To Beta or Not To Beta

In my previous column, I wrote about Microsoft Certification beta exams and why you might think twice about signing up, if ever the coveted invitation arrives addressed to you. I didn't intend to scare you off, but you should know both sides of the beta exam question.

I took my first beta exam for SQL Server 6.5 Database Design and Implementation and afterward swore never to take another. Shortly after the release of SQL Server 7.0, however, I was offered the opportunity to make some training videos about its administration—if I passed the SQL Server 7.0 Administration test. Because the SQL Server 7.0 beta period began 6 weeks before video filming, I could meet the requirements only by taking the beta exam. So I did.

I found the administration beta exam much less grueling than the previous beta. Many of my experienced colleagues agree that design exams—such as my first beta exam—often exceed administration and configuration exams in complexity. Design exams notoriously include the worst kind of questions: those with intricate scenarios that require much close reading and big sections of code. In comparison, administration and configuration exams seem more straightforward.

My reasons for taking a beta exam, or at least considering taking a beta exam, follow:

  • In general, beta test scores arrive sooner than those from public exams. If you're on a deadline or want to attain your certification as quickly as possible, choose beta exams.
  • If personal satisfaction motivates you, taking and passing beta exams will heighten your sense of accomplishment. You know you've done something particularly difficult, and you can feel especially proud of yourself.
  • Beta exams typically cost nothing or less than a public exam's standard fee. If you have more time than money or plan to take several exams, beta exams ease the strain on your budget.
  • If you're a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), your experience with beta exams will pay off when you advise your students whether to take them. If you've been there, done that, your credibility increases.
  • You'll be helping Microsoft improve the public exam.

Although I can't advise you about taking a particular exam, I hope the pros and cons I've discussed in this and the previous issue will help you make a decision well-suited to your situation.

After I submitted my previous column, rumors circulated about an extension of the retirement date for Windows NT 4.0 exams. Almost a week later, Microsoft made it official; read the announcement on the Microsoft Web site. If you resigned yourself to not taking one of the NT 4.0 tests, you might consider this some good news.

Who benefits and who doesn't from this extension? If you're not an MCSE but hoped to achieve certification on the NT 4.0 track, this extension gives you 2 extra months to attain your goal. Unfortunately, the original expiration date applies when determining how long your MCSE certification remains valid. That is, if you pass your last NT 4.0 exam on February 28, 2001, your certification will last only 10 months.

If you planned to take the special Windows 2000 Upgrade exam (70-240), which encompasses four exams in one, the extension provides 2 extra months to meet the prerequisites. If you are an MCSE with certification based on the NT 3.51 exams, the extension makes little difference in your certification status. Although the NT 3.51 exams expired on June 30, 2000, your MCSE remains valid for 12 months beyond that date, or until June 30, 2001. You still have 6 months to study for and pass the Win2K exams.

The extension offers nothing to those MCTs facing the new requirement of premium certification by January 1, 2001. The deadline stands, although the complete program description of the new requirements remains unavailable. Trainers who lose their MCT status for lack of premium certification will probably have to start from scratch to regain MCT certification.

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