We’ve grouped tips into the following categories:

Where to Begin?
Don’t Go It Alone
Winning Prep Methods
Hot Web Sites
Books, Books, Books
Favorite General Resources
The Value of Practice Exams
For MCSDs Only
Tips and Techniques
On a Budget?
On Exam Day

What helps MCPs get certified? Is it a book, a Web site, a course, a study method, a friend, a certain exam simulation product, or all that plus wearing your lucky underwear on exam day that brings it all together?

Here’s a wealth of suggestions from your peers on how to get focused, stay focused, and earn your title.

In preparation for this issue, we asked our favorite contributing editors and writers, along with visitors to our Web site, to tell us their very best tips for getting certified. From the MCP who studies in L.A. traffic to the MCSE who assigned subnet numbers to his family and friends, here are our top 101 tips to get you started (or keep you going) on your trek to certification success. We hope this helps you cross whatever finish line you’ve set for yourself. Good luck!

Where to Begin?

1. Although you can take the exams in any order, Networking Essentials and Windows 95 are good starting points. You'll then have your Product Specialist certification. After Net Essentials and Windows 95, take NT Workstation, NT Server, and NT Server in the Enterprise. The NT exams provide the foundation for every other exam. —Ed Williamson, MCSE

2. I suggest taking the MCSE exams in the following order: Networking Essentials, then NT Server or Workstation. (This is a draw, since those two need each other. Whichever you take first, you’ll find answers as you’re studying for the second that you’ll wish you’d had for the previous exam.) Then take NT in the Enterprise, TCP/IP, and IIS 3.0. —Jennifer Marsh, MCSE

3.There are some natural progressions with the MCSE electives. I suggest you first take TCP/IP, then IIS/Index Server, then either Proxy Server or SQL Server Admin, then SQL Server Implementation, then SMS. The first ones set you up for success on the later ones.—Ed Williamson, MCSE

Don’t Go It Alone

4. I found it extremely helpful to study with my co-workers. We sent each other e-mail pop quizzes and studied difficult problems after work. It helps if you have different strengths and weaknesses.—Sarah Sund, MCSE

5. A group of seven friends with a variety of experiences in networking meets at a local coffee shop twice weekly. We use various training options and enhance that with our discussions. I wouldn’t try the certification path without this group. It’s invaluable from a motivational standpoint alone.—Susan Smith

6. Have someone in the field to study with and go to for help on tough areas.—Ignacio “Luke” Salazar, MCP

7. I try to find someone who has recently taken the exam and pick his or her brain on what I should study.—Erin Dunigan, MCSE, MCT

8. The best help comes from helping others. If you can talk someone through how to do something, then make it work for them, you should do well on the exams.—Patrick Strack, MCP

9. Here’s the strategy I used for all four of my MCSD exams. I worked with a colleague who was strong in databases. I, on the other hand, was stronger in operating system topics. We studied independently, but we discussed things we didn’t fully understand. We shared good articles, books, or other reference material. We pushed and motivated each other throughout. It was a team effort. Together, we achieved more than we would have individually.—Steven Gould, MCSD

So How Do You Get Experience?

We get a lot of mail at the magazine like this letter:

Sent: Friday, March 27, 1998 3:15 PM
Subject: How do I get experience?

I’m currently enrolled in an ATEC to train to be an MCSE. What I won’t have when I’m certified is job experience. I know it would be asking a lot of an employer to hire me untested in the job market. Do you have any suggestions on how I might get my foot in the door at a company where I might get the necessary experience?

Thanks, Michael L.

We posed Michael’s question to experts, friends, forum visitors, and technical family members. Here are 16 ways they suggested to get experience that you can turn around and promote to a potential employer.

1. Do volunteer work for a non-profit group.—Ken Getz
2. Pick a project that you need in your own life, then implement it, and write it up as experience on your resume: “Designed and wrote an accounts receivable module in Visual Basic.”—Ken Getz
3. Volunteer at a friend’s business: “Migrated a seven-person NetWare network to NT 4.0.”—Mike Gunderloy
4. Find something in your company that needs automating and do it. One well-known developer wrote his school’s scheduling program, then left teaching to become a programmer.
5. If you’re in school, become buddies with your teachers. They’ll often have leads on entry-level jobs.—Mike Gilbert
6. Write articles for magazines in your area of expertise. Many technical publications have a voracious appetite for reviewers. Get in touch with the editors and offer your services.
7. Answer questions diligently (and accurately) in newsgroups and you’ll eventually be discovered. Somebody will recognize your value and offer you paying work.—Mike Gunderloy
8. Get the experience, even if it’s a part-time entry-level job. Work weekends or evenings for as long as it takes, or until you reach burn-out.— Steve Kleine
9. Even though resellers are becoming scarce, they’re a good place to get a start. Also, try companies that are factory-authorized repair firms. You get to start at the bottom and see what makes PCs tick.—Shane O’Donley
10. Start at a temporary agency doing contract work.
11. Set up a network at home with multiple computers. If I can set up an IIS at home with a few Web sites on it, along with an FTP site, and allow anonymous access, what difference does it make if the server is located in my house or the back room of an office building? —Jason Langdon
12. Hire out to fix friends’ and neighbors’ PCs in their homes.—Nancy Winchel
13. Do an unpaid internship at a company that needs an extra pair of hands.
14. Get a paid internship at that same company once you’ve proven how competent you are.
15. Get a help desk job for a few months. Doesn’t pay much, but the experience is invaluable. Learn some DOS and IRQs and you’re set.—John Beins
16. A guy I worked with in my last job wanted to switch from marketing to IS and would come in on his weekends and just tag along with us IS guys, offering to help out where he could and picking up as much knowledge from us as he could.—Will Willis

Winning Prep Methods

10. No matter which book, video, mantra, or pre-test guide you use, there is absolutely no substitute for putting your time in with the product. That is, work with the product until you think in NT-ese, refer to your friends and family as through, and speak in SQL script. Once this occurs, ruining any possibility of ever actually getting a date, use a Microsoft Press book to cover those final tricky questions that you’ll never encounter in everyday use. Your social life will be in absolute ruin, but you’ll pass those tests!—Mike Wyner, MCSE

