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April 4, 2011

Challenge Yourself with Microsoft’s Test Your Knowledge Program

By test-your-knowledge

Microsoft has partnered with MeasureUp to provide free practice exams and coaching to anyone interested in getting certified in Windows Server 2008 and Microsoft .Net. The free program, dubbed Test Your Knowledge, allows you to go through test questions and videos on a weekly basis to help you prepare yourself for Microsoft certifications.

A few weeks ago, I registered for both the Windows Server 2008 and Microsoft .Net topics to see what the program was all about. Below is my review of the Test Your Knowledge program and what you need to know before trying it out for yourself.

Review of Microsoft’s Test Your Knowledge Program

As I mentioned above, currently only Windows Server 2008 and Microsoft .Net, and exams 70-640 and 70-536 are included in the program:

"Test Your Knowledge" Topics

My guess is that these two are just the test topics and perhaps depending on the success of these two releases more exams will be included soon. The Windows Server 2008 section is aimed at IT professionals studying for the 70-640 exam (MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory, Configuration.) Registering for this topic will result in 7 sets of exam questions and 6 videos being emailed to you on a weekly basis.

The next topic available is based on the Microsoft .NET Framework and is aimed at developers studying for the 70-536 exam (MCTS: Microsoft .NET Framework – Application Development Foundation.) Just like the first offering, you’ll receive 7 sets of exam questions and 6 videos on a weekly basis.

A Bit of Confusion

One thing that isn’t made completely clear, is exactly how many of these “sets of questions and videos” will actually be sent out. The site notes 7 sets of questions and 6 videos, which would mean the whole offering would last a total of 6 weeks; the first being just a question, sent immediately, and then 6 weeks of emails with new questions and follow up videos answering them.

In the emails sent out however, it is noted that you will receive the emails for “the next five weeks.” This means that only five sets of questions would be sent out, followed by five videos; the first question immediately, and then 5 weeks of videos after, leaving a bit of media unsent.

The wording used on the site and emails had me scratching my head, but after completing the series, I can confirm that there are a total of 7 emails: 6 questions and 6 videos. The first email contains only a question, and the final email only contains a video.

What You Can Expect

My experience so far has been a fairly good one. After receiving the first email with three practice questions, you’ll be given a week to answer them at your leisure. In the next email, you’ll be given a video that goes over the questions in detail, answers them, and more importantly (in my opinion), goes over the wrong answers to let you know why they are not the correct choices. I feel that this is a great way to help you better understand the concept or theory behind the question in case you answered incorrectly.

Here’s a sample practice question that I was sent through the Test Your Knowledge program:

"Test Your Knowledge" Practice Question Sample

The content in the videos was thorough, and in many instances the concepts in the questions were actually demonstrated through a screencast. This was a great addition, and made it feel less like someone reading the answers from a book. The screencast sections especially helped to better explain the answers, and helped me learn more about each subject. Screencasts are one of the things that I love about Train Signal training courses, and Microsoft pulls them off quite well. It is important to note however, that everyone has a different learning style, and as such, only you will know if this training method is right for you.

This is what the content featured in the weekly videos is like

A sample of the content featured in the weekly videos.

Learning from Different Sources

Being a fairly picky student when going through IT training, or any training really, I wasn’t completely thrilled with the tone of some of the videos. At times the trainer sounded fairly slow and dull, however, Microsoft did a good job at choosing different IT professionals throughout the series so you get a variety of talents. Most of which did a great job at explaining the concepts thoroughly and in a friendly tone.

For me, this is extremely important, as I’ve noticed my mind tends to stray when the tone of the training is a bit too monotone. This all depends on the student, of course, but I was happy with their choice to feature different trainers throughout.

Here’s a shot of Dave Franklyn explaining some practice questions from exam 70-640:

Dave Franklyn Explaining Practice Questions from Exam 70-640

What Else You Can Expect

While the practice questions and follow-up videos were definitely the main focus of the emails, there was a bit of extra content thrown in. On the right side of every video, you’ll get a list of related links that, while not necessarily groundbreaking, are helpful to have accessible. These links include prep guides, the Microsoft Learning site, and even a link to the MeasureUp IT job search portal.

Within each email, you’ll be presented with a “Tip of the Week.” Some of these tips are actually quite good; for example, the “Familiarize yourself with the application” tip for the 70-640 exam offers up a download link so you can download the Windows Server 2008 Evaluation build. However, most of the tips are aimed more at selling MeasureUp products than actually giving you a tip. For example, purchasing the full practice exam, purchasing the study guide, and paying for classroom training were all included as tips. While these are certainly good things to do, I feel that the tips could have been a bit more directed at the exam questions, while still allowing for the purchase links to be included somewhere else in the email. That being said, these are free resources and I do understand why they were included.

Here’s a sample “Tip of the Week” from the Test Your Knowledge program:

A Tip of the Week for the "Test Your Knowledge" Program


Overall, I think these emails were helpful, challenging, and a good learning experience, even for more advanced IT professionals. Whether you find the questions themselves easy or challenging, the overviews and explanations given are very insightful and reach far beyond just the answer to the question itself. Knowing the answer to a question isn’t always as important as knowing why it is the right answer, and the instructors did a great job of explaining just that.

I hope that more exams will be covered in the future, as they’re a nice (and free!) way to brush up on your skills in your spare time.

About the Author

is a computer technician with over 8 years of experience in the IT field. He has completed training in CompTIA A+, Network+, Computer Business Applications (Microsoft Specialist), Web Page Design and Graphic Design, and is working on completing his CompTIA A+ and CCNA certifications. Mike has experience working as a computer technician for two local school districts, as well as freelance computer repair work with, which Mike owns. Music is another one of Mike's callings. Using his technical experience, Mike promotes local musicians in Salinas California through his website where local musicians and businesses can gain promotion to a worldwide audience.

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