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Nov 26 2012   3:43PM GMT

Good News, Bad News: MS Changes Beta Regime for Cert Exams

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Upon checking in with the MS Learning Born to Learn blog this morning, I discovered a 19 November post from Psychometrician and Cert Exam Maven Liberty Munson entitled “Everything You Wanted to Know about Beta Exams: Part 2 (Beta Availability).” It includes some extremely interesting news that led me straight to my own tongue-in-cheek title for today’s blog post from yours truly. Revealing the punchline will take a little explaining, so please bear with me. Here’s the nub of what’s going on, quoted verbatim from Ms. Munson’s post: “…given the limited number of free beta seats and the overwhelming demand for some technologies, we have decided to leave beta exams in market until the [final, republished] exam is live.” In other words, it used to be the case that you had to get an invite from Microsoft to participate in a beta exam, but when you did get such an invite, the exam was free. Now, you can take the beta exam right up until the final polished version goes live, but you have to pay for it just like any other Microsoft exam (which is usually $150 in the US, or equivalent in other currencies outside the US where applicable).

[Business image: Shutterstock 48434181]

[Business image: Shutterstock 48434181]

The good news, bad news part is best understood as follows:

  • The primary purpose of a beta exam is to distinguish statistically significant questions from statistically insignificant ones, where those that fall in the first category distinguish those who know their stuff from those who don’t in a measurable way, and those that fall in the second category are either too hard (nobody gets them right) or too easy (everybody gets them right) to be counted. Thus, some percentage of questions you will answer on a beta exam won’t contribute to your score.
  • Any number of questions that appear on the beta will be stricken from the final, polished version of the exam that gets a 70-xxx exam number (beta exams are numbered 71-xxx). Munson’s blog mention that questions may be stricken “…because they are psychometrically unsound, unclear/ambiguous, or technically inaccurate…” This means you’ll want to be ready for a wider range of weirdness than usual, when you sit down to take a beta exam as opposed to a published and polished one.
  • If you take the beta exam for a fee, but early in the post-free period while the results are being analyzed and tabulated, cut scores determined, good questions kept in and bad ones tossed out, you still have to wait quite a while to get your exam results (almost as long, in fact, as those who took the free beta, and for the same reasons).

Nevertheless, for those who want or need to get in on certification as early as possible when and as new exams appear, I believe this is mostly a good news scenario, simply because it accelerates the time-frame during which you can attempt — and possibly even get credit for — hot new topics as they make their debuts. Certainly for folks like me who write about cert exams, this is great news, because if we can sit for a beta exam it tells us a lot more about what the exam developers are thinking a lot sooner than waiting to take the cleaned-up version once it is released. And with many Exam Crams and other study guides seeking to hit the market as close to exam release dates as possible, this is a real boon to folks who make their livings by helping exam candidates learn and understand necessary concepts, tools, and technologies to help them prepare for the final version when it hits the streets.

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