11. I set up a small NT LAN at home with three PCs and used the products in the MCSE Windows NT 4.0 track extensively. This helped me more than anything else. I didn’t attend any classes.—Zahoor Alam, MCSE

12. Spend the money on instructor-led training. The hands-on labs and instructor input are invaluable.—Darryl W. Stephens, MCP

13. Real-life work experience helped me the most. I used books and practice exams, but I could have passed the NT Server and Workstation exams without studying at all. Nothing beats hands-on experience.—Rob DeLoach, MCP

14. I took a position giving technical support in an NT/Exchange environment about 90 days ago. It’s been the biggest step I’ve taken toward a better understanding of the material.—Jason Schnell, MCP

15. Experience, experience, experience. I can’t stress how important real-world experience with a product is. If you don’t know anything more than what you memorize for a test, your certification is worthless.—Michael Eaton, MCSD

16. While books and tools are good supplements, nothing can provide the rudimentary and comprehensive skills one gets from a Microsoft Authorized Technical Education Center (ATEC) course. Hands-on, instructor-led training is essential.—Scott Solice

17. I find index cards essential. I write down key points and facts to memorize by topic and keep them in my pocket. In particular, I include diagrams like the OSI model and what’s done at each layer. I review them in the car or while waiting in line. Since I live in L.A., I can get most of my memorization done in the car!—Doug Mechaber, MCP

FAQ Sheet Five

We asked a group of our forum managers to tell us the top questions they get asked by visitors to MCP Magazine’s certification forums. Here are answers from the pros on getting started, getting experience, best study materials, and more.

Q. I want to become an MCSE. What’s the best way to get started?

A.Your first stop: There you’ll find the official list of requirements straight from Microsoft. Links will take you to details about specific exams and what they cover. You’ll want to plan your method of study based on your experience level (yep, experience is key).

As far as the actual exams, Networking Essentials is a good start if you have network experience. If not, we recommend the NT Server 4.0 exam. It requires knowledge of both administration and core technologies. Cost? About $3,000 for two courses from an ATEC or about $200 for self-study materials. Taking the exam costs $100. Failing doesn’t count against you, so keep trying.

Passing this exam will make you a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and open the door for some quality employment opportunities. From there, you can learn while you earn and finish your MCSE program while getting some experience on Windows NT.

Without experience, the MCSE won’t be worth much more than an MCP title. Certification and experience go together. Earn them together and the marketing promises can come true for you.—Mark A. Poplar, MCSE

Q. I’ve heard other certifications mentioned in this forum, such as the CNE, A+, and CCIE. What are they and how can I get more information?

A. In a world where many different types of software often must work together, multiple vendor certifications can set you apart from the crowd. Most major hardware and software vendors offer specific product certifications. Trade and professional organizations have broader certifications covering areas like networking and application development. MCP Magazine ran an article on other certifications in the April issue (“Crank Up Those Certifications”), which is a good starting point.

Personally, we consider this the starting point for links to other certifications: Wayne’s Comprehensive Computer Professional Certification Resource at

William Beal, MCSE

Q. I’m just starting out. What study material is available?

A. The absolute best preparation is hands-on experience. Having said that, there’s a rapidly growing wealth of material available for exam preparation, ranging from instructor-led courses at Authorized Technical Education Centers, to books, self-study guides, and CDs. MCP Magazine regularly reviews training resources, so start by searching the back issues online for overviews and evaluations. Use the links below for technical books and publications:

• Amazon—
• Bookpool—
• Microsoft Press Online Bookstore—
MCP Magazine Bookstore—
• Readme.Doc—

William Beal, MCSE

Q. I don’t use Windows NT or BackOffice at work, but I want to get hands-on experience.

A. It’s good that you recognize that certification is meaningless without hands-on experience with the products. So, how do you get experience if you don’t use the products at work or you’re switching career fields? You can create a home lab/network. You’ll need at least two computers (three is ideal) with network cards. They can be connected with UTP (more than two PCs will require a hub) or coaxial RG-58 cable.

If you’re on a tight budget, you can purchase a manual switchbox that will let you control two or more computers with a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Microsoft offers 120-day evaluation copies of most of its BackOffice products, giving you four months of study time per product on your network.

A home network will allow you to install, configure, break, and fix the software in a sheltered environment. In the process, you’ll gain valuable experience. It will make all the difference at your first real NT admin job—when you’re suddenly facing NT’s infamous Blue Screen of Death and server downtime is measured in thousands of dollars per hour lost.

Will Willis, MCSE, A+ Certified Technician

Q. Should I get an MCSE certification or a degree?

A. Depends on your long-term career plans. If you want to get into this generation of computers, the time is now. A degree is great for management, but four years and $100,000 out of pocket won’t get you into action on the front line. My advice: Get started, get certified, and get experienced. The rewards are here for those who are ready to jump in and start working. You’ll have plenty of time at night to study basics and theory while actually experiencing today’s technologies. And that degree will be even better if your company will pay for it. In a year you could be administering a network, setting up an intranet—or sitting in biology class. Where do you want to be?

Mark A. Poplar, MCSE

A longer version of this FAQ is available online in the Discussion Forums.

William Beal, MCSE, is an NT systems/network specialist for the VA in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Mark A. Poplar, MCSE, is a Network Systems Engineer for Business Computing Solutions in Riverside, California. Will Willis, MCSE, A+, is an MIS Manager/ Network Administrator in Dallas, Texas.

For a complete list of frequently-asked questions, click here.

