My spouse, the accountant, is getting ready to tackle the CPA exams. That means one thing: It’s Becker time! Becker is the company that has the best reputation for hauling CPAs-to-be across the finish line of their credential. They provide instructor-led training, online lessons, self-study materials, flashcards, and all kinds of other resources that enable the test-taker to be prepared for those multi-hour exams that take place at the Prometric testing center. Yes, it costs money — big money if I’m to believe the charges I’m seeing on our credit card statement. But that’s the cost of entry to be taken seriously in the profession.

 

Likewise, if you’re preparing for any of Microsoft’s certification exams covering Microsoft Project or Project Server, there are companies that will help you prepare for those too. You can take in-person or online classes, read through self-study guides, and take practice exams. It’s this latter subject I wanted to cover today.

 

A practice exam allows you to find out just how prepared you are to tackle the real exam. The thinking goes like this: If you can pass a practice exam by playing by the rules, you’re probably ready to tackle the real exam. So why not take the actual exam to find out? For a few reasons. You can take practice exams multiple times. The practice exams probably have many more questions in them than the actual exam, which helps assure you that you really do understand the concepts behind the question and not just which answer is right. Also, there’s a certain level of pressure involved in sitting down in an actual testing center, and gnawing on a practice test or two is a great way to work out your test anxiety.

 

But not every practice exam is built equal. In fact, most of it is muck — either written on the fly by somebody whose first language isn’t your language or brashly ripped off from some testing center in a developing country and vaguely disguised by changing out a word here and there. You can quickly identify the muck by perusing information about them on their company websites. If the text selling the product is full of spelling and grammar errors, take that as a clue about the quality of the materials being sold too. (And if you can’t tell the difference, email your 7th grade English teacher with the link and ask her to give you an opinion…)

 

Fortunately, Microsoft has made it easy by authorizing two companies — MeasureUp and Kaplan IT’s Self Test Software — to provide practice questions for its exams. That means if you purchase these products, you can expect them to meet certain standards for quality, accuracy, and legitimacy. Also, they have agreed to rules set by Microsoft to make sure that they develop training and testing materials not just for the most popular exams but also for the lesser-taken tests, such as the ones for Project and Project Server, specifically, 70-632, 70-633, and 70-634.

 

But that’s where Self Test Software beats out MeasureUp. Self Test actually provides practice exams for Project and the other company doesn’t — at least not at this time. Granted, some of these products have got to be loss leaders for the companies that produce them — being too specialized to have much of a market. But on the pages about the exams on Microsoft’s website, MeasureUp is listed as having products to help you prepare. Not true — at least, not yet.

 

So that leaves Self Test. And it’s good! I haven’t seen the full products; but the company does make demo versions available with a limited number of questions. You can download a sampler here for 70-632 for the low price of a quick registration process. The version I tried included five questions that really do look and function like an actual Microsoft exam. The actual practice product costs US$109. That includes 150 practice exam questions (about three times what you’ll find on the real exam) and 225 flash cards. Tutorials explain why the right answer is better than the other answers. And the scoring function shows you which areas you need to focus on in your exam preparation and where to go to learn more about the study topics.

 

For the record I aced three out of five questions. That’s not good enough to tackle the test — yet.

 

So what self-study tools do you rely on?