What Should a Working MCSE Study?

The other day, I had a chance to put a theory to the test. I've been telling people for several months that a working MCSE with a couple of years of experience with Windows NT and 9 months or more experience with Windows 2000 should be able to pass the Win2K MCSE core exams with only a little studying. I took Exam 70-215 without knowing any more than that it covers topics related to installing, configuring, and administering Win2K Server. To study, I browsed through the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courses 2151, 2152, and 2153—but only because I'm preparing to teach those classes at the end of October. I doubt I have spent more than an hour on each course so far.

What I found was that the test covered the same concepts and skills that I've been using with NT for the past several years. Sure, there are new topics, such as Microsoft Dfs and encryption, but most of the new services added to Win2K work like similar, existing services. For example, when you move a file to a new directory on the same NTFS volume, the file keeps its existing permissions, but when you copy a file, it inherits the destination folder's permissions. The NTFS file encryption attribute works the same way. My background probably, at the very least, let me eliminate the obviously wrong answers.

The question then is, what should a working MCSE study? Here are my suggestions:

  • Active Directory (AD), especially Group Policy Objects (GPOs) and inheritance. Win2K uses GPOs for much more than simply assigning permissions to resources on the network. Knowing how to use GPOs will be very important for administrators.
  • NTFS and share permissions. Even experienced administrators make mistakes assigning permissions, so you can reasonably expect further testing about this critical skill.
  • All the new little features Microsoft has added to the OS, such as improved handling for high-performance and high-capacity hard disks, encryption, Dfs, and options for recovering from failures.

In short, MCSEs who work with NT every day simply need to learn the incremental changes Microsoft made to the OS. I must admit that the stories I heard about how much harder the exams were supposed to be worried me. As I walked back to my car after the exam, though, I realized that no questions on the exam should be particularly hard for an experienced MCSE. I went into the exam with my "only" preparation being what I had learned over the past 5 years of working with NT and what I had discovered as I converted my network from NT to Win2K. Apparently it was sufficient preparation to pass the exam.

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