Hot Web Sites

18.Check out Microsoft’s excellent online resource at There’s lots of good reading here (you can find the same information on the TechNet CDs).—Jorgen Olofsson, MCSE

19. For MCSDs, try the MSDN Books Online Web site, along with my Web page at http://—Arun RC, MCP

20. The exams at offer great test questions at fantastic prices. They helped me pass the IIS 3.0 and TCP/IP with NT 4.0 exams.—David Kirkman, MCSE, MCP+Internet

21. Use the Web site. —Mark Pereira, MCP

22. The Saluki mailing list was instrumental in keeping me focused on my quest for the MCSE. [To subscribe, send an e-mail to: In the body of the message put: subscribe mcse.—Ed.] —Joe Labella, MCSE, MCP+Internet

23. Visit MCP Magazine’s Web site forum at for hints and study guidance.—Stella Chin, MCSE

24. I used Herb Martin’s MCSE Accelerated Training Course from—Sean P. O’Brien, MCSE

25. I think the news groups on are very helpful, especially the troubleshooting section. Checking the news groups on a daily basis tells you how the experts—those who use their knowledge to help others—solve all kinds of problems.—Philip Ma, MCSE

26. I created a Web site ( to help myself study for the exams. I’ve organized links to other sites by MCSE tests, and I have a list of books for each test.—Tom Winter, MCSE, MCP+Internet

Books, Books, Books

27. Mark Minasi’s books are the best for me. They’re easy to read, and he includes real-world situations that tie the information together. Compared to the dry Resource Kits, they’re great.—Alice Goodman, MCSE

28. The Sybex MCSE Study Guide covered all the topics required for the Windows 95 test very thoroughly. —James Christopher Flowers, MCP

29. The Exam Cram books from Certification Insider Press are invaluable. There are versions for Windows NT Server, Workstation, and Enterprise, Windows 95, Networking Essentials, and TCP/IP.—Tommy T. Thornton, MCP

30. Mastering Computer’s MCSE Gold Plan seminar is an excellent way to prepare for the exams. Not only is the exam prep portion right on the money, but there is a ton of real-world information available.—J.C. Warren, MCP

31. I used the Sybex and New Riders MCSE books. They’re well-written and provide an overview of all aspects of NT rather than specific test preparation. I probably over-prepared, but I learned information that helped me at my networking job. I passed all exams the first time and averaged 901. I strongly recommend self-study with lots of hands-on to complement it.—Dan Roper, MCSE

32. If you’re an MCSE from the NT 3.51 track preparing for the NT 4.0 exams, I highly recommend New Riders’ NT 4.0 Server & Workstation Study Guide. It’s a good review-and-refresh combo, and the writing style is easier on the brain than Microsoft Official Curriculum courseware.—Jeff Honeyman, MCSE

33. The MCSE series from New Riders is fantastic. Those books and hands-on experience were all I needed to pass all six of my MCSE exams.—Scott Freeland, MCSE, MCP + Internet

Favorite General Resources

34. Get a copy of the test objectives at These topics are what the exam is focused on. —Richard J. Maring, MCSE, MCT

35. Use the Microsoft study guides paired with their appropriate Resource Kits. The most important way to pass the tests is experience. Places on the Internet that post questions and answers are for losers and I personally don’t want to work with those people. —Michelle Jones, MCP

36. I’ve often said that if you could read the entire TechNet CD in one month, you’d be an MCSE. The CD includes NT training, all of the resource kits, white papers, and more.—Ed Williamson, MCSE

37. The ultimate best guide to doing research on topics and passing the exams is TechNet.—Louise Lilly, MCSE

38. The only good reference material is help files. Print them all out!—Jennifer Marsh, MCSE

Top 10 Reader Favorites

For a few brief days this spring, we asked readers to vote online for their favorite tools, techniques, and methods for preparing for certification exams, and vote you did. Hundreds and hundreds of responses poured in—naming everything from beloved books to favorite Web sites. Below we offer the products and approaches you chose most often.

1. Transcender exam simulation software. The top winner. Almost a third of you picked this as your favorite means of exam prep.

2. Hands-on experience came in a close second. We interpret this to mean that even though many of you want a practiced edge on getting through exams, plenty of you continue to think the top prep method is, simply, to work with the product.

3. Classroom time. Those of you who could commit the time and had the budget chose instructor-led training as most useful. Plenty said that the Microsoft Official Curriculum courses used in Authorized Technical Education Centers as part of the reason why.

4. Microsoft Press products. This includes Training Kits, Resource Kits, and a slew of other specific titles. Check out Microsoft’s training and certification titles at

5. Exam Cram. This series of books from The Coriolis Group shows the power of pricing. If you already have the technical know-how, an investment of just $29.99 offers you a flashcard-quick way to work through exam objectives.

6. TechNet. Thousands of pages of technical information, more than a dozen Resource Kits, Service Packs, the Knowledge Base, practically every piece of software in the Microsoft library. Why wouldn’t this be one of your favorites?

7. New Riders and Sybex books. Both of these publishing companies, which tied for seventh place, offer certification-specific titles (many of which we’ve reviewed in these pages) that appeal to a large number of you. and .

8. Free practice questions on Microsoft training and certification Web site. If you haven’t already downloaded them, you’ll find them at . Doesn’t cover all the exams, but it’ll give you a good taste of the test interface.

9. While we’re flattered that you consider our Web site a top choice for exam preparation, we have to ask why we weren’t, ahem, No. 1?

10 . Home LAN labs and MSDN. The idea of setting up a LAN at home (about which you’ll find threads in the MCP Magazine discussion forum online) offers a grunge approach to certification: Buy cheap boxes anywhere you can get them, string them together in your basement, then start banging on the keyboard. And what can we say about MSDN? If you’re going after a developer title, as one title-holder says, it’s worth selling your favorite guitar to get a subscription. Try the free online version at .

Congratulations to Peter J. Kujath, MCSE, MCP+Internet, who works for Dayton-Hudson Corp in Minnesota. He won our Readers Favorite drawing and is now looking forward to next fall, when it’s chilly enough to show off his new MCP Magazine Polartec vest.

