One student’s journey to a successful Win2K Pro exam

Week One
My materials are:

I have a moderate amount of experience with the product coming into this exam. Not as much as I had with NT 4.0 when I did that certification, but I've been using Win2K. I've run a Web server from it, and I've run an FTP server from it. There are bits I've drilled down into, and stuff in the course of everyday use that I haven't touched. I've used RAS extensively. So some of this should be a no-brainer. But compared to the requirements of the exam, I'm assuming that my experience is a little spotty.

I'd like to sit the exam sometime around August 24. That afternoon, I’ll have my cable modem installed, so I might as well make use of the day and sit the exam then as well. I don't think I'm being unrealistic, but only time will tell.

My official study to date has been reading through the Microsoft training kit and Minasi's Win2K book.

Next week, I hope to tell you what I think of them as study guides.

Week Two
I spent this week reading and playing. I'm using the MCSE Training Kit for the Win2K Pro exam as my base. I then use Minasi's books and the MS Win2K Server Resource Kit to expand upon those concepts that don't come across particularly clearly in my studies.

As always, it’s good to have several Win2K Pro boxes handy to play around with stuff that I hadn't come into contact with through day-to-day use. I’ve been idly wondering when we will start to see Web pages devoted to "geekiest MMC layouts." I can definitely see how this feature will be very useful in day-to-day administration and, because I hadn't done much reading on it, it wasn't something that had really come to my attention until now.

I've also been comparing, in my mind, the differences between this exam and its NT 4.0 equivalent, Workstation. This exam definitely appears more challenging. I'm sure part of that has to do with the fact that when I took the Workstation exam, I'd had 3 years’ experience with the product, as opposed to 9 or 10 months’ experience with Win2K. My Workstation experience had been in a far more "production" environment (in my case, 3 labs of 25 Workstation computers) whereas I haven't been in a similar situation with Win2K Pro.

I'd like to take my exam on August 24. It’s hard to tell whether that deadline is completely reasonable given the workload of adapting to a new job and dealing with all of the things that need to be done around here in a systems administration capacity. Not only have I been studying Win2K Pro, but I've also been coming to terms with BSDI and Bind and Sendmail as configured by the Gauntlet firewall. Perhaps what someone said to me once is true: A good systems administrator has his or her nose buried in a book half the time. It sure feels like it this week.

The final thing that has become obvious to me in the last week is what an amazing achievement it will be for people to pass the Microsoft upgrade exam. I’m having trouble coming to terms with the amount of material just necessary for this one exam. Doing the equivalent of four at once seems to be rather brave indeed. It will be interesting to see how that turns out in the next few months.

So, more reading, and I think I'll start going through the Questions of the Day that I've archived from this site. Maybe I’ll try a few of those practice exams.

Week Three
"Do or do not. There is no try."

I remember muttering this to myself before I went into my CCDA exam. (That was the last exam I took, and the one I was pretty sure I failed. I still occasionally glance at the results suspiciously.)

I'm feeling rather ambivalent about sitting Win2K Pro tomorrow. OK, so I know that my networking is probably up to scratch and I've been using the darn product for 7 months and I know what a PXE network card is and even have developed funky acronyms to remember stuff like LSDOU (group policies, by the way—Local, Site, Domain, Org Unit—just think about the 60s; group policies—whoa, man, what a trip).

But this is a big unknown, and as always, I feel a little tense about it.

The nice thing about all these study kits is having most of the material reproduced on CD-ROM. So at any time one of my computers might have Minasi, TechNet, Resource Kit and Study Guide pages open.

Part of my tenseness is perhaps that I'm not as afraid of this one as the last one. I'm worried that after passing my CCDA I've become a little cocky about the whole thing. This shouldn't be as hard as that. But have I studied hard enough?

Pre-exam nervousness, I suppose. Also, being one of the tutors of the Win2K Pro forum—it would be pretty silly for me to fail the darn exam.

Tell you all how it turns out tomorrow.

The Next Day
Well, I went into Drake in the City of Melbourne at about 9:00 A.M. And by about 10:15 A.M., I was an MCP in Win2K Pro.

My feeling after taking this exam is that the difficulty of the new Win2K exams—if this one served as a benchmark—is perhaps overrated. Perhaps as difficult as SITE. Then again, this is only the Workstation exam, which was in the NT 4.0 track, perhaps the least difficult exam to face.

I didn't really find the questions that long, nor did they appear to require more than basic reading comprehension skills. The reports of requiring the ability to analyze complex tracts of text are, in my opinion, overrated. The Cisco exams, especially CCDA, make my fears about this exam evaporate about 10 questions in. That doesn't mean I got my near-perfect score—but I did pass by a comfortable margin (less than Silent Bob, though, I'm afraid).

Perhaps the difference can be summed up as having to know how many of the pieces fit together. Rather than just answering a simple question, you need to integrate several bits of knowledge to answer a question.

If you've done your MCSE already, bought the Win2K Server Resource Kit, the training kit, and Minasi's kit, read the exam objectives, and perhaps even consulted the Cram Session as well as doing the Questions of the Day, you should pass. If you have Cisco behind you, you'll probably do even better.

The biggest difference will be for people sitting this stuff for the first time. It isn't such a leap from MCSE/CCNA/CCDA to Win2K Pro. But if you are starting with Win2K Pro, you are probably going to need to be a great student.

Simply put, this exam will not solve the "paper MCSE" problem. It might alleviate it somewhat. But without simulations, in my opinion at least, the need for hands-on experience with this exam is overrated—which I think is bad because in the end that is what we really want candidates to have.

Maybe the Win2K Server exam will be different.