Get Cash Back for Passing Windows MCSE Exams

LearnKey promises a cash rebate if you pass the Win2K exams using its prep materials. Is the MasterExam product that good?

It’s no big deal to walk into an automobile dealership, buy a car and get a rebate. But would you expect a company selling Windows 2000 MCSE exam-preparation materials to offer a rebate? Well, LearnKey does. The company, in its advertising, promises to pay you up to $200 if you pass the Win2K exams using its MasterExam test prep products. So, are the LearnKey products that good? Let’s put them through their paces and find out.

LearnKey Testing Engine
LearnKey offers separate MasterExam prep materials for the four Win2K MCSE core exams, along with a MasterExam product for the Win2K Accelerated test. The latter product incorporates, on one CD, all the content found on the four individual MasterExam CDs.

After entering your name into the test program, you can take a simulated exam that parallels an actual Win2K exam in the number of questions and time allotted. You can also choose to take an untimed “open-” or timed “closed-book” test, with the former dropping hints as you answer questions and allowing you to check answers before finishing the exam. Both of these test types randomly pull questions from a large pool.

Product Information
LearnKey Windows 2000 MCSE Core Exam Preparation Materials
Windows 2000 Professional Administration MasterExam
Windows 2000 Server Administration MasterExam
Windows 2000 Network Infrastructure Administration MasterExam
Windows 2000 Directory Services Administration MasterExam
$125 per exam
Windows 2000 Accelerated MasterExam, $475
St. George, Utah

The MasterExam product presents numerous simulation questions that require you to accomplish certain actions via the Win2K interface. Other questions present you with a technical scenario and ask you to perform an action, such as drag-and-drop, using other graphics. In my view, LearnKey needs to go back to the drawing board concerning these simulations, as the questions are unwieldy and unchallenging. For example, when you’re presented with a Win2K interface and asked to perform certain steps, the simulation engine “pigeonholes” you into the desired menu items and dialog boxes. You don’t have the ability to fumble around the interface, which can prove an invaluable learning experience.

At the same time, LearnKey’s simulation questions aren’t forgiving of stray mouse clicks. If you inadvertently click in a wrong area of the screen, the current question is flagged as incorrect and you’re moved to the next question. In addition, even though there may be numerous ways to perform a given task in Win2K, with LearnKey, if you don’t perform the task the MasterExam way, your answer is flagged as incorrect. This is annoying—I found myself having to re-answer a simulation question several times to “get it right” the MasterExam way.

Another major drawback concerning the simulation engine, when you’re taking a MasterExam to simulate a real exam, is if you click in the wrong area, you’re immediately moved to the next question. This instantly tells you that you didn’t answer the simulation question correctly (if only the real exam provided such clues!). Compared to similar simulation engine products on the market, the MasterExam interface is, at best, primitive.

Technical Content
For the most part, LearnKey’s technical content is accurate. But there are exceptions, as you can see in Figure 1.

Figure 1. LearnKey sample question. Win2K Professional Administration MasterExam..

This seems like a somewhat easy question to answer, but looks can be deceiving. If you know something about NT or Windows 2000, you know the Users group is fairly restricted in what it can do, so you can eliminate answer A. There’s no such group as Super Users, so answer C is out as well. So, that leaves Power Users and Administrators. Well, you probably know that Administrators are all-powerful and that, given the requirement to “accomplish just these tasks,” the test creators probably didn’t intend for Administrators to be the answer. At the same time, however, you’re probably nagged by the feeling that loading and unloading device drivers seems to be a task that only an administrator should perform—and it turns out that only administrators can update device drivers. Power Users can load print drivers, but can’t run Add/Remove Hardware or modify a device driver through Device Manager. The MasterExam answer is Power Users and, unfortunately, is wrong. Ironically, in the Windows 2000 Server Administration MasterExam, a similar question is presented and the answer explanation correctly states that only Administrators can load device drivers.

Overall, the questions are simple, with most no longer than a line or paragraph. Though helpful for learning basic concepts, I don’t find these questions challenging enough to prepare for the advanced and detailed concepts that appear on the actual Win2K exams. For instance, the MasterExam products include many True/False questions, allowing you a 50/50 chance of answering correctly. On an actual exam, you won’t have this luxury.

In addition, there are many questions that ask what Win2K feature allows you to accomplish a certain task. I see this question format as too easy; it reminds me of Windows NT 4.0-style questions such as, “What Control Panel applet allows you to install a modem?” (Answer: Modems). The MasterExam answer explanations are too short and don’t explain in enough detail why a particular answer is right or wrong. This is probably the product’s biggest drawback, because—without adequate answer explanations—you’re not really learning, but rote-memorizing answers.

The MasterExam answer screens do point you to additional technical references (not surprisingly, LearnKey courseware) and corresponding exam objectives. But it would be useful to have other, more generic, references cited as well—for example, the Windows 2000 Resource Kit and even the Microsoft Official Curriculum.

Final Word
The MasterExam product will help you prepare for the Win2K MCSE exams, but by itself, I doubt it affords sufficient preparation. Compared to other exam-prep products I’ve reviewed in “Drill Down,” such as those offered by TestOut! and Transcender, LearnKey’s product is simply not of the same caliber. The MasterExam questions are too basic and the answers not detailed enough. This lack of detail can prevent you from understanding why your answer to a question is correct or incorrect. The simulation questions, in particular, are a big disappointment. The technical content is sketchy compared to other exam-prep products.