Stories from Survivors and Official Requirements

I was gratified to hear that at the end of a test, many of you have the same problem with blurry eyes that I have—just as the system displays your score. One writer even told me that occasionally the two lines start to jump around as he's watching them, switching places every second or so. Another correspondent suggested that I could easily tell whether I've passed by looking at the color: green means I've passed, and red means I haven't. Sure, that sounds easy now, but I bet in the those first seconds after my score appears on my next test, it will be harder to remember which color means what than to simply try to read what's written on the screen. One reader suggested that Microsoft rewrite the testing software to add a very clear message to the screen: "Congratulations, you passed!!" in 72-point type might just make a difference. Then of course, if you didn't pass, the message could be a nice friendly one, such as the one inside the Pepsi Lucky 20 bottle caps: "Sorry, please try again!"

I also received more testing horror stories. One story that really distressed me was from a test taker who had almost finished the SQL Server 7.0 Database Design and Implementation Exam, which is full of long involved scenarios with screens full of information to read and many full-screen exhibits to interpret. The network crashed on one of her last questions, and she had to take the whole thing again!

I received one question that addressed the issue of testing in a large metropolitan area compared to testing in a more isolated or rural area. The writer's experience was that the centers in cities were more state-of-the-art and well-run—and more likely to exceed all the requirements, as well as your expectations. Centers in small towns offered almost the opposite experience. If that's true, my guess is that the competition factor makes the difference. A city can support a dozen or more centers, and if one center doesn't provide a good experience, test takers can go elsewhere. In a small town or rural area, there may be only one center in a 50-mile (or more) radius, and you may be stuck. If the center is no good, you can't easily go some place else, so you keep going back no matter what the quality.

Last time, I told you I would provide the "official requirements" list that an authorized testing center needs to follow to maintain its certification as a testing center. Finding the real rules turned out to be harder than I thought. Another trainer pointed me to the Prometric Web site. On its main page, from the Description area in the left panel, click "Testing with Prometric." You'll tour a Prometric Testing Center that shows you what the waiting room and the testing area "should" be like. However, the site never guarantees that what you see is what you'll get!

I did finally get a list of hardware requirements, for both Virtual University Enterprises (VUE) and Prometric, and they are practically identical. Both require that the testing machine be a Pentium; VUE says at least 120MHz, Prometric says 100MHz. Both require a minimum of 32MB RAM on the machine. Both require at least a 15" SVGA color monitor capable of 256 colors. If your testing machine doesn't meet this standard, you can contact Microsoft at the email address I gave you last time ([email protected]).

I also learned some of the nonhardware requirements; I've heard many questions about whether "bio-breaks" are allowed. The official word is that you are encouraged to use the restroom before or after the test. You may also do so during the test; however, the clock doesn't stop while you are taking care of this other business. So if you're bladder-capacity-challenged, you might prefer a testing center that has the exam rooms in a less than desirable location—if that closet is near the restroom!

Again, I wish you all the best of luck and as pleasant an experience as possible the next time you enter a testing center.

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