Anybody who’s followed the IT certification game for any length of time is aware of two basic types of tests used to assess candidate skills and knowledge: static, question-and-answer testing and dynamic, performance-based testing. For the former, you sit down in front of a screen or face a piece of paper, and work your way through a series of questions, mostly multiple-choice questions of some kind. For the latter, you sit down in front of a real or simulated runtime environment and complete a series of assigned tasks by manipulating the environment in front of you.
Most education experts believe that performance based testing returns more accurate results when it comes to assessing candidate skills and knowledge, because they require working knowledge of and skills with actual interfaces, situations, and scenarios rather than relying on the candidate’s ability to remember specific questions, topics, terminology and strategy. That said, performance based testing remains in the minority for many certification programs–including Microsoft’s–because of the increased difficulty, effort, and expense involved in crafting and scoring performance based exams that are both good and meaningful. Novell pioneered this technique of testing (as it introduced so many IT cert innovations) and continues to use it; today the best-known practitioner is probably RedHat whose RHCE and RHCT are performance-based and highly regarded.
Microsoft has finally dipped a toe into these waters with a no-credit, test-phase remake of its 70-640 “Configuring Active Directory” in the form of the 70-113 exam that is itself peformance-based. Thanks to virtualization technology, test takers get their own AD domains and servers to mess around with (and mess up, if that’s how things turn out), and are allowed to fix or implement things in their own way.
What’s interesting is that this exam has been available to the general public for free since June, and has just been extended from its recently-current end date of 10/30/2008 to a new end date of 12/17/2008. Interestingly, Microsoft is still offering “the first 3,000″ test-takers 3 free Microsoft exam vouchers in exchange for their participation and feedback (they otherwise get no credit for this exam, because it isn’t yet scored and thus doesn’t function like a regular beta). Given that the exam has been out for 4 months and MS is still reaching for that 3,000 goal tells me that the MS cert population may not be as excited about performance based testing as they could or should be (it almost always helps to increase the value of the credentials for those who earn them, but also almost always increases failure rates as well).
For Andy Barkl’s impressions of this exam see his CertCities.com article: “Windows Server 2008 Exam: Performing Under Pressure.” For the Microsoft page on this exam, with necessary access and sign-up info, see this MSDN Blogs page “Register for New Performance Based Testing Pilot Exam 70-113…”