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Review of Transcender Exam Simulations


November 19, 2002

I remember the days of old, those halcyon epochs of youth, when stamps cost fifteen pence, you had a choice of operating systems and the Internet was a little-known hideout for geeks of all shapes and sizes.

It was back then, during an SQL course in sunny Leeds, I asked a dodgy-looking professor about Microsoft certification.

He splurted out a company name that remains with me until this day: Transcender.

According to the grey-haired prof, this company produced software that helped get you up to speed for the examinations. Their applications first quizzed the users, then provided relevant answers, stats and descriptions. They contained test questions so similar to the real thang, ol' Bill Gates tried to buy them out. But Transcender weren't having any of it.

And you know what? He was right. Except that bit about Bill Gates. That was a complete fabrication of the truth.

(That's what you think - Gates)

In this review, I'm taking a peek at two of the latest products from Transcender - tests for the new VB6 desktop and distributed computing exams.

For those nerds that haven't actually had the pleasure of sitting an amazingly exciting Microsoft examination, allow me to elucidate.

Back in the good ol' days I was talking about, folks like myself had a problem. Anyone could put "Visual Basic" on his or her CV - there was no real way of measuring knowledge.

Heck, I once read a pamphlet on economics, but don't want the job of Eddie George.

So in order to distinguish the I've-clicked-on-the-Visual-Basic-icon-'ers from the I-kinda-know-what-I'm-doing-'ers, Microsoft introduced a set of examinations covering everything from Windows NT to Visual Basic to, err, Windows NT.

Now because Bill Gates is a really, really evil man - he made these computer-based exams darn difficult and threw in a billion trick questions just for fun.

But this cold reputation makes them a highly prestigious addition to your resume.

Pass one single examination and you become a "Microsoft Certified Professional". Pass a number of examinations from a predefined list and you may even reach "Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer" (programmer) or "Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer" (network guy) status. With these qualifications on your CV, you will truly be a head geek.

The two products I'm looking at here are part of the new Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer route, which basically covers new development technologies such as Visual Basic 6 (more at www.microsoft.com/train_cert/).

I have here two CDs in rather fancy cases, containing the Transcender products for:

  • 70-176: Designing and Implementing Desktop Applications with Visual Basic 6.0
  • 70-175: Developing Distributed Applications with Visual Basic 6.0

So, without further blabbling, let's get installing!

Installation of the products was fairly straightforward with no errors. A basic install takes around 3MB.

If you don't opt to install the security files, be warned that you need to constantly keep the product CD in your drive - meaning I can't listen to Barry Manilow whilst quizzing over DCOM puzzlers.

(That's a DISADVANTAGE? - Ed)

The user interface is pretty plain and boring, though old Transcender customers will certainly notice a difference over the wrinkly Windows 3.1 look adopted by earlier versions.


Blow Up!

Each product offers three different examination modes. The first contains three tests and simply asks seventy pre-defined questions. The second randomly selects seventy questions from its pool of puzzlers, in the likely event you become accustomed to question order.

The third exam is certainly the most interesting, particularly to a geek like myself. I'm talking about the Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT) thing.

It works like this - depending on your answer to question one, the computer will ask you a harder/easier puzzler for question two. And so on. This means that if you get the first X number of questions correct, the exam engine decides you know what youre talking about and prints a certificate.

That means using this particular method of scoring, recently adopted in some of the newer Microsoft examinations, you could effectively answer the first ten questions correctly and be out of the test room in time for tea and scones at Mrs Miggins.

Actually starting one of the Transcender examinations is so easy, ameoba on Saturn have mastered the technique. Just a few menu clicks and you're up and running.

Then it eyes down and stop-clock on for an hour of multi-choice questions. All the puzzlers are amazingly similar to the real tests - though I did find at least one question error in the desktop exam product (an SQL string that wasnt enclosed in quotes), something you obviously wouldn't find on the actual test.

When you've finished the exam, you're presented with a graphical representation of your scary results. You can then review all your answers, complemented with descriptions of what you should choose and why - a feature much needed with puzzlers such as those in the Microsoft exams, where one word can make all the difference.

In addition, you can now save your results to file for review at a later date.

Despite costing a small-fortune ($149 each), these products are an absolute heaven-send to all sitting Microsoft examinations.

(What's your definition of fortune, Karl? - Gates)

Although the Transcender press relations officer fiercely denies claims that the packaged questions haven't been lifted directly from the actual examinations, I remain unconvinced. I've sat a Microsoft exam and can tell you the similarity is uncanny.

Can you spell lawsuit?

[Both products are available for purchase direct from Transcender at www.transcender.com]

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