39. The Transcender exam prep software helped the most. I purchased a number of the MCSE study guides from both Sybex and Que and found them helpful as well. The only prep materials I was dissatisfied with were from Microsoft Press. These materials did not provide enough information to prepare for the exams and were not worth the time or money.—Joseph Culp, MCSE

40. I’ve found the Microsoft Official Curriculum books generally cover all the relevant material needed for the test. I start with a quick browse, followed by in-depth study of each section (with practical experience when possible).— Matthew C. Miller, MCSE, MCT

41. The Transcender exams are actually more difficult than the Microsoft exams. They helped bring together the information presented in the official Microsoft textbooks.—Clifford Sallale, MCSE

42. I took Wave Technologies’ Integrated Self-Study program to complete my certification. You meet with an instructor online for 10 to 12 weeks, spending a week or two on each subject. You then meet for a five-day lab on-site. Wave provides the books, sample tests, and in some instances the software. You provide the computer, Internet provider, and the willingness and dedication to study independently.—M. Edwards, MCSE

43. If you use Transcender, read each and every article and reference in the question explanations, especially the articles listed in MSDN for the WinArch exams. —Michael Lane Thomas, MCSE, MCSD, MCSE+Internet

44. The TechNet CD is the most valuable resource available for the four core MCSE exams.—Bryan Sherlock, MCSE

45. Things change quickly! Unless you have an open connection to Redmond, a qualified MCT and the environment offered by a classroom provide the best conduit for learning.—Thomas Causin

46. The TechNet CD is great for searches on topics you’re having trouble understanding. Just do a keyword search.—Dan Conley, MCP

47. Why use anything else when the only way to really learn about Microsoft products is to try them out for yourself, then look up in the applicable (and fantastic) white papers on Microsoft’s Web site?—Magne Boyum, MCSE

The Value of Practice Exams

48. The practice exams are an excellent way to, well, practice. Just be careful not to rely on them too much. The actual exams can be quite different from the practice exams.—Robert L. Robertson, MCP

49. Exam simulation products work if used correctly. Study hard, try the exam, and study the answers to incorrect responses. Don’t memorize the questions or the answers—learn the concept that a question covers.—Bill Hobbs, MCSE

50. Good practice tests are an excellent way of measuring whether your study program has worked, but don’t forget to play with the product. Doing so will teach you things you won’t learn anywhere else.—Rob Shannon, MCP

51. I recommend Transcender. It was very helpful in assessing my skills before I took the test. However, use them as they are meant to be used. Don’t memorize questions and answers; learn from them.—Gorana Ducheneaux, MCP

52. Instead of taking exams on the computer, where memorization comes into play, print out all the questions and answers and understand why each is correct. Look at the noted reference documentation!—Mitch Brustman, MCP

For MCSDs Only

53. I found the MSDN CDs most important in the preparation for my exams.—Vinod Kiran, MCSD

54. In preparation for the MFC/OLE exam, I recommend Programming Windows 95, by Charles Petzold. If you’re new to Windows, skim through this classic to gain an understanding of Windows from a C programmer’s perspective. This will form a good base for understanding how MFC actually works, which helps in getting around the library when things don’t work as expected or documented.—Shankar Ganesh

55. Study for the WinArch exams first, followed by the VB5.0 exam, and end with the Access exam. Once you obtain your MCSD, then continue with whatever additional electives interest you.—Michael Lane Thomas, MCSE, MCSD, MCSE+Internet

56. Understanding ActiveX and OLE, by David Platt, provides a good introduction to OLE from both a Win32 and MFC programmer’s perspective. Kraig Brockschmidt’s Inside OLE is another must-read. If you don’t read whole chapters of Brockschmidt, at least go through the first few sections of most chapters.—Shankar Ganesh

57. If you use Transcender, read each and every article or reference made in the question explanations, especially the article listed in MSDN for the WinArch exams.— Michael Lane Thomas, MCSE, MCSD, MCSE+Internet

How to Pay for Your Certification

If you’re already working as a highly paid technical professional in the wonderful world of MCPs, figuring out how to pay for continuing certification may come down to figuring out which platinum card to pull from your wallet. But some of us lack those sorts of unlimited resources. Getting certified on a tight budget can be a real necessity. So how do you pay your way—or at least justify the expense? Here are 10 suggestions for making it happen.

1. The only costs I incurred were the expense of the Microsoft Press NT 3.51 kit, the SNA Server 2.11 product, and the exams themselves. I studied in my own time and—apart from the NT self-study kit—relied on my existing networking knowledge and the product manuals themselves. —Greg Neilson

2. The money I earn from taking jobs on the side (computer repair, writing resumes, etc.) goes into the “pot.” Of course, it’s not enough, so the credit cards are taking the brunt of it. I really shop around for the best deal for the training. I purchase books online for discounts. I’ve downloaded numerous other items from study sites. And I take advantage of trial subscriptions to trade magazines.—Nancy Winchel

3. I paid for my technical education by not eating out for a year or going to the movies on Friday nights. I sold one of my favorite guitars to buy a subscription to MSDN.—Will Willis

4. Get a loan for instructor-led training from the new Skills 2000 loan program ( or 888-895-LOAN).

5. Set up a study group at lunch that meets twice a week to share resources and knowledge and work through self-study materials.

6. Find out if your company has CBT-type training in its human resources library.

7. Buy a certification-in-a-box self-study program (typically around $1,000) that includes study materials on all the exams for a particular title.

8. Believe in yourself enough to invest in instructor-led training, even if it involves debt. It may be the best six weeks and $8,000 you’ve ever spent.

9. Spend your summer vacation at an MCSE boot camp instead of a resort.

10. Set up a home lab and work your way through Microsoft’s Web site, using every Knowledge Base article, white paper, and how-to document you can get your browser on.

