Four MCSE Study Guides for Self-Study

HANDS ON

A common roadblock to MCSE certification is the price tag. Even using a conservative estimate of $1,500 per class means that certification could conceivably carry a $9,600 ticket price if you consider the cost of the six exams and assume that you pass them all on the first try. Most companies simply are not willing to shell out this kind of money on your behalf, especially considering that at least a few of your comrades are likely to line up right behind you.

An alternative to prep courses is self-study. If you are disciplined, self-study can be a great way to get certified. However, there are myriad self-study guides, ranging from full-blown textbooks complete with CD-ROMs, to simple practice exams.

For this review, we took a look at the four-volume core MCSE series published by Osborne/McGraw Hill publishing. The core volumes cover topics found in the exams for Windows NT Workstation 4.0, Windows NT Server, Windows NT Server 4.0 in the Enterprise, and Networking Essentials.

All four volumes are consistent in structure. Each of the volumes is broken into the same categories: Certification Summary, Two-minute Drills, Exam Watch, From the Classroom and How to Take the Exam.

The Certification Summary section lists specific exam points on which readers may want to brush up before taking an exam. We found the inclusion of points that test-takers often overlook in their studies to be especially useful.

Two-minute Drills are quick summaries of the chapters. Reviewing these along with the certification summaries and the end-of-chapter review questions provides a great pre-exam refresher before setting foot into the testing center.

Exam Watch includes reminders of points that are covered by the book. For example, the Windows NT Server 4.0 in the Enterprise volume provides Exam Watch points regarding the importance of understanding how trust relationships work. The Enterprise exam, particularly, will pound you with trust questions.

From the Classroom includes real-life examples of issues commonly addressed by instructors from Global Knowledge Network Inc. (Burlington, Mass., www.globalknowledge.com), an independent IT training company and partner in these study guides. This section emphasizes topics that bubble to the surface as being the most confusing and merit extra attention.

In How to Take the Exam, we found the usual babble of pre-exam tips and hints. These reminders are as good as any, but sections like this are so common that they are quickly becoming boilerplates. The section is bone dry, but it never hurts to review this sort of thing, and no good study guide would be complete without it.

Each volume follows the exam it covers very closely. We appreciated the chapters devoted to NetWare connectivity in the Windows NT Workstation 4.0 and Windows NT Server 4.0 in the Enterprise volumes. A couple of the MCSE exams are loaded with NetWare connectivity questions, so it's not a topic that can be taken casually.

Points are presented in easily digestible chunks. Major points are addressed in discrete units called Certification Objectives. We found it easy to get a good, clear explanation of a topic simply by reading the section. The language is straightforward, and not condescending or full of techno mumbo jumbo. For instance, there is a clear discussion on the often confusing subject of domains and trusts in the Windows NT 4.0 Server and Windows NT 4.0 Server in the Enterprise volumes.

Each chapter ends with a healthy dose of review questions. The accompanying CD-ROMs are filled with sample tests from five vendors: Self Test Software Inc. (Roswell, Ga., www.stsware.com), Beach Front Quizzer (Friendswood, Texas, www.bfq.com), Transcender Corp. (Nashville, Tenn., www.transcender.com) VFX Technologies Inc. (Valley Forge, Pa., www.vfxtech.com) and Microhard Technologies Inc. (Oak Brook, Ill., www.microhard.com) provide real-life exam situations. While the sample exams are good, you might want to order the full-blown set of questions from the vendor you like best.

The CDs are the equivalent of a searchable book and self-study, which enables users to make their studying really effective. Review questions on the CDs link back to the text. Perhaps the biggest detriment to learning is that only the correct answer can be selected when working from the CD. The wrong answers appear as text, but are not links. Thus, every answer is a dead giveaway, removing the challenge from the self-study. Hopefully this glitch will be fixed in a future release of the CD-ROM.

We found the MCSE preparation series to be comprehensive and clear. And at a retail price of $49.99 per volume, it deserves to be a weapon in the arsenal of anyone hunting for MCSE certification.

Windows NT MCSE Study Guides
Osborne/McGraw-Hill
Berkeley, Calif.
(510) 549-6600
www.osborne.com
+ Comprehensive exam coverage.
+ Electronic book on CD-ROM.
+ Nice price.
- Electronic self-study should be more challenging.