Friday, 28 November 2008

Exam tips for 70-536

Ahhh exam 70-536 .. .NET Framework - Application Development Foundation. The only exam I have ever done more than once. Three times in fact. And not because I failed it, it was part of the upgrade exams from MCSD/MCAD to MCPD which I did way back.

It is a bit of strange one this one. It is one of the exam requirements for a whopping 15 different certifications. These include the MCTS and MCPD certifications on 2.0 and 3.5

So if you want to get certified on .NET 2.0 and/or 3.5 you need to have passed this exam. And you only need to pass it once.

So where do you start? Well I would suggest that you take a look at my previous post on preparation for this exam.

Now information directly related to the exam.

If you are already certified on .NET 2.0 (MCTS or MCPD) then you don't need to read this as you already the requirements for any of the 3.5 exams.

Now if you are not certified on 2.0 or 3.5 yet but would like to, then read on.

The exam itself covers the base of the .NET Framework. You know everything that it is inside the System namespace. That is where this exam is aimed. Do you know your foundation stuff.

The blurb from the exam landing page suggests that you have 2 to 3 years experience on any version of the .NET framework. Does that mean you have to have it?. Nope. Its only a suggestion, but its to ensure that you don't have a massive amount of learning to do to pass this exam.

Recommended reading. I liked the MS Press training kit though do make sure that you check the errata pages (list). You will probably need to supplement this with some reading from MSDN, Blogs and the like though the book does go through a lot of what you need to know. It may not explain it as clearly as I would like but at least if I didn't understand it, I could always pop onto the web and get more information. Before you rush off and buy it read the next bit first

Other information: Microsoft have a nice training series called the MSDN RampUp which is a free online training course for .NET. Now its free but that not all. You also get a few goodies when you finish the training. You get
  • 25% off the cost of the 70-536 exam (and a free retake)
  • 50% of 2 eLearning course (5160 and 5161)
  • 30% off the MS Press training kit listed above

So its good value and a great place to start plus the bonus stuff is very handy!

At TechEd 2008 in the US there was a session on the exam hosted by Trika (who was at the time at MS Learning) and Susan Ibach which gives some great tips. You can get the slide deck here and the live recording is here. Both are very good resources!

About the exam. We are very limited in what we can actually discuss. And that includes the format of the exam. The passing mark is 700 out of 1000 and there is no set amount of questions though on average it can be around the 45 mark. You will be told how many questions on your exam when you take it.

Tools you need. For this exam it is not essential to have the Pro edition of Visual Studio as this exam is version agnostic but other exams need you to know some of the tools. You can see a comparison of the SKUs here.

Good idea to have it installed either locally or on a virtual machine so that you can play with the code and see what all the command line tools do.

UPDATE September 2009: Added a series of posts on 70-536 that have links to the MSDN in relation to the objects. Posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7

That’s about it.. hope it helps

Sitting your MS Exam

So previously I did a whole post on preparing for the exam, what about sitting it.

You have booked your Second Shot, booked your exam paid your money, now its down to the crunch. What on earth happens now?

If this is your first exam be sure to take a look at the Exam Question Types demo. What this is, is a collection of the common exam question types. It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with them so that it is one less thing that is new to you when you do your exam. And if its your first exam at a particular level e.g. Pro again take a look at them.

So by this stage you should have a confirmation mail about your exam with the test centre details, your exam details (verify that it is the correct one!).

Onto to arriving at the testing centre. Depending on your testing centre they may have different requirements. So this will be a general overview of the most common practices.

Arrive in plenty of time. Some centres require you to be there at least 20 minutes ahead of the exam scheduled start so that they can get your checked in etc.

Now the following bits are important. Go to the bathroom! Seriously. Some exam centres aren't too good with bathroom breaks and you don't want to be concentrating on that while trying to work out the answer to a question now do you?

You cant bring a lot of stuff into the exam room, actually its nearly nothing. No laptops, pdas, mobile phones etc. There is a countdown timer on the exam in the top corner so you wont need a watch and depending on your watch they may ask you take it off.

Also food and drink. Some exam centres do, some don't. If in doubt ask. The are a couple of reasons for this, hygienic reasons, concentration (doing an exam while someone is eating pungent chips isn't good!) and finally for cheating. Yes, cheating. I wont go too deep into it, but it is a topic that MS are very aware of.