Tips and Techniques

58. When studying, be sure you know why Microsoft believes a particular answer is correct. Study additional sources and even the product marketing materials if that’s what it takes.—Eric Quinn, MCSE

59. Understand the value of the product in the marketplace. This will help in understanding the scope of the test.—Richard J. Maring, MCSE, MCT

60. Don’t cheat. If you try to do exams by rote or cheat aids (as in, “here are all the exam questions and answers”), you won’t be worth much in the workforce even if you pass. You’ll quickly be discovered and replaced, or you won’t receive any challenging work. Worse, you could cause a major project to flounder, thus hurting your company or client. In extreme circumstances, it could result in litigation. Very expensive; very negative career impact.—Ross Johnson, MCSE

61. I suggest that people take their time. The MCSE is not a race. Give some thought to what you expect from certification, then take the time you need to achieve it.—David Watts, MCSE, MCSD, MCP+Internet

62. Getting certified isn’t a race; everyone studies and takes tests at his or her own pace. I personally tend to take one test a month and only focus on that one until I feel comfortable with the subject matter completely.—Richard J. Maring, MCSE, MCT

63. Getting hands-on experience with the product is the single most important factor in passing. Microsoft offers 120-day evaluations of all its products; if you take an ATEC course, a demo version is included in the course work. Install the demo on your home PC, build a simple network, and prepare to learn the product and pass your exams.—Jeff Anderson, MCSE

64. In studying, don’t pass over areas that you think you won’t need in your career (in my case, that was Novell migration to NT).—Charles Aulds, MCP

65. Don’t underestimate the scope and breadth of an exam. If you think an exam can’t be too complex, ask people who took the Windows 95 exam about the number of Novell/NT interoperational questions on that test.—Jeff J. Rodenburg

66. Don’t focus too hard on the right way of doing things. Focus on the Microsoft way, especially if you come from a Unix background (like I do). If you’re coming from a Novell background, you’re in luck, since Microsoft is wooing you. If your background is Macintosh, God help you.—Charles Aulds, MCP

67. There’s no substitute for setting up a small network and playing around. Don’t just click the Start menu: Find out how the directory structure works, where profiles are held, what happens when you stop the spooler and try to print, and so forth. I suspect there are more than a few MCPs out there who couldn’t tell you which directory the “netlogon” share points to by default. Don’t be one of them.—Darren Warburton, MCSE, MCP+Internet.

68. Make flash cards for terms and definitions that are hard to remember. Microsoft technologies are filled with acronyms that are obscure and continually referenced. —Israel (“Ike”) A. Ellis, MCSE, MCT

69. Study hard. Take it seriously. Know your material. There’s nothing more embarrassing than passing an exam, then not being able to answer someone’s most basic questions.—Jeff J. Rodenburg

70. Great advice I got from Microsoft itself when I first embarked on the journey: “Turn off the TV!” The fewer distractions, the faster you’ll get through it. —Ed Williamson, MCSE

71. Force yourself to rise to the occasion by booking the exam on a certain date and doing whatever it takes to be ready in time. If you leave it open-ended, it’s too easy to let the days slip by.—Ed Williamson, MCSE

72. Many people will tell you to spend the night before an exam cramming, covering everything one last time so that it’s fresh in your mind. I disagree. Take the night before the exam off. Relax. If you’ve prepared properly, you’re ready already. Take your spouse to dinner. Play “Chutes and Ladders” with the kids. Get a good night’s sleep. When you go into the exam room you will be relaxed, yet alert. You’ll do fine. Good luck!—Chris Brooke, MCSE, MCP+Internet

73. The Microsoft self-study book covers everything for the TCP/IP exam.—Mark Stogdon, MCSE, MCP+Internet

74. For the TCP/IP in Windows 4.0 exam (70-59), get New Riders’ Networking with Microsoft TCP/IP: Certified Administrator’s Edition.—Daiyu Hayashi, MCP

75. Learning how to subnet with the formula “x to the n - 2 = networks and host IDs” really saved me on the TCP/IP test.—Peter Kujath, MCSE, MCP+Internet

76. The Windows NT 4.0 Server reference book covers only part of what’s on the NT 4.0 Server test. I had to study every available resource from Microsoft in order to pass. Pay close attention to the Books Online.—Wick Khan, MCP

77. The New Riders book on Windows NT Server 4.0 is a great book. It’s well-written and contains the information you need to pass the NT 4.0 Server exam.—Sean L. Rowan, MCSE

78. My nerves were frazzled after two tries at the NT Server 4.0 exam. I finally found a book from Microsoft Press that filled the gaps so that I felt confident again. It’s called Running Windows NT 4.0.—Andy Barkl, MCSE

79. Mastering Windows NT Server 4.0, by Mark Minasi, is the best book for anyone who not only wants to pass the NT exams but also wants to build a solid background in NT. Many tough concepts, such as NTFS permissions, configuring TCP/IP, and so on, are explained in plain English. I consider it the NT bible.—Thuong Tran, MCP

80. In order to pass the Networking Essentials exam, you need to study more than the books specifically covering that exam. Study everything you can get your hands on because it covers such a wide range of Microsoft topics.—Jerald Rasmussen

81. The LAN Times Encyclopedia of Networking was very helpful for the Networking Essentials exam. It provides a better understanding of concepts that remain unclear from the study guides.—Maximos Zachariades, MCP

82. For the IIS exam, the article “Microsoft Internet Information Server 4.0 Reviewer’s Guide” on the February 1998 TechNet CD-ROM gives an excellent overview of IIS 4.0. The labs also have very much the same flavor as what you can expect of the MMC questions on this exam.—Jannie Hanekom, MCSE

83. For the SQL Server 6.5 exams, fully understand the TransactSQL commands needed to use SQL Server. Also know the administration functions, from a simple select to a complex statement, including copy and deletes, all inside a trigger statement.—John Gilbert, MCSE

84. For the SQL Server design exam, reading the Books Online was simply not enough. I needed additional resources like Inside SQL Server from Microsoft Press. This book was not an approved study guide, but as a supplement, it provided a great understanding of the inner workings of SQL Server. This, in turn, sharpened my understanding of the important concepts and principles.—Jeff J. Rodenburg

If He Can Do It, You Can Too

Will Willis, in Dallas, Texas, is a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of guy. If you’re a beginner to certification and you’re skeptical about your future prospects, read his success story:

“Three years ago I was the night manager of a Subway restaurant in Commerce, Texas (about 90 miles northeast of Dallas) making $6 an hour. I had a bachelor’s degree in history and psychology and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. I had been using PCs for a few years, and had been online going back to my Commodore 64 and 300-baud modem days.

