A Conversation with Bill Wall, MS Director of Certification and Career Excellence, about performance based testing
To begin today’s blog, I need to disclose some shared background and history with Mr. Wall. He’s the guy who developed the Novell Certified Engineer (CNE) program at Novell at the same time that I worked there (from 1987 through 1994) and who developed Novell’s excellent performance based testing for that credential as well as for the Certified Directory Engineer (aka CDE). Suffice it to say that Bill probably knows as much or more than anybody else alive about how to design, build, deliver, and maintain quality performance based testing content (and has probably been doing it longer than anybody else as well, at least outside academia and inside the IT-related certification marketplace).
That’s probably why the first few minutes of our talk together were more like a couple of older and wiser classmates meeting up at a high school reunion, rather than the more typical “skeptical-journalist-meets-IT-vendor-expert” encounter. Nevertheless, a number of interesting items emerged from this conversation, with promises of more such nuggets to come, so I was not only glad to reconnect with a former colleague and respected peer, but also to unearth some items of information that my readers might also appreciate knowing. Here’s a list of noteworthy bits and pieces that I recorded from that conversation:
1. The initial performance-based testing (PBT) target was chosen–namely, exam 70-640 TS: Configuring Windows Server 2008 Active Directory–because it’s among the most popular of all the current MCP exams and represents the strength of Microsoft’s commitment to PBT going forward. Bill called it Microsoft’s “highest-volume” exam, in fact.
2. That said, PBT will not be an across-the-board testing tool/technique. It’s best used on subjects where candidates really do need to show their abilities to solve problems and understand instructions in a real-world situation, and Mr. Wall is pretty keen to keep things that way. Thus, look for more PBT exams to show up for other Windows Server 2008 areas and for Exchange Server, and to see their use increase for the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) program. No specifics nor timetable are available for any of this yet, because the PBT project while two years in getting to its current status, it still very much in the making.
3. When the first PBT goes live later this month, it will be in Ireland, Singapore and Canada only. Look for more sites to gain this exam and PBT capability in 2009, wherein the US won’t be first in that series, nor will it be last, but more than that Mr. Wall was simply unable to say (plans and schedules are not yet completely developed, elaborated, or available).
When I asked Bill how students might tackle preparing for a Microsoft PBT exam, he first opined that the basic preparation process shouldn’t be terribly different from that for other exams. Then he went on to dispense the following really good advice:
1. “Pay attention in class.” Always good advice for test-takers, this reflects the notion that what gets covered in MS training or e-learning classes on specific subjects is very likely to show up on exams as well.
2. “Get some practice time in the lab, and make sure to pick classes or programs that offer such labs.” Indeed, the hands-on component for PBT exams is their very raison d’etre, so whether you build your own lab, or use somebody else’s, time in the lab becomes an essential part of the preparation process.
3. “Take advantage of the ‘Second Shot’ program.” For some time now, Microsoft offers a free retake for those who tackle a cert exam and don’t pass on their first try. Though this will be even more helpful for typically more expensive PBT exams, it’s good advice for any Microsoft cert exam of any kind.
I’m supposed to check back in with Mr. Wall and his gang in mid- to late January 2009 for more PBT exam news. Count on me to do just that, and share what I learn with you here.