Microsoft, do you care …..?

I have recently been revising for and taking a series of three Microsoft exams, namely 70-457, 70-458 and 70-460 which are the three exams required to upgrade my current SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence MCITP to SQL Server 2012 MCSE in Business Intelligence (you also get the MCSA in SQL Server as part of this).

Now I have taken numerous Microsoft exams in the past (SQL Server 2005 and 2008) and have always been disappointed, not with the outcome (I’ve both passed and failed exams), but the quality of the exams and the conditions under which these exams are taken.

I really had high hopes that with SQL Server 2012 things would change for the better with the exams, these high hopes however, have mostly been destroyed after taking the first two of the three exam set I require to do my upgrade, to the point where I am now asking myself, why should I bother?

let me explain

Firstly I’d like to firstly say that yes, some things in this process have improved. The Promteric website where all the tests are booked for example, has had a bit of a face lift and the navigation has improved significantly from the days of old where it felt like a bunch of unconnected web pages cobbled together in one afternoon by a curious high school student. This being said, its still far from perfect.

Also the actual testing software at the test sites has been updated, it has a new look and feel and to be fair is a little less clunky than it was before. There are also some new formats in which questions are asked (some of these are good and some are god awful IMHO Smile). But again its far from perfect.


My First complaint

Before I start this first comment I will add the caveat that I have only ever used one test centre and so my comments may not be indicative of all test centres.

So my first issue is the hardware that is used to host these tests, old Pentium 4 PC’s with I’d imagine nothing more than 1GB or 2GB of RAM, old crappy gunked up mice that jump, tiny old flat screen monitors and just enough space to get a mouse mat right on the edge of the desk. Now the mouse and monitor thing are minor niggles but I wanted to mention them anyway, however the fact these machines are so low spec actually affects the testing process as switching between questions and loading the review stage etc is VERY slow and frustratingly the timer doesn’t appear to stop while these slow loading processes go on.

Note: Please drop me a comment below and let me know what your experiences of the hardware on test sites was like, I’d be interested to see if the site I use is an isolated case (I suspect not)


The Main Event

Now the hardware is annoying and yes it is a hindrance to the test taking, however in my opinion that all pales into obscurity in comparison to the quality of the test it self, or more to the point, the questions and the answers.

Now as I mentioned above there are some new question formats, some are actually ok but others are so stupidly counter intuitive it hurts. Also there are numerous spelling mistakes, typo’s and other grammatical issues and even syntax errors in both the questions answers. These bits may sound pedantic however to a dyslexic such as myself reading the questions takes longer than it should anyway, without having to try and decipher what they actually mean through all the miss spelled words and typo’s etc.

This aside there is also so much ambiguity and poor wording in the the way the questions are posed, in more questions that not, that it is some times difficult to see what the question is actually asking of you.

Again this is annoying but the kicker of all kickers is when a question comes up that, no matter how you could read or interpret it, none of the multiple choice answers they provide are actually correct!! I have had this in both the 2012 exams and the 2008 exams I have taken. Now some of you might be thinking “Ah, you just read the question wrong, stop complaining”, well there might be occurrences where you’re right (even though I always read those questions very slowly and carefully like 15 times) but there are also occurrences that are so blatantly wrong its (almost) laughable, let me give you an example:

(If any MS lawyer types are reading this and thinking of getting me on the NDA Smile, don’t worry this is a loose example based on an actual question I got, please mail me if there’s an issue)

So the question gave a scenario and a requirement and asked “which isolation level should you choose for this scenario”. The four possible answers where something akin to:

  • Create a user defined data type in msdb
  • Create a user defined data type in master database
  • Create a user defined data type in user database
  • Create a user defined data type in user2 database

Clearly, none of these are isolation levels!

Back To My Original Question …

So having gone through all the fact this bring me back to the title of my post, does Microsoft actually give a damm about these qualifications? From the experiences I have had from booking to taking the exams I really have to say no, they don’t give a damm and I can’t see a logical argument to say otherwise.

Yes I know that the 2012 exams are new, fine, but the 2008 ones weren’t when I took them and they where just as bad if not worse. Also, just because they are new doesn’t mean that the level of poor wording, spelling mistakes, typo’s, syntax errors, ambiguity and just plain wrong questions are acceptable. You can’t tell me that if a company of Microsoft’s size and resource actually cared about these things that we’d get exposed to the level of, quite frankly rubbish, that we currently do. Also, that they wouldn’t source a second or replacement testing partner along side the Prometeric’s of this world to offer us a little choice in the matter.

So I get left with the feeling, if they don’t give a crap, why should I? why should any of us? It’s not like these exams are cheap (£99 a pop as it stands at time of writing), so why should we spend our hard earned cash on a half hearted effort by Microsoft?

(Just as a foot note, for anyone thinking it, this is not a post of bitterness due to a failed exam, I have quite happily passed Open-mouthed smile)

I’d be really interested in everyone’s opinion on this, am I being to harsh / picky? What is your experience of these or other Microsoft exams? Drop me a comment below.




4 thoughts on “Microsoft, do you care …..?

  1. I’ve done 4 exams in 4 different test centres (and no I wasn’t banned for lewd behaviour or drinking vodka whilst taking the exam…) and they’ve mostly been bad. 1 was an exception, it was a smart office with reasonably new PCs, good monitors and mice. It was one based in the City of London though…make of that what you will.

    The others have been a mish-mash of building sites and in-use run down technical colleges which just have a small room which they shove all the test candidates in.

    As for the punctuation…don’t me started.

    Ho ho ho.

  2. Aren’t these exams more about making MS partners/marketing types feel better about things than actually proving merit? If so, it’s easy to see why no-one cares about it because it is just pageantry/recreation.

    • Hi Rob, good point. I think yes and no. These exams have been de-valued to certain extent by people cheating using brain dump sites etc, so in that why they are little in the way of proving merit etc.

      This being said they are pre-requisites for the qualifications that actually do mean something, namely the MCM and MCA (or MCSM in 2012)

      And then there’s the unfortunate reality that pageantry has a solid place in the sales techniques, especially when you’re selling services such a consultancy.

      Good points, thanks for your post 🙂

      • I’ve done quite a few exams in my time, and the testing centres have been uniformly grim.

        Remember though, they get paid next to nothing for administering tests, I think it’s less than a tenner per candidate, so the real reason they do testing is to flog places on their A+ / MCSA / etc courses.

        I assume that you, like me, don’t really fit their target demographic, so we’re basically a money-losing proposition for the test centre – I generally try to cut them some slack on this basis.

        Regarding the value of the MCITP/MCSE certifications in general, I rationalise these as a box-ticking exercise.

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