“I knew enough DOS and Win3.x to get through a tech interview for a phone support job with one of Microsoft’s outsource partners for the launch of Windows 95 in August 1995. I moved to Dallas and jumped from about $12K a year at Subway to $22K.

“Six months into that job I decided to pursue Microsoft certification and started working on the Win95 exam, which I passed in March 1996. Then I did Networking Essentials, which, like Win95, was done with the MS Press self-study kit.

“At that point (July 1996) I needed NT and a second computer for a home network but didn’t have much disposable income due to bills and student loan repayment. My other hobby besides computers is music, so I sold one of my favorite guitars to get an Enterprise subscription to MSDN. I scrimped and saved and picked up parts here and there to build a second computer over a couple of months.

“With that I was able to do the two NT 3.51 exams and went from a $23K (I had gotten the standard raise at one year) phone support job to a $40K hands-on position as a break/fix field tech supporting 3,000-plus users with eight other people.

“I finished the MCSE there and picked up the A+ certification. When my contract came up to go permanent, I decided to move on and took what is now my current position as MIS manager/network administrator. There, I manage five NT 4.0 domains and administer SMS 1.2 and Exchange Server 5.0 (I also added certifications on both) on a daily basis for the company’s 250 or so clients. That boosted my pay to $46K.

“I have two jobs lined up and I will decide which one I’m going to take in the next week or so. One is with Microsoft doing SMS Premier Enterprise support which will be around $60K with awesome benefits. The other is a consulting position paying $40 an hour (roughly $83K) but without the great benefits package Microsoft offers.

“To go from making $6 an hour and not even being in the industry to having a $40-an-hour job offer sitting on the table isn’t a bad jump in fewer than three years.

“It was just a lot of hours of work on my own time that has done it. I’ve paid my entire way to certification while working full time and having a home life. I’ve spent countless hours installing, configuring, breaking, and fixing NT and BackOffice in my home lab, which has grown to four or five computers as my financial resources have improved. Now I’m looking to build ‘cross-platform’ skills and have recently started working on Sun’s Solaris certifications. It’s a never-ending learning process, but I can’t tell you how much more fun it is than asking over and over and over: ‘Would you like that on white or wheat bread?’”

On a Budget?

85. Classes aren’t everything. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve had the time to take a Microsoft Official Curriculum class; I’ve passed four exams during that time through self-study.—Jeff Honeyman, MCSE

86. Build a home network! Being able to see the screens, do the practice labs, and work with various hardware makes a big difference. Check your local papers for some older computers for sale. Look for those without multimedia or extra capacity. Get just enough hardware to make a one-client network. It will probably cost you less than a new sub-$1,000 PC.—Chris Perry, MCSE, MCP+Internet

87. Using Microsoft’s 120-day trial software versions is a low-cost way to study a product. Get your hands dirty using the software, whether at work or at home on a small LAN.—Jason Staker, MCP

88. Find knowledgeable mentors. They can answer your questions or point you to sources that will, and they can provide good advice from years of seeing it all. If you’re going to ask lots of questions, buy them a coffee or take them to lunch. And save those questions up and ask them all at once, rather than phoning them four times a day.—Ross Johnson, MCSE

89. Put a network together to work through all of the gritty details and try it out hands-on. This is easy at some employers, but can be tough at others or on your own. If you’re serious enough, leasing or renting equipment for a month or two may be an answer.—Ross Johnson, MCSE

90. If possible, install and use the product. If you don’t have a network at home, install the loopback adapter. It will allow you to install and use NT Server and its utilities. This should go hand-in-hand with your book study. Believe me, it’s vital to have hands-on experience, especially with the new simulation questions.—Chris Brooke, MCSE, MCP+Internet

91. If I have access to the (free) assessment exams from Microsoft, I use them after each pass through the study material. That means I sometimes have to force myself to forget the answers I already know. If I can’t do that, I force myself to go through the complete logic of why one answer is right.—Jeff Honeyman, MCSE

92. Once you’ve pinpointed trouble areas through an exam simulation tool like Microsoft’s free ones, go to a different resource than the one you originally learned from, and study the areas you needed to improve. Almost every study guide is lacking in something that another guide will cover sufficiently. Tip: Buy one book and have a friend buy another. When you’re ready, switch books! —Chris Brooke, MCSE, MCP+Internet

On Exam Day

93. Not to get too Zen about things, but on your way to the exam, visualize yourself coming out of the testing center holding a Pass report. I have no idea if this actually helps, but it hasn’t hurt me.—Jeff Honeyman, MCSE

94. If you’re a morning person, take the exam early; if you’re not, don’t. Give yourself thirty minutes before the exam to collect yourself, turn your beeper off, and get mentally ready. —Thom Griffith, MCSE, MCT

95. Use total concentration! Just one word in the middle of a question can give it a completely different meaning than you might otherwise think. Block out everything (surrounding noise, previous questions) and concentrate completely on each question, one at a time.—Michael A. Jacques, MCP

96. Insist on real paper at the testing center, not a slate. I often get trust relationships confused, so here’s a tip: Before the test starts but after I’ve signed on to the computer, I write down all the information I need on the more confusing topics. That includes a trust diagram, the OSI model, parms to optimize (LAN Server), and so forth. When anxiety starts climbing in the middle of the exam, I have a “security” (pun intended) blanket.—Doug Mechaber, MCP

97. Some exam questions may be interpreted differently by different people. Ensure that you answer as Microsoft would answer.—David McCulloch, MCSE

98. If you don’t pass, that experience and the exam results can be a valuable tool for succeeding on your next try. Take advantage of the section scores and focus on each area under 60 percent. With success less than 90 minutes away, keep a positive focus.—Thom Griffith, MCSE, MCT

99. Mark it and move on. That’s the advice I give my students. —Thom Griffith, MCSE, MCT

100. After you’ve passed (and of course you’ll pass) the exam, leave your test screen at the display that shows your score until after you have the printout in your hands. After all, who trusts printers? If you quit the application and the printout doesn’t appear, you may have to retake the exam.—Mark Evans, MCSE, MCP+Internet

101. For heaven’s sake, use the bathroom in the testing center just before you start! You can ask the monitor to pause the test for a bathroom break, but why blow your concentration?—Jeff Honeyman, MCSE, MCSE+Internet

Here are 49 more tips that we just couldn't fit in the print issue!

