Microsoft Second Shot is back again for 2010

After a very long wait (and some said it might never happen), Microsoft have reintroduced their Second Shot campaign so that you can register to take an exam and if you fail you get a second chance to do a free retake. You register with Prometric,  then they email you a code. You use this voucher code when you register online to take your chosen exam, for which you pay the normal fee (or reduced rate for students, if applicable). Last time round you could not use second shot and a discount voucher (eg one from a Self-paced training kit) since you can only put in one code. Once I actually get a breathing space to take an exam (things are pretty busy right now) I’ll update to let you know if this is still the case.

Offer details:
Dates: January 13, 2010 – June 30, 2010.

Details: You must register, obtain a voucher code, schedule, pay, and take the first and (if necessary) the retake exam before June 30, 2010.

Applicable exams: This offer applies to all Microsoft Learning IT professional, developer, project management, and Microsoft Dynamics exams, including academic exams. Visit the Learning Catalog and search for your next exam

Eligible countries and regions: This is a worldwide offer that is available at Prometric test centers only.

Note Only one Second Shot voucher is available per purchased exam.

Notice that the deadline for taking the first time and retake is the same – June 30th 2010. Previously the first exam had an earlier deadline and the retake had an extra month or so if you were taking one.

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Passed 70-291 to become MCSA:Messaging

“Implementing, Managing, and Maintaining a Windows 2003 server Network Infrastructure”, also known as The Beast has been slain.
Turned out to be a cuddly bunny rather than a beast (a bit like the end of Monty Python’s holy grail only in reverse).

I had put this off for so long because I thought I was weak on a couple of areas and needed some polish, and since everyone says it is one of the hardest I wanted to be sure to nail it.
But I was in the exam centre on Friday anyway (taking my CRM Applications exam MB2-632, also nailed) and I had second shot to back me up, so I figured “what the hell, even if I fail majestically at least I will know much more accurately what to expect on this one next time”.

So I waltzed away with 889 in a shade under half the time available (105 minutes out of 215 – I know some do better than that but I was well pleased with the result). Finally gave me my MCSA:Messaging and only two more to go (293 and 294) to MCSE.

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Microsoft Certified Application Specialist times five

MCAS logo 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.

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Microsoft second shot exam offer back again for 2008

It seems that Microsoft have listened to the community and brought back their Second Shot offer much earlier than most people expected. Previously this seemed to run only once each year (albeit for several months at a time), and the last one only closed for taking exams the first time round at the end of May and the retakes by the end of June. Re-opening this in August 2008 and leaving it open right through to June 2009 seems to indicate that this will effectively become a permanent fixture, but you can’t just roll your retakes forward forever, you will have to use the second chance within the year-long programme, which seems perfectly fair.

The same launch page is being used as last time, although until today this was not live for the new offer and still showed the old information.

Microsoft Second Shot Exam Offer 2008

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How Microsoft protects value of certifications against cheats and braindumps

Anyone who holds a Microsoft certificate or is thinking of taking one may sometimes wonder how much value there is in this piece of paper in terms of salary or expectation of finding a job in the first place. One way is to look at how many people share your qualifications although this does not tell you if any of those people are “paper MCSEs” who do not really have the depth of knowledge and experience it would normally require. People cheat in all kinds of ways to get some letters after their names, most notoriously using “braindumps” of genuine test questions and simply learning the correct answers rather than understanding why these are right. Even on exams with some simulations, this rote-learning technique buys a cheat more time to spend on the sims by answering the multiple choice questions in hardly any time at all. Microsoft claim to be working hard to eliminate cheating of all kinds as far as possible, and you can join in a Live Meeting to find out more about this here: MCP Live Meeting: Redmond CSI: Anti-piracy and Microsoft Certification

Certification fraud is big business and a serious threat to the value of Microsoft certification exams. Cheaters, braindumps, and sometimes even the actions of your well-intentioned peers can damage the reputation of your hard-earned Microsoft credential. Come to this session to learn what Microsoft is doing to protect your certifications from braindump providers, proxy test-takers, and score-report fakers. You’ll hear how technical innovations in the exams themselves, our piracy teams, and YOU are helping to reduce cheating in the world of Microsoft certification.

This meeting will be offered twice to accommodate worldwide calendars

This online event is on June 25th 2008 at 7:30 am Pacific time (What time is this in my region?) and later at 5:00 pm Pacific (What time is this where I am?) – use the online registration button at the top of the page to register for either of the two sessions.

Thanks to Trikah for the heads up.

