How to make sure IT certifications actually matter

Has the certification golden ticket become nothing more than fool's gold? Here's how to get real value as a employee or employer

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Preparing for exam victory: The braindump ship has sailed

I remember my first exam: NT 4.0 Workstation. Those early Microsoft exams always included one question that was sure to have "Add more RAM" as the answer, and every testing software app had it in its base of questions. I used Transcenders to pass my early exams.

But over time, a cornucopia of solutions popped up -- some of which were not good for students of IT and led to many becoming certified with little more than a few hours of studying answers, with absolutely no experience with the technology. These so-called brain dumps, where test takers would come out of an exam and immediately post online the questions and possible answers to as many questions as they could remember, combined with offerings of official test questions and answers, all diminished the value of the certification world.

It's been a long fight for Microsoft and others, but it appears that they have really pursued and sunk all the "brain dump" and "help" mechanisms (the Pass4Sure, Testkiller-type products) that used to exist. There are still sites that offer you "help" to pass, but they look more like Microsoft honey pots (sites with different names that all have the same information, logos, and so on) to see who is seeking these frowned-upon tools. Through the smoke, after all these years, there are some legitimate tools on the market.

I had the privilege of using two as a test case: Transcender (my old standby from years back) and MeasureUp. My theory was that my experience with Exchange 2010 would be the foundation for passing the test, and I would see how valuable the modern versions of these two solutions would be to help me really lock it in.

Let me humbly say that I would not have passed the exam without using one or both of these solutions. I found the exam to have some questions that were reasonably difficult and others that simply had confusing wording. I could easily recommend both of these for the Exchange exam. Here is what I liked about each one:

  • MeasureUp: It offered a very straightforward set of questions that helped you focus on answers without a great deal of extra fluff in the question. The online engine performed well and allowed me to customize my exam experience by choosing the number of questions I wanted to answer, the type of questions, and more. There was a study mode and a certification mode to choose from as well. One thing I really liked is that it offered an eight-page study guide (like the old cram-session guides) that I could print and carry around.
  • Transcender: It had a larger question base (by about 20 questions) and really went for the overkill method of making sure you were overprepared. The questions it had were much more involved and hurt my brain a bit, but it forced me to think about what procedures I need to follow to accomplish certain tasks. It also offered a customizable online test that made it easy to focus on specific subject matter and work in a study mode or certification mode. One thing I really liked is that it has a flash-card offering with tons of questions that you can flip through quickly to help you remember points.
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