Should I Get Certified – or How I Passed My First SharePoint Exam Within 24 Hours of Learning How to Spell SharePoint

A student at USPJ Academy posted a very common question in the campus forums about what to do to prepare for getting the MSFT certifications. You know, those exams you take to certify to the world that you know, well, something.

Short answer: To prepare, you book a date, show up, and then deduce the right answers. From that alone, you’d get 50% correct responses. Then, use the second chance Microsoft is always pitching, review the concepts you scored the lowest on and get the remaining 20% or thereabout you need to pass.

I have taken all the exams for SharePoint 2007, and I took the entire MCSE track in a week. I took the first WSS config exam within 24 hours of a potential new employer asked if I knew anything about SharePoint and I had to say no (which wasn’t exactly true, but I didn’t even know how to spell SharePoint, much less do anything useful in it).

What I did? Well, I googled ‘SharePoint training’, found one of Mike Fitzmaurice’s video classes from his Microsoft days (not sure it exists anymore), and read through the curriculum outline. I did study intensely for about 12 hours straight and signed up for an exam early the next morning.

During the exam, I started by spending 10 seconds on each question. If I was absolutely certain of the answer, I answered. If I was in the slightest doubt about the answer, I wrote it down along with the numbered options like this:

2: A B C D E
3: A B C D
8: A B C D E F

After going through the questions and answering the ones I clearly remembered the answer to or where the options left only one possible answer, I had about 25% correct and answered.

I then went back to the questions that I didn’t answer in the first pass and used deduction to reduce the number of possible options (they’re all multiple choice). I scratched out at least one clearly impossible option and moved on to the next question. My list then after pass two would look something like this:

2: A B C D E
3: A B C D
8: A B C D E F

Most of the time, only 2 or 3 options were even slightly possible, but I still didn’t attempt to answer any of the slightly uncertain questions until the third pass.

At this point, I had spent about 20 minutes of the exam time. That meant I could structure the remaining time and calculate how much time I could spend deducing the remaining questions.

During pass three, I looked through each question with the intention of finding an answer. I either spent about 30 seconds or 2 minutes per question in pass three. If I was fairly certain about an answer, I would spend more time to become completely sure, but if I was either too uncertain or I was absolutely certain I either moved on without further thought (if uncertain) or answered the question (if certain).

For the question where I was more than completely unsure and less than completely sure, I spent about two minutes reviewing the options again. If I could find one option that didn’t make sense, I would scratch that out and move on to the next question. If I couldn’t find a clear answer or an option that absolutely didn’t make sense after two minutes I would also move on.

After pass three, my list would normally be reduced to something like 10-15 questions and I still had close to an hour left of the exam. I knew that the questions I had answered were correct and that the remaining options held the answer to the questions I hadn’t answered.

By lucky guesses and statistics alone, considering there were around 2-3 options remaining for up to 15 questions, I would have been able to pass the exam at this point.

If you want to move ahead from this, just keep going over the remaining questions. The important thing: Don’t make a decision unless you know the outcome, so don’t answer a question unless you know the answer. Are you unsure? Spend more time.

Oh, and I used this same method to pass every other exam I have done, not just the SharePoint ones. I actually failed one exam for the MCSE stuff because I didn’t realize that I couldn’t go back to review, but apart form that, it always worked for me.

Is this cheating? No! I still need to know the stuff, hence the video training from Mike Fitzmaurice and the curriculum reading. The exams are pointless, however, and doesn’t certify that you know squat. The fact that I managed to get enough up to speed within 24 hours to pass the "you’re verifiably good at SharePoint config" proves how little these exams really measure. I’m not trying to sound arrogant or anything, I have other blog posts that focuses on that, but I believe that if I took one of the new SharePoint exams, like 70-573, 70-576, 70-667, and 70-668, I believe I would have passed without even looking through the curriculum.

So, my _real_ response to how you pass the exams is "as quickly as possible, preferably in a speeding vehicle". Save your money if you want to be good, you’ll get to that point by spending time with some proper SharePoint training material and working diligently with real-life projects, but it’s not an easy two-day class-room courses.

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