Passed Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer exam 70-296

Last week I wrote about having scraped through the first of two exams needed to update my MCSE from 2000 to 2003 and this morning I passed the second by an equally narrow margin.  Whilst I’m pleased to have passed the Planning, Implementing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSE Certified on Windows 2000 exam (exam 70-296), and am similarly glad that I found it challenging (i.e. worthwhile), I did sail a little close to the wind – and that wasn’t for lack of preparation either. So what happened?

I’ve worked with Windows NT since 1995, been an MCP since 1998 (and MCSE since 1999) worked with Active Directory since NT 5.0 beta 2 and generally have a fair amount of Microsoft Windows Server design and implementation experience in a variety of organisations.  Even though I’ve remained technical, it’s inevitable that as I progress in my career, I spend more time managing and less time doing – meaning that I do not have a huge amount of recent operational or administrative experience.  So, in order to upgrade my MCSE I needed to refresh my knowledge of the key concepts without re-learning everything from scratch.

With that in mind, and the impending withdrawal of the MCSE 2000-2003 upgrade exams, last summer, I bought a Microsoft Press Training Kit entitled Upgrading your Certification to Microsoft Windows Server 2003.  It’s a weighty tome and includes evaluation software, eBooks and a readiness review suite from MeasureUp.  It’s actually a really good purchase but, at 1100 pages and almost 2.5kg, I found it too large (physically) to keep lugging it around with me and, despite the title, it seems to be targetted at people who are setting out on the MCSE path for the first time.

Then, a few months back, I used an practice test from pass4sure to help prepare for MCTS exam 70-624.  I passed the exam, but the software was Java-based (and the installer failed to recognise that my system already had Java installed and tried to install it again), was full of bugs and, at $79.99 for just 53 questions, I felt that it was very poor value for money.  So, when uCertify asked me to review their PrepKits I was interested to compare them with my previous experiences.

uCertify kindly provided review copies of the PrepKits for exams 70-292 and 70-296 and, from the moment I installed them, I could see that the quality was way above my previous experience.  No buggy installer – these went straight onto my Vista system with no issues, and I was greeted with a professional interface.  Unlike the pass4sure practice tests, there were a few hundred questions (albeit with a fair amount of repetition – I calculated about 15% appeared in multiple practice tests) and tests were available as pre-defined practice tests, adaptive tests, custom tests (for example, just the questions that have previously be answered incorrectly), or an interactive quiz.  There was also a complete run-down of the exam objectives and other study aids including flash cards, study notes and articles.  Finally, the software allows the ability to view test history and to evaluate readiness using the built-in reporting tools.

uCertify PrepKit

I set to work on the practice tests, and found that there were two possible modes – test mode (with feedback at the end) and learn mode, whereby a fairly detailed explanation was available on request after answering each question.  For some of the questions, I did not (and still do not) agree with the answers provided but the tool also includes the ability to provide feedback to uCertify and on at least one question I could view the feedback that others had provided.  I also spotted quite a few grammatical and spelling errors – one was even in the interface itself so occurred on multiple questions.

Even though the general quality of the PrepKit software is high, there are some very obvious bugs.  On my Windows Vista system I found that if I paused a test and then cancelled the pause, the clock did not start counting again – but that was actually useful because in learn mode there is not a lot of time by default (58 questions in 60 minutes) to take in the information.  I also had a problem whereby the software lost my exam history – a minor annoyance, but it did effectively prevent me from retesting using just the questions I had answered incorrectly.

So, the software generally is not bad – it has a few issues but no show-stoppers.  But what about its effectiveness?  Taking exam 70-292 as an example, I saw my scores increase but I do wonder if, due to the repetition of the questions, I was actually learning the answers to the PrepKit tests rather than applying the knowledge gained in order to answer the question correctly (the difference may be subtle – but it is significant).  This was particularly evident when I moved on to the PrepKit for exam 70-296, where there was some repetition of questions from the PrepKit for exam 70-292 (unsurprising as the exam objectives also overlap) and I consistently scored above 80% (with most tests above 90%).

My theory about learning the answers rather than learning the key concepts that are required to answer the questions correctly appears to be born out in my results from the real exams.  The Microsoft NDA prevents me from discussing their content but I do have to wonder if, when I can consistently score above 90% in a practice test – even with the final test – which is intended to be more difficult than the vendor exam – how come I barely scraped a pass score in the real thing?