So, now the waiting is over. The exam is starting. The key to it is to read what is in front of you. You will be presented with an NDA you must agree to and the exam will start from then. Also if you are doing some of the development exams, it will ask you which language you want to do it in. Be aware you cannot change this once you confirm it.

You will see the number of questions and the passing mark. No one is aware of the question marking scheme and those that are cant tell you! So don't bother asking.

A handy tip for doing these exams is the following.

Read the answers first. Due to the fact that each question is in itself a small exam i.e. they don't relate to previous questions. So its important to check what they are are expecting before you read the question. It will focus your mind when you read the question to eliminate certain answers quickly leaving you with less of a choice. Remember there is a correct answer.

Keep an eye on your time and you will have a chance to review your question (though if its a test let you will only be able to review for that test let)

Best of luck and if it at first you don’t succeed there is always Second Shot

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Unit Test SPS without WSS

Bit of advertising but hey

Typemock are offering their new product for unit testing SharePoint called Isolator For SharePoint, for a special introduction price. it is the only tool that allows you to unit test SharePoint without a SharePoint server. To learn more click here.

The first 50 bloggers who blog this text in their blog and tell us about it, will get a Full Isolator license, Free. for rules and info click here.

MS Certified Master in MOSS

This one will be a bit of information and also a bit of a rant at the same time.

Microsoft has brought out two new additions to their elite level qualifications in the form of the Microsoft Certified Master: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 or MCM:MOSS and the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) in SharePoint.

Both of these very prestigious certifications require a high level of understanding of the product. Of course there are certain prereqs for each. In the case of the MCM it is the 4 current MCTS based on SharePoint technologies and a number of years experience in MOSS (2 years SPS2003 & 1 year on MOSS).

As part of this cert, there is a 3 week intense training regime comprising of hands on labs, written tests, lab tests and some a lot of work on the part of the candidate. It’s stressful, but it means to make a master of you.

All well and good. It’s a strong cert. Technology focused on both dev and admin sides, enterprise level functionality, best practices and above all deep understanding of the product.

To do all this, you must first fill out an application form with a non refundable fee and include your current resume.

If you are selected, it a program fee of USD18,500 for the course and 3 weeks in Redmond, completely offline due to the amount of time you will spend on this thing.

The MCA requires the MCM as its prereq and there is very little information on it at this time.

Now is the bit of a rant...

If you look at the certification stack that MS is currently using (here) you will see there is a track up from MCTS to MCA.

MS themselves describe it as

Microsoft Certification structure

Technology Series: Specialist certifications train IT professionals in implementation, building, troubleshooting, and debugging of a specific Microsoft technology.

Professional Series: Professional credentials validate the skill set required for a particular job.

Master Series: Master certifications identify individuals with the deepest technical skills available on a particular Microsoft product.

Architect Series: The Certified Architect program makes it easy for companies to identify experienced IT architects who have completed a rigorous peer review process.

So you progress from MCTS to Pro to MCM to MCA. That is the current roadmap. The jump from Pro to MCM is simply massive. It is akin to jumping from high school to PhD in one go.

Even the description of the Master cert, tells you how much they want you to know when you finish. And it’s only a three week course. So you better be just honing your skills in those three weeks rather than trying to learn a whole new set of skills!

I have always wondering why there isn’t an interim certification path to and of the Master certifications.. Apprentice maybe :) There are always 2, the Master and the Apprentice. Donald Trump/Star Wars would have a field day.

Now for the requirements.

Now the MCM MOSS doesn’t have a Pro level requirement. So the jump is even longer. 4 MCTS requirements only. I have 2 of them (both on WSS3.0), and wouldn’t consider myself within an ass' roar of the MCM (an Irish expression, ass being a donkey).

When you look at the MCM requirements for the SQL 2008 track, it is a lot higher. 7 years+ experience on SQL 7.0 and above. 2 Pro level certifications in the form of the MCITP: Database Admin and MCITP: Database Developer a total of 5 exams, 4 of which are Pro level.

It is similar for any of the other MCM level certifications. All of them require a professional exam or more.

I have enquired about professional level certifications for MOSS, both on the developer and admin sides of the house. I was lucky enough to be able to discuss this with Gerry O’Brien from Microsoft at PDC. We had a good conversation about it. This was before the announcement of the MCM for MOSS mind you.