102. TechNet. It's the best value for the money for both study and work. I also use online documentation, white papers, and the Microsoft Knowledge Base.-William Beal, MCP

103. For me, hands-on experience was the most important factor in passing the exams. I've spent about four years developing client/server applications with NT and I was able to pass all the MCSE exams in a two-week period without a training class. It took lots of reading, about 1,500 pages in exam prep books, but I couldn't have done it without the experience.-Jim Seach, MCSE

104. My coworkers and I did some research on study methods for the NT Workstation exam. At the end, we each took the Transcender test. I took a practice exam first and ran Windows NT 4.0 at home; I passed with 97 percent. The coworker who used computer-based training passed with 86 percent, the one who used videos and books to prepare got 85 percent, and the coworker who studied books only scored 65 percent.-Dion Loughry, MCP

105. I recommend Dr. Margaret Smith’s MCSE class at ICTS in Alexandria, VA. She’s an excellent instructor with an eclectic sense of humor. I paid for an 18-day class, but she’s always available to answer my questions. She gives her students a foolproof study plan and has just set up a Web site at [Three students individually submitted Smith’s name as a invaluable resource.-Ed.]-Hugh Apple, MCP

106. Grab a study guide, I don't care which. I've used the Microsoft Official Curriculum, New Riders, and Sybex, and find them all to be about equal. If you need help selecting one, see the November/December 1997 issue of MCP Magazine for a comparison. Try to find a study guide with labs. Read it cover to cover. If you encounter an area that you don't grasp, don't stress on it. Move on. Finish the book, then come back to it. By then, it may have "clicked."-Chris Brooke, MCSE, MCP+Internet

107. In exam preparation, experience is often the best teacher, especially with product-centric exams.-Jeff J. Rodenburg

108. The Internet is a source of much (mis)information. I went through many sites, sorting out key details for my exams (four so far). Sorting out is the key phrase: sort the good information from the bad.-S. Kumar, MCP

109. I use a Microsoft-approved guide along with some personal memory techniques like creative visualization. For example, I make up a character for each of the seven layers of the OSI model (P-D-N-T-S-P-A.) For P, the physical layer, my character is Phil Simms (ex-quarterback for the New York Giants). Football is physical so Phil is the guy. Phil calls the plays with protocols that define communications on network media. I continue this association throughout the OSI model. This method works well with sections that require detailed memorization. Once you know the OSI model, understanding the information required for the Networking Essentials exam is a snap!-George Snipes, MCP

110. Use this acronym to remember Users/Global Groups/Local Groups and what goes where: UGLy (Users -> Global Groups -> Local Groups). Global cannot go into Global and Local cannot go into Local. While users can go into Local groups in another trusting domain, that isn't the right answer on the exam!-Tim Winders

111. The "Mindworks" Windows NT 4.0 Core Technologies by Jason Helmick, a video series of five tapes, is helpful in preparing for the core four exams as well as TCP/IP and IIS. Windows NT 4.0 is explained in simple terms from basic requirements through installation, configuration, and enterprise level deployment, and including troubleshooting tips.-Sabireen K. Khattak, MCP

112. It helps to have a willingness to do all-nighters as required to meet your goals.-Ed Williamson, MCSE

113. All of these products have manuals; read them! The same holds for resource kits, which tend to expand on information that the support teams and developers think aren't well understand by the rest of us. This information will help you understand how these products are designed to work. That, in turn, will help you in problem-solving for exams and real life. When you use the product in a production environment, you'll know exactly what is in the manuals (and where). This will help separate those who have simply crammed for an exam from those who thoroughly understand how the product works and how to use it.-Greg Neilson, MCSE, MCSD, MCP+Internet

114. Don't miss the C++ question-and-answer column by Paul DiLascia each month in Microsoft Systems Journal. Excellent MFC articles! Paul is king! -Shankar Ganesh

115. Find a mentor. For every product I have ever tested on, I've always had someone with more experience working as my cheerleader. Be it an instructor, a colleague, or just someone you've e-mailed before, find someone that won't mind your questions. -Israel ("Ike") A. Ellis, MCSE, MCT

116. Take one class at a time and then take the test before progressing further. Students who attempt to take all of the classes in a row and then test, tend to get overwhelmed with information.-Israel ("Ike") A. Ellis, MCSE, MCT

117. Highlighters help a great deal, but go light on their use until you're comfortable with the basics of the product you're studying, otherwise you'll highlight too much. If you take multiple passes through material, try to use a different color highlighter each time.-Jeff Honeyman, MCSE

118. Understand if the product is an upgrade (and if so, with what feature changes?) or a new product (designed for what purpose?).-Richard J. Maring

119. The Microsoft Official Curriculum for each exam has covered every topic that I've ever seen on a certification test.-Jason Schnell, MCP

120. When you pass one exam, start studying for your next exam that very night. Avoid the human tendency to sit back and relax after a minor victory. Rejoicing after each battle only hinders winning the war.-Michael Lane Thomas, MCSE, MCSD, MCSE+Internet

121. As much as some people hate to admit it, Transcender is the No. 1 way to ensure passing a Microsoft exam.-Don Jelley, MCP