Great keyboard shortcuts from the Visio Guy

I love using keyboard shortcuts to work more efficiently, especially compared to using the trackpad on my laptop in a cramped or shaky environment like on a bus or when I’m driving (joke!)

I’m currently in the process of updating my shortcut key handouts which I give out to delegates on my MS Office training courses. I’m always finding new key combinations to use, but I try to make sure I teach people the most useful ones based on three criteria:

  1. Does this shortcut do something genuinely useful which people need to do frequently or repetitively?
  2. Is the key combination easily memorable? (Ctrl-B is fine, but Ctrl-Shift-Alt-F7 is less easy to recall when you need it!)
  3. How ‘standard’ is the shortcut across different applications, especially within MS Office?

Visio is an application I use quite a lot but would not really consider myself a “power user” (I don’t create and edit my own shapes, for example). I find it really straightforward to use and great for doing office layout plans, network schematics, and data or process flow diagrams. However, I was amazed to see how many keyboard shortcuts and keyboard / mouse combinations I was missing out on when I read this article yesterday over at the Visio Guy blog:

Work Faster With Our Top Visio Keyboard Shortcuts

Some of these I was already using as they are the same or similar in other applications, but I could have saved myself loads of time over the years if I had known how to do this to draw out a region to zoom to:

Zoom to Region: Ctrl + Shift + Left Mouse-drag

You can specify exactly where you want to zoom with this command. Press the Ctrl + Shift keys together, then hold the left mouse button. You can now drag a net around the area that you want to zoom. Visio will fill the window with the region that you specify.

What are your favourite shortcuts for getting round applications more quickly?

Why IT design skills are important, and how to measure them

The comments on my earlier post about the MS Security Design exam 70-298 prompted me to add some more general thoughts.

I agree with the comment made that the design exams do generally seem easier in some respects than the straight technical ones, as you don’t need to know the same level of detail of exactly how to do something in terms of making choices in a dialogue box.

On the other hand, the MS design exams do expect you to be able to take in, digest and interpret a load of business and technical requirements (some of the latter may only be implied from the former, some will be explicitly stated). The breadth of this is where the challenge lies in the real world, although the exam will often lead you in the right direction, rather than a blank sheet of paper on which to write an IT security plan. The nature of a computer-based exam does not lend itself to open questions; it would be very hard to make any kind of meaningful sense out of your answer to “How would you improve the security of the data for this organisation? (answer in no more than 200 words)”.

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Passed 70-298 "Designing Security for a Windows 2003 Network"

This morning I took and passed Microsoft exam 70-298 “Designing Security for a Windows 2003 Network”. Having not taken one of these scenario-style design exams before, I was a little cautious even though I was fairly confident of my knowledge of the material.

The first section had 11 questions which was great as I had made loads of notes from the provided fictional case studies, and I sailed through with loads of time to spare. Unfortunately the format of these exams is that the time for each part is independent, so you don’t get to carry any spare time to the next set of questions and use it there. I had a couple of shorter sections where I maybe spent too long reading the materials and answered the last question with seconds to spare.

Overall I found this style of exam to be right up my street; taking in lots of information in a very short time and then applying my technical knowledge to this to come up with solutions to the business issues. Despite the rushed time on a couple of questions I came away with my best score to date on a Microsoft MCP exam, and won’t need to use my second chance to take this.

How do you find these design exams compare to the ‘normal’ technical ones?

Microsoft Exams free second chance offer

Soon you will be able to get a free second shot to pass a Microsoft exam. They have run this kind of offer before and it always seems really popular.

Basically, you register for the deal with Microsoft, which gets you a voucher number. You then use this voucher number when you register and pay for your exam on the Prometric site as usual. If you fail the exam when you take it you can re-register to take the same exam again in a fixed timeframe.

The offer should be available from September 15th until January 31st, though whether that end-date is for the first try or your second attempt is not clear yet.

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Microsoft Licensing Sales Specialist exams changing

Thanks to Susanne for the heads up that the Microsoft MLSS and MLSE accreditations are about to change.

I renewed my Licensing Sales Specialist accreditation in May, but had not got round to taking the other five modules to become a MSLE. I’ve done two of them today and hope to get through the rest this week, in plenty of time to avoid the 11th September deadline.

It will be interesting to see how the new model works, but at least this way I will be able to use the accreditation for a year before I have to renew my qualification.

Why I’m using Foxit reader for Acrobat PDF files

For a while I had been reading good things about Foxit Software’s tools for reading, creating and editing PDF files, but never bothered to actually try them out. I recently switched from using Adobe’s Acrobat reader when I finally got fed up with the oversized, bloated product and it’s constant nagging to go off and update itself online (especially since this causes a UAC prompt on Vista). I used to dig around and kill off the update functionality, but enough was enough – why should I have to struggle to try to make the software behave how I want when it might just be easier to switch to a different product.

