Cert21–Ready for Prime Time?

Will Cert21’s Web-based practice exams lead you to certification success?

Prospective MCPs who wish to prepare for the Windows 2000 certification track by taking practice exams have many products from which to choose, and an increasing number of these products are Web-based. If you like the idea of taking practice exams across the Internet, you may have come across Cert21.com while looking for Web-based products. This month, I put Cert21.com to the test and give you the skinny on whether or not it can help you pass your Win2K exams and whether the site lives up to Cert21’s claim of being the most realistic practice-exam site around.

Well-Built Engine
When you navigate to the Cert21.com home page, you can choose from a variety of certification exam programs, including the Microsoft MCSE, MCSD and MOUS tracks. I chose the MCSE track and was presented with 18 MCSE exams, including the core Win2K exams, as well as numerous electives. The exams vary in the number of questions in the database. For example, each of the four Win2K core exams has more than 200 questions available. I looked at the 70-210 Win2K Professional exam, which had a total of 380 questions.

Practice exams can be taken in one of two modes: Practice Mode (Figure 1) or Test Mode. In Practice Mode, I was able to take four exams comprising 95 questions each. The order of questions and the answers are randomized to ensure you don’t memorize question or answer location. You can change the number of questions you want presented, as well as change the amount of time the practice exam will last. As an option, you can turn off the timer altogether. You can also change the scoring method from “Standard” to “Partial Credit” to simulate Microsoft’s practice of allowing for partial question credit on some of the Win2K exams.

Practice Mode
Figure 1. In Practice Mode, the Cert21 tests have a basic test interface that allows you to peek at the answer. (Click image to view larger version.)

I found the test engine interface to be simple, yet functional. When you start an exam, each question has basic navigation buttons so you can move through the questions at will. There is a “Show Answer” button, which gives you a peek at the correct answer. There’s also a “Comments” button where you can provide feedback to Cert21.com on a question with which you disagree or find ambiguous. I can only hope that Cert21.com actively reviews this feedback and that the questions in the database are refined accordingly.

Test Mode, as shown in Figure 2, is designed to simulate the real exam with the approximate number of questions and time duration of the real exam. It uses the same basic interface as Practice Mode, minus the “Show Answer” button. In either mode, you don’t know if you answered a question correctly (unless, of course, you peek in Practice Mode) until you reach the end of the exam and it’s scored. You can mark questions at any time for later review during the review session prior to ending the exam, just as you can in the real thing. After the exam is over and it’s been scored, you can also review any incorrect answers.

Test Mode
Figure 2. Here is a fairly simple question in Test Mode. Note that there’s no way to peek at the answer in this mode. (Click image to view larger version.)

Simplified Content
I found the technical content to be fairly accurate, with the exception of an occasional ambiguous question here and there. I also found that most of the Win2K Professional exam objectives were represented in the pool of questions I reviewed. I didn’t find the questions themselves to be complex or difficult to answer—most of them were straightforward and simple. The question explanations were a little short and could be expanded upon to provide detail for not only why the correct answers are correct, but why the incorrect ones aren’t. Most of the questions were structured like flashcard questions—simple questions with one-line simple answers, not quite as difficult as the real exam questions, but adequate for testing your knowledge of the subject.

Product Information
Cert21.com Web Based Practice Exams, 30-day unlimited access subscription—$25 average price (based on number of questions in database)

There are a handful of questions in which the question and answer explanations have external links to Microsoft technical reference documents. This is a nice touch, but I estimated that less than 5 percent of the questions in the database had such links. In addition, some of the links didn’t work, apparently because Microsoft has a tendency to restructure content on its Web site quite often. Cert21.com should add more links to its questions so that the practice exam not only tests your knowledge but also serves as an active learning tool for building your Win2K knowledge.

Room for Improvement
Cert21.com has done a nice job with its Web-based practice exams. The exams are especially useful as a flashcard quizzer to test your knowledge of Win2K subject matter before you take that final trip to the testing center. Cert21.com needs to beef up the question explanations and links to external technical references to make the exams effective, knowledge-building tools. The exams do offer solid coverage of the Win2K exam objectives. I don’t think I would characterize these exams as the most realistic practice exams available, but they’re a good start.

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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