But since that announcement it seems more and more necessary to have one. Purely to provide conformity to the certification roadmap, and also to give those who don’t want to achieve the master level certification, another certification to aim for.

While I am happy there is a now an MCM for MOSS, I am left wondering if it was fully thought out and was it rushed to market to capitalise on the increase in MOSS deployments and solutions worldwide.

Hopefully there will be a push to get the professional level certifications designed and out there and use them as the prerequisite for the MCM.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Preparing for your MS exams

I pop into a few online discussion forums here and there, the main one being the IT Certification forum on

A lot of the topics tend to be on the relative merits of different certifications, where to start etc. Some on are on how to prepare for the exams, the length of time to study and what to study. So to answer these questions I am writing this article on how I do these exams.

NOTE: This works for me, so your mileage may vary on this.

Usually I decide to do an exam when I have been working in the technology for a bit or its one of those technologies that I like working with and want to get more work in. And it also depends on the time of year too. No one likes studying in the summer!

My first step is the Microsoft Learning page for the exam to see what the exam will be based on. For example I am looking at doing the MCTS Team Foundation Server exam at the moment, based on my experience over the last couple of months, PDC and talking to the big guns in the TFS world. So in this case I went to the landing page for the exam which is here

Based on what I see here will define what I do next.

If when I read the requirements and see a whole load of gibberish, I might evaluate my position and decide to wait a bit until I have worked more with the technology. If its looking like I could actually do this, I head to my second step.

Which is, do I really want to do this exam right now?. What is coming up in my work/social/personal life? Do I have the time to commit to it etc. As I have said nobody likes studying in the summer.

So onto step three, guaging readiness. This is possibly the make and break stage for me when it comes to working out how much work I have to put in. Its very easy on the landing page to think I know all that stuff and I will give it a go no study needed!

I go to*) and purchase the test exam if its there for the exam I want to. I take it in test mode, and see how well I score unprepared. If I score high (in or around 90%) I retake the exam with a different question set and take the average. If its still about 90% I will schedule the exam for within a month so that I have a goal to work towards. Dont forget your Second Shot vouchers

If I dont score too well, there are two options.

I look at what I was asked and where I screwed up. If its a case of ok, should have read the question better or I knew that! why did I say X, then I will be able to do the exam, I will just require some more work. I dont book the exam at this point, because I will need to come back in a reasonable amount of time usually 2 weeks and re-evaluate my scores. Again same proceedure, if I score high enough I will schedule the exam etc.

If the questions seem like complete gibberish and I havent a clue what I was looking at, I will take that as a sign that I dont know as much as I thought and decide whether to study or whether I need more practical experience and time to prepare. Normally for me, I will decide to come back in a couple of months and try again.

Taking the practice exam at this stage is a great way to really see where you are at, in relation to the subject matter that is being examined. It is also a good wake up call if you thought you knew everything and the questions seem completely off the wall to you.

After figuring out how much work I need to do, its off to the web to find resources. This is usually blogs, MSDN articles, books and virtual machines to play with. I usually put the exam matrix in Excel at this stage and based on everything on it put a link, page number or task item against it so that I can see where to get the information for that particular item. Its just an advanced form of using a highlighter.

Now regardless of whether I have the exam booked or not, after about 2 weeks study and prep, I will retake the practice exam and check how I am doing. This is a good thing to do, as it hopefully(!!!) show that you are progressing and getting better scores in the exams. If you are going downhill by more than 5 or so percentage points, then see why. Be sure to read the questions kids!

About a week before the exam is scheduled, I will make sure that I have covered all the topics on the exam at least once, if not more and that I am confident enough to actually sit the exam. Last minute revision. couple of more practice tests to get myself in the headspace for the exams and I am done.

After that, its hoping that the effort is enough to pass the exam first time round.

Now with Second Shot, you can do the repeat for free, which is a great comfort. I always think if I dont pass, at least I got a good look at the live questions and can get a better understanding of what the examiners had in mind when they created the test. So if I fail, I can head straight back to the books and get a better understanding of the stuff I fluffed on.

So thats it, no mind bending secret, just good prep and some work. Like anything in life really.

(*) Microsoft regularly run a promotion called Partner Skills+ (PS+) which offers free exams when you are working for a Microsoft Partner. Check with your Partner contact to see if they are availible. Usually found on this page