each chapter there’s a lab question designed to promote further thought and discussion. Osborne also provides a license and key code with each Test Yourself book that lets you download a corresponding software-based practice exam, called ExamSim, from www.certification At the end of the books that focus on the Win2K MCSE core exams (exams 70-210, 70-215, 70-216, 70-217), there’s a 40- to 50-question multiple-choice practice test. In each of the books covering the Win2K Designing exams, there are two case studies, which Osborne calls “Testlets.” Lastly, a comprehensive terms glossary is presented at the end of each Test Yourself volume.

I found the Test Yourself questions conducive to learning without being overly complex (see the sample question from the Win2K Network Administration book). The answer explanations, however, are much too brief — rarely exceeding more than a couple of paragraphs. More detail would’ve been a good thing. I also was disappointed that Osborne chose to use the old Windows NT 4.0 scenario-style questions (Required Result, Optional Desired Results, Proposed Solution) instead of the new Win2K scenario-style questions (You want to accomplish A, B, C. You perform actions D, E, F. What exactly did you accomplish?). Obviously, prospective exam takers must become comfortable with the latter question style, as this is what they’ll find on the Win2K tests.

Technical Content: Core Exam Books
I found technical content for the Test Yourself Win2K core exam books to be fairly accurate, and the technical editing is adequate. Sometimes, though, the objective questions didn’t match up to the technical summary for that objective. For example, the Win2K Professional volume asks a question about PXE-compliant network adapters and downloading a RIS image. But nowhere is PXE compliance explained in the technical summary for that objective. Oddly enough, it’s explained in a much later objective.

There’s another instance of this in the Win2K Directory Services Administration book. The objective for Transferring Operations Master Roles states that, “ ... the first thing to remember for the exam is that you must know what operations masters are and the purpose they serve.” Unfortunately, when you turn to the technical summary for more information on this topic, nothing’s there. Furthermore, Operations Master Roles aren’t explained at all in the Directory Services Administration volume but are covered in an entirely different Test Yourself book: Designing Windows 2000 Directory Services (Exam 70-219). This gross mismatch of question content and technical content serves only to confuse readers.

Technical Content: Designing Exam Books
I applaud Osborne for producing Test Yourself books for the three Win2K MCSE Designing exams (Directory Services, Security, Network). Considering the esoteric subject matter, this was no easy task.

Keep in mind that when taking the Designing exams, a strong grasp of the relevant technical knowledge is paramount. But you also must possess good analytical skills and be able to assimilate a large amount of information in a short time. That’s why the two Testlet case studies at the end of each Designing exam Test Yourself volume are so valuable. Though these case studies are simplistic compared to the real thing, they do give you a taste of the Designing exam format and allow you to hone your analytical and reading comprehension skills.

Can Test Yourself books stand alone?
The answer is no. Osborne should incorporate the Test Yourself series into its MCSE Study Guide series or at least bundle them together. On their own, the Test Yourself books aren’t sufficient to prepare you for the actual Win2K MCSE exams. My advice is to pair these books with a good technical study guide series — then you’ll be taking a step in the right direction toward acquiring your MCSE. Plus, obtain all the hands-on Win2K experience you can. It’s vital to passing the Win2K exams and no book can offer it to you. As you learn about this operating system, don’t be afraid to get “down and dirty” with it. You’ll be glad you did.

Sample Question: Test Yourself MCSE Windows 2000 Network Administration (Exam 70-216)

You have just been hired as a network administrator by a company that has a medium- sized network. The first day, your manager tells you the company uses an IP address that has a "/21" suffix to it. Which of the following would be the subnet mask used in all of the network segments?


This question highlights the importance of understanding IP addressing, especially how to express subnet masks in either dotted decimal or slash notation. As a subnet mask converted into binary from its dotted decimal form is nothing more than a set of contiguous binary 1's, followed by contiguous binary 0's, you do the conversion and count the number of 1's. This tells you what the slash notation should be. Here, the correct answer is C, because converted to binary is 11111111.11111111.11111000.00000000, or 21 contiguous 1's.

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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