So, to summarise – do I think the uCertify PrepKits are worth the money?  Probably. Will they prepare you to pass the exam? Possibly.  Microsoft/Prometric are currently offering free exam insurance (Second Shot) and, in any case, uCertify offer their own money-back guarantee but, based on my experience, the PrepKits form just one part of an overall preparation strategy – and my usual method of re-reading course materials and writing my own notes seems to work better for me.

You can try the uCertify PrepKits for yourself – and I’d be interested to hear how people get on.  Demonstration versions can be downloaded for free and access to the full PrepKit is unlocked with a license key costing around $59.99 with discounts for multiple purchases.  It’s worth noting that the uCertify PrepKits are not just for Microsoft certifications either – there are PrepKits available for a variety of vendors with further details available at www.ucertify.com.

[Update 20 February 2008: You can get 10% off the uCertify PrepKit of your choice using the discount code MARWIL]

11 thoughts on “Passed Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer exam 70-296


  1. Interestingly, For a while, Microsoft didn’t assign a numerical score for 70-292 and 70-296:

    “Q. Why don’t Exams 70-292 or 70-296 show a numerical score?
    A. Only pass or fail status can be provided for these exams because each is a composite of two exams rather than a single exam.”

    [Microsoft Learning Exam and Testing procedures]

    That page has since been updated and now reads:

    “Q. What does my score mean?
    A. Starting with the release of the Windows Server 2003 related exams, Microsoft provides numeric scores on exams. Most exams have the new score report format, which includes this numeric score. Microsoft has worked with customers and testing industry experts to create an exam scale that would be consistent across all exams. The new scale requires a minimum passing score of 700 on all exams. The maximum score on the exams varies depending on the complexity of the skills being measured.”

    So, maybe scoring 700 on an exam with a pass mark of 700 isn’t that bad after all and perhaps it is the only pass score ever allocated for the MCSE upgrade exams (70-292/296)? Has anyone ever scored higher on these?

    Having said that, looking at the sectional results, there are clearly some areas where I could have done better.


  2. Hi Mark, i am also on the road to MCSE 2003, and i find Self Test Software and CBT Nuggets the best combination that works for me, and good old Microsoft Press Books as well of course. but like you i never really know if i am just learning the questions like a parrot or if i am actually absorbing anything. got my next exam in 2 weeks so i guess i will find out.


  3. I bought one of the uCertify packages on your “recommendation” and it seems pretty good, or at least, better than any of the others whose demo’s I have looked at; some are very poor indeed. I have comments about some of uCertify’s “correct” answers (you can’t do restores from the ntbackup command line, can you? Thought not!) but generally the software seems polished and effective, and the comments/information provided is detailed and specific.

    Would I recommend it myself? I’ll tell you after I take 70-290 on Monday! Fingers crossed ;-)


  4. Andrew,
    I’m not sure that I really recommended the product, so much as said it’s a lot better than some of the others and may be useful as part of an overall revision strategy. I have to agree with you though that there are some dodgy answers… but then again the real tests can be a little ambiguous at times! Like I said:

    “For some of the questions, I did not (and still do not) agree with the answers provided […] I also spotted quite a few grammatical and spelling errors – one was even in the interface itself so occurred on multiple questions.

    Good luck for 70-290.

    Mark


  5. Passed!

    Not sure if I’ll get the uCertify kit for my next one. Measure-Up seem to do some pretty good stuff, and their questions are much more searching. So much so that I wasn’t at all confident going for the exam – but I passed with 870. So whatever I did, it worked!


  6. Congratulations on passing Andrew. I didn’t try the Measure Up test, because I already had review copies of the uCertify ones, but the fact they come bundled with many Microsoft Press kits suggest they are not bad quality.


  7. So, it’s possible to score greater than 700 and pass (I got 850 on 70-292). It turns out it’s also possible to score less than 700 (I got 630ish on 70-296 today). Fortunately, I booked using Second Shot and will be taking the exam again next week, all being well.

    There were a bunch of things on 296 that weren’t covered in the (admittedly very old) Sybex study guide I had – I wonder if the content of the exam has changed as service packs and other ‘addons’ have been released?


  8. I wrote my mcse upgrade exams in 2006 and i got 820 for 70-296 so there definately was a score on mine. I also agree with you totally that the upgrade exams for 2000-2003 were very very hard and having done one of my upgrade exams now to 2008 the 70-296 exam is still the hardest exam i have written yet.


  9. Hi guys,
    uCertify is giving out 20% discount on all its PrepKits.Use promotional code “Spring” during the checkout to avail this offer. This offer is valid until 18 April, 2010. It will work on all uCertify PrepKits.

    You can visit http://www.uCertify.com to get benefited from this offer.

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