122. Books or classes are a given. But never take a test without using a simulation program such as Transcender.-Billy Cheng, MCSE, MCP+Internet

123. For the MFC/OLE exam, use the MFC programmer's references and encyclopedia documentation set. This is the most comprehensive and definitive authority on MFC. Another classic is Programming Windows 95 with MFC, by Jeff Prosise. This is the best introductory-to-intermediate text for MFC. It contains clear, concise explanations and excellent coverage of most key topics.-Shankar Ganesh

124. Don't be frightened to fail! Most people don't pass on the first try. Learn from the experience. Try some exams just to see what they're like. This approach is more cost-effective if you take beta exams, or take an exam at the discounted rate at TechEd, or use a coupon from Microsoft or an ATEC.-Ross Johnson, MCSE

125. The best reviews and tips about exams are found at In the magazine's forums, it's been helpful to talk to others who have taken the exams.-Louise Lilly, MCSE

126. I highly recommend making up flash cards. I've used them with each of my three exams, along with Transcender and my own NT 4.0 server and workstation, a Windows 95 client, and NetWare 4.11 server at home. You must get your hands on the technology or study aids won't help.-Curtis Mayfield III, MCP

127. Exam simulations are the most helpful in preparing for exams. The ones from Microsoft are a bit old, but guide you on types of questions. Best of all, they're free! I've heard many people say that going through Transcender's exam prep guides is useful, but I found them too expensive.-Hithesh Ranchhod, MCSD

128. The Windows NT 3.51 Resource Kit got me started on my MCSE and helped me through all the tests. There is no substitute, however, for hands-on experience.-Aaron Vander Giessen, MCSE

129. Get into management, so you don't have to keep writing all those new exams.-Ross Johnson, MCSE

130. The Microsoft Press NT 4.0 TCP/IP book is the most useful resource available. The test is straightforward; remember that this book is published by Microsoft. You'll find answers to much of the test's content right in the book.-Eric Gadson, MCP

131. MCP Magazine's site was the most helpful for me. It provides a forum for MCPs of all flavors to get together and exchange information on tests and test subjects, books, videos, and much more. You also find links to other sites that can help in the long certification process. I'm hoping that by the time you [print this,] I can tag my name with an "MCSE." It would have been a much, much tougher task without your site.-Kirby Bauer, MCP

132. I used the Sybex and New Riders (First Edition) MCSE series books. They're well-written and provide an overview of all aspects of NT rather than specific test preparation. I probably over-prepared, but I learned information that helped me at my networking job. I passed all exams the first time and averaged 901. I strongly recommend self-study with lots of hands-on to complement it.-Dan Roper, MCSE

133. Microsoft Technet. All of the answers are right in there!-Brad Adams, MCSE

134. Use the Microsoft exam prep guide for the particular exam to list all of the topics that will be covered.-Erin Dunigan, MCSE, MCT

135. The most important thing in passing the most difficult exams were four weeks of dedicated, uninterrupted time (class lab and study time). I left my wife, my child and my girlfriend to go and study for the MCSE.-Anthony Evans, MCSE, MCSE+Internet

136. I used many books, but the best passing strategy for me was the practice exams. Transcender's were best because they give you the details you need in order to understand what Microsoft expects you to know.-Shelina Virani, MCP

137. The information on MSDN is decisive for a successful exam.-Nick Vlaykov, MCSD

138. For the TCP/IP in Windows 4.0 exam (70-59), New Riders provides a good, thorough text. I read four reports from others on the books that cover 70-59. The one person of the four that didn't use this book failed the exam.-George Semerenko, MCSE

139. I usually pass the exams in beta form (which means a three-hour exam instead of an hour and a half, but the cost is $50 instead of $100) just by thoroughly reading the product documentation and working with the product. For the beta exams, that's all there is to go by anyway. Too many people forget that the most obvious study material comes free with the product-the documentation!-Ed Williamson, MCSE

141. Can't afford it? Use published books, CBTs, and on-line (Web) information for the more basic courses. Take courses for the tougher areas only. Take advantage of ATEC and Microsoft program discounts when you can find them. Check the Web for these, or phone local ATECs and Microsoft offices.-Ross Johnson, MCSE

142. Here's the method I recommend for working efficiently on exam day: 1) Move through the exam quickly. Don't stop on questions you can't answer in one minute or less. Mark the question for review. 2) Run through all of the questions you marked for review. This includes both the questions you didn't answer and the questions you marked for further consideration. 3) Time permitting, run through all of the questions one more time.-Ethan Wilansky, MCSE

143. Keep your certification up-to-date once you have it, so you don't have to rush your attempts on several exams at once.-Ross Johnson, MCSE

144. Use lots of caffeine!-Ed Williamson, MCSE

145. Hands-on experience and troubleshooting are key!-Sam Marraccini, MCSE

146. A good book dealing with the background of becoming a Microsoft Certified Professional is Career Microsoft by William C. Jeansonne. It's basic, but does a good job of educating someone who doesn't know where to start.-Richard J. Maring, MCSE, MCT

147. I find each product's Resource Kit to be the ultimate reference toward successfully passing any exam. Most study guides, such as Que, are useful as an introductory step before actually going through the Resource Kit itself. The study guides simplify things and help in understanding the kits, but are insufficient for passing.-Pierre Boivin, MCP

148. TechNet is a gold mine. The only other study materials I use are the self-paced training series from Microsoft Press. After you bag the exam, you may want to check out third-party books on specialized topics like the Registry to broaden your practical knowledge.-Ed Williamson, MCSE

149. For Microsoft Foundation Classes information, Scott Wingo's FAQ at is a useful site, but the answers to some questions are outdated or incorrect, so be careful.-Shankar Ganesh

150. Adopt an attitude of success! Decide that you'll pass and then do it. If you fail an exam, simply prepare more thoroughly and take it again. With this attitude, anything is possible and certifications are easy. Make it a matter of when, not if.-John Akerson, MCSE, MCP+Internet

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