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Test-Taking Tips for the Windows XP Professional Exam

Knowing a few test-preparation tricks can give you a bit of an edge on the exam, so here are ten suggestions that may help rocket you to a passing grade after you've dutifully studied the core material.

Do Your Homework

The best single bit of advice for passing the Windows XP Professional exam is use the product. Even if you normally work with Windows Me, 98, or NT 4.0 at work or at home, consider switching to Windows XP Pro for the weeks prior to the MCSE test. Set up a dual-boot machine if you need to; use an alternate PC if one is available. Whenever you have a few minutes free during the day or night, experiment with the Windows XP control panels, property sheets, and system utilities.

Windows XP Professional Resource Kit

Buying the Resource Kit for Windows XP (confusingly retitled Administering Microsoft Windows XP Professional, Operations Guide) is a good idea, especially if you plan to use the operating system after you take the exam. You're not going to read all 1,792 pages cover to cover, and you really don't need it to pass the exam. However, for dipping in and out of various technical subjects that you may need to understand more thoroughly, this hefty tome is a smart addition to your bookshelf.

You'll typically find the best price on Microsoft resource kits at Provantage, but you may want to check other online bookstores as well.

Microsoft TechNet

Whether you subscribe to the CD-ROMs or simply patronize the Web site, TechNet is a good reference for common problems and their solutions. However, TechNet has expanded considerably beyond its early scope of presenting the Microsoft knowledge base in CD format. Now it includes selected resource kits, service packs, online seminars, white papers, walkthroughs, and client and server utilities.

Exam simulations

Some companies make a business of providing exam simulations. The fees for these tests have gone down somewhat in recent years, and you can often download demos from the Web before shelling out cash. Here are a couple to check out:

Leverage Your Biorhythms

Do you experience a lull in alertness in mid-afternoon, anywhere between 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.? If so, don't schedule the exam to fall during this time period! For most people, midmorning is best.

You know your own body. If you're an evening person rather than a morning person, slate the exam for as late in the day as you can arrange it. The point is to take the test at the time of day when you normally feel productive and energized.

Get Warmed Up

Whether you believe that "cramming" is a good idea, warming up shortly before the test seems to help most of the people whom I've talked with about the exam. I always do it. The difference between cramming and warming up is one of degree. You don't want to be exhausted before you start the exam, but you do want to get your brain going so you don't have to shift from first gear into fifth as you enter the testing center.

Spend some time before you go to the test center shifting your mental momentum. You can do this several ways: with the CD-based material in this book, with the sample tests, by running through some of the labs, or simply by flipping through the book looking for points that you highlighted and making sure you understand them.

My advice is to spend between one and two hours on your warm up. Too little time doesn't do you any good; too much makes you tired.

Reread Chapter 1 as part of your warm up. It'll remind you of what to expect regarding the mechanics of the exam.

Kill a Tree

The testing centers I've visited are strangely stingy about the amount of scratch paper they provide. Some just give you a small whiteboard.

If you don't get at least a dozen sheets of paper, ask for more. If you aren't comfortable with the whiteboard, ask for paper. (Bring your own pad just in case. I did that once, and after the administrator looked it over to be sure I hadn't written notes on a tiny sheet tucked up by the adhesive strip, or scratched answers onto the pages with a leadless mechanical pencil, I was allowed to use my pad. Good thing, too; all the center provided was the marker board, which I hate. Why waste time erasing that thing every 20 seconds?)

Your own mini-diagrams can be a great help, especially in the scenario questions that tell a rather long story. The last thing you want between you and a successful exam is a problem as mundane as not having enough paper.

Don't Reinvent Wheels

When I take a nonadaptive multiple-choice certification test, I mark off a half-page on the first sheet of scratch paper to keep track of eliminations: answers I know are wrong on questions I plan to review later. If you study question #19, for example, and you're not quite sure what the answer is but you know it isn't B or C, you mark "19. A B C D" on the scratch paper and cross out the B and C. When you review tough questions after your first pass through the exam, you don't waste time figuring out all over again that B and C aren't correct answers. Putting this "record of eliminations" on the first sheet of your scratch paper means that you don't have to hunt for these notes.

Check the Numbers

The most frustrating missed answers are those in which you click one answer when the question really calls for two or three or "as many as apply." Therefore, double-check whether the question asks for a single answer or multiple ones.

Keep Your Head

You certainly want to pass the test on the first try. However, don't get worked up about it. Worry can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: If you agonize over whether you're answering enough questions right instead of answering the questions themselves, you're likely to create cause for worry!

Remind yourself of the following, and you're more likely to succeed:

  • The exam fee is the equivalent of six pizzas. Even if you have to retake the exam, your $200 investment comes back to you many times as you progress in your career. (If your company is paying, pay the retest fee out of your own pocket if you feel awkward asking the boss again.)
  • The exam is not a measure of how smart you are! It's a measure of how well you know what Microsoft thinks you need to know about Windows XP, how well you take tests, and how sharp you feel on exam day.
  • Microsoft, the testing center, the test, and this book aren't going anywhere anytime soon. If you don't pass today, you can pass next week, or next month, or whenever you feel ready.
  • These MCSE tests are designed so that almost nobody gets a perfect score, and darn few people get an "A" (90 percent or above). An MCSE with a 71 percent average in six exams gets the same letters after her name as an MCSE with a 95 percent average.
  • Rumor has it that even Bill Gates has trouble passing some of the MCSE tests. Of course, he has a more impressive credential: MSCEO.
  • Don't tell everyone you know that you're taking the exam. The fewer who know you're taking it, the less you'll worry about what others will think of you if you don't pass the first time out.
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