January 17, 2021
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Microsoft Certifications: What's Your Path?

  • By Steve Rowe
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This certification is considered the senior-level certification for Microsoft's networking and system administration realm. Seven exams must be passed to achieve this status. As mentioned above, this is one of Microsoft's most popular certifications, boasting nearly 180,000 certified. This certification expects the successful candidate to be proficient in planning and designing Microsoft networks as well as proficient in the day-to-day implementation and management skills tested in the MCSA track. It is the planning and design abilities that separate the MCSE from the MCSA. It is usually recommended that an MCSE candidate have approximately two years of valid networking experience before tackling this certification.

A typical progression of an MCSE candidate on Windows 2000 or Windows Server 2003 and XP might be to achieve an MCP and then move to the MCSA while working within a Microsoft networked environment. While gaining implementation, management, and troubleshooting experience on the job, the candidate can begin to study for and take planning and design exams, as well as any extra electives necessary to achieve the full MCSE credential. Most of the exams you will pass to achieve an MCP and MCSA will translate to the full MCSE. Be sure that if you are planning to go the distance to the MCSE that you are taking and passing exams for the MCP and MCSA certifications that will transfer on to the MCSE.

As stated earlier, seven exams must be passed to achieve MCSE status. Six core exams and one elective exam are required. For the core you will be required to pass four networking systems exams, one design exam, and one client operating system exam. The following list breaks down the types of topics you may test on in the core set of exams.

  • Demonstrate capabilities in installing, configuring, and managing either a Windows 2000 Server or Windows 2003 Server.

  • Implement and manage a Windows 2000 or 2003 network infrastructure.

  • In a related exam, you will expand your technical abilities beyond implementation and management by testing on your ability to design and plan a Windows 2000 or 2003 network infrastructure.

  • You will also be examined on your ability to implement and manage directory services for either a Windows 2000 or 2003 network. This tests your abilities to effectively manage the Active Directory in either network type.

  • Related to the previous exam, you may choose to test your knowledge on designing an Active Directory infrastructure. Being able to gather organizational information and business requirements and designing an Active Directory structure that meets these business needs is an extremely important role for establishing a fine-tuned and high performing network.

  • You may also decide to test on designing a security infrastructure for either a Windows 2000 or 2003 network.

  • Lastly, the MCSE candidate will be expected to have passed an exam on Windows 2000 Professional or Windows XP to satisfy the desktop operating system exam requirement.

As with the MCSA track, you will be required to pass one elective exam to demonstrate your knowledge of another Microsoft technology or product. This breadth of knowledge is meant to strengthen your learning of how different Microsoft products work within a Windows 2000 or 2003 network infrastructure. Topics here can include exams on installing and managing SQL Server, Exchange, SNA Server, SMS, or BizTalk Server.

Like the MCSA, the Windows 2000 MCSE program has upgrade opportunities so you can move your credentials into the Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP realm. Unlike the MCSA, you must pass two exams rather than just one. Let's explore these two exams further:

  • 70-292—The first exam you must pass is 70-292, "Managing and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSA Certified on Windows 2000." This is the same exam MCSA candidates must pass for an MCSA upgrade to Windows 2003.

  • 70-296—You must also pass the 70-296 "Planning, Implementing, and Maintaining a Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Environment for an MCSE Certified on Windows 2000" exam as well. Note that this exam is specific to MCSE candidates only, due to the planning element included in the exam.

As with the MCSA certification, be sure you visit Microsoft's certification Web site to stay current on exam numbers, names, and the content covered. For up-to-date information on the MCSE certification, visit http://www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcse/.


In sum, you have covered the MCP, MCSA, and MCSE in this article. If Microsoft networking is an area you would like to be involved in, these certifications will give you the necessary knowledge to pursue this career goal. For more information on how to begin study for these certifications, see Microsoft's Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/traincert/ for training resources or locations. Also, go to your local bookstore and peruse the training guides and cram guides for the different exams to gain an idea of what is taught and what will be expected for these exams.

It is also recommended that you have multiple resources for study. Decide how you learn best and follow this path. You may also have to take into account the expense training for these exams will generate. If you can afford to take instructor-led classes, this will be a great way to start. You may learn better from computer-based training (CBT) or Web-based training (WBT) solutions. Also, be sure to find books that effectively teach you the material needed to pass the exam and look for books that give you difficult hands-on experiences. Microsoft exams are known to have a good number of case study- and/or scenario-based questions that will require you to know how to do something rather than a simple recall of knowledge. Lastly, be sure you have practice test software. You will be best served if you search out practice exams that are tougher than the real exam. This will ensure that you have tackled the difficult materials before sitting for the real exam. Ask colleagues who have taken the exam or call training centers to ask what practice exams are best for the exam if you are not sure what software to select. Good luck to you if you are thinking of pursuing any of these certifications!

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This article was originally published on March 24, 2003

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