So, after a very quick download of the 3MB installation file and a simple, no frills installation, I was ready to go. Compare this with the vast and unnecessary 21MB of Adobe’s Acrobat reader – and don’t get me started on the fact that they force me to first download a download manager before I can finally download the actual setup file, when I could have just used my several highly competent browser plugins to get the install files so much quicker. Foxit also comes as an MSI – so much easier than Adobe’s EXE file when it comes to deployment using standard tools such as Group Policy Software Installation (GPSI) or scripts. These download sizes are reflected in the relative amounts of memory consumed by these two products when opening files to view.

Why do I care about my PDF file reader so much? Well, I actually use PDFs fairly extensively for storing “read-only” copies of my own documents, which I then want to access, print, share or publish as easily as possible.

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How many people share your Microsoft qualifications?

When I am revising hard to pass my various exams I often get asked by friends and family “so what exactly does this qualification mean?”

The implied question is “how special is this?” or “how many millions of others already have one of these?” to which I never had an answer because Microsoft never provided one.

Now I can answer these questions as Microsoft have posted a page listing all the major technical qualifications such as MCP, MCSA, MCSE, MCSD and MCDST along with the number of people who hold each one. Obviously some people get counted several times for their MCP, MCSA and MCSE (for example), but it is still a useful indication of how you compare to others. They have said this page will be updated monthly, and should soon include all the new Vista and Exchange 2007 MCITP stuff.

As things stand at the moment this means that when I pass my 70-291 (hopefully very soon) I will be one of about 42,000 people in the world with an MCSA:Messaging (2003).

I’m not sure how special that makes me feel, but it is certainly a step up from being one-in-two-million vanilla MCPs.

Ceci n’est pas une brand

One of the training courses I run is about producing and delivering better PowerPoint presentations. This looks at ways to avoid Death by PowerPoint by using well-crafted, visually attractive slides to provide maximum impact and increase audience understanding and information retention.

In a future blog post I might collect some thoughts together around that topic, but for now I thought I would link to a pretty good example. Given that this is a slideshow with no presenter, there is text accompanying pictures which would not necessarily be the case if it was speaker-driven. However, it is still a great example of visual impact to deliver a strong message.

Notice that because of the limitations of SlideShare (and good taste on the part of the designer) there are no animations, no builds, just pure, simple, accessible slides. One of the disciplines I ask my course delegates to adopt is to print their slide deck in black and white, 6 slides to a page. Only if their slides are readable and make sense (and have impact) in this format will they be successful for a presentation. Maybe my new discipline should be “post it to SlideShare” which has similar limitations of size* and lack of animation .

*I know you can view it in full-screen mode but many people won’t do this, and those that do often want to see if the first couple of slides draw them in before doing that.

The Brand Gap Presentation is also an interesting insight into the topic of branding and marketing, which is often a theme which comes into choice of presentation style and touches on some of the areas I teach.

Your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.

Huge PowerPoint files and how to avoid them

I have used PowerPoint for many years in a variety of job roles and it never ceases to amaze me that other people are able to create presentations which are, quite frankly, vast in their file sizes. There are several reasons for this, but the underlying problem is twofold:

a) users don’t think about file size until it is too late (when they realise they can’t email it, nor fit it on their memory stick nor even burn it to a single CD)

b) they don’t know how to avoid or fix the problem even if they did think about it

This means that many common causes of over-sized files go unchecked, files are used and re-used, and by the time you see there is a problem you have a huge clearing up job to do. Much better to tackle the issue at the source – when creating your presentation in the first place.

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Free IT training – TCP/IP, Cisco, CompTIA

Train Signal have some free videos available to watch online as a demonstration of their training course content. These are also useful as refreshers on certain topics (especially if you have an exam coming up!)

Interestingly the prepared lesson sections (as distinct from demonstrations) are done using Microsoft OneNote, with the trainer writing and drawing directly on the page, rather the ubiquitous PowerPoint.

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Passed Microsoft Exchange 70-284 exam

Today I passed 70-284 Exchange Admin exam after a judicious bit of self study (and several years of looking after Exchange 2000 and 2003).

I found one particularly useful site worthy of being given the credit for some great Microsoft exam cramming notes – all for free and completely altruistic. That in itself makes me feel there is still some good in the world, the fact that it helped me to pass is just a bonus.