Microsoft Certified Application Specialist times five
August 16, 2008 4 Comments
I took five MCAS exams on Friday and passed them all. Some were easier than others, as always, but overall I found them a lot less stressful than when I took four on the same day to get the Microsoft Office Specialist:Master qualification.
Overall I like the way the Office exams work – the real application (minus the help!) running in the top half, and the questions at the bottom. Each question has a few tasks to complete, and you are measured on the end result, not how you got there.
This is a much better test of real-world ability to use the software than any multiple-choice questions can ever hope to be. Yes, it means that you could take a few wrong turns, and click on some irrelevant buttons before finding the thing you were looking for, but you can do that in real life too. The exam is limited to 50 minutes, so you can only afford to do this on a handful of questions, and you need to be able to make up the time on other questions by reading it once and going straight to the correct feature or function.
For the MOS 2003 exams I had a few minutes to spare for every subject except Excel where I had to rush the last question in the last few seconds. This time round I finished all of them early, and Excel had the fewest questions and left me the most remaining time -19 minutes out of the 50 allowed, the rest between 11 and 15. The Outlook exam had a few technical hitches: in three scenarios, things which were referred to in the questions simply did not exist in the mock environment provided, but using the “reset” feature in each case reloaded and everything was fixed. Frustrating, but at least the reset button did the trick, so bear this in mind if you run into similar problems.
The Word, Excel and PowerPoint exams had several questions using the new formatting tools – style galleries, themes, colour schemes were all covered, as you would expect since these are the backbone of the new approach to making richer, more visual documents. MS also want to make sure you got the hang of using the options for making documents more secure and collaborating with colleagues – make sure you know how to prepare a document by stripping out metadata, protect a sheet/book in Excel, mark a file as final, manage comments and track changes. Outlook did not really have any surprises, and covered the whole breadth of email, contacts, calendaring, tasks, and the options to customise the environment (things like signatures and email format).
I felt all the Office exams were a little bit biased towards the new features, when you consider the overall breadth of the applications. As an upgrade from MOS 2000 or 2003 this would make sense, but someone taking a Microsoft application exam for the first time might be frustrated when they are not asked anything to test their knowledge of lots of other core areas. I only had two very simple tasks to do with charts, for example, which is hardly stretching their capabilities (of course you could get 20 in-depth chart questions, since every exam is different). At least I had some questions on Excel formulas this time, for the MOS exam I had none at all – which just shows how varied the exams can be, I suppose.
MCAS Vista is a slightly different exam format, using a simulation environment closer in style to the MCP technical exams than the Office ones. This means that you often can’t do things in many different ways, which allows you to quickly realise when you have tried an incorrect option as you get an error saying that feature is not available in the simulation. The simulation takes a few seconds to reload in between questions, but the clock stops during this period. Again, the best way to get through the exam in the time will always be to know the subject thoroughly so you can go straight to the right answer.
On the Vista exam there were also some straight multiple choice questions, which were generally quick to complete, but I guess they represent fewer marks than the tasks which have several steps to them. A couple of questions nearly caught me out as they referred to functionality which would be very different in a domain environment than in a workgroup network. Just be aware that this exam is geared more towards end users, home enthusiasts and people in smaller businesses who look after the systems in addition to their main job. If you are an IT support professional, then this could still be a suitable qualification, but it is more likely that the Vista Technical Specialist (MCTS exam 70-620) will be more relevant to your needs.