My Certification Journal No. 3: Audio Courseware and Practice Labs
This is the third entry in a series of posts detailing my experiences using select ExamForce products to train and prepare for Microsoft's MCSA: Windows 7 exams. I'm hoping that these posts will offer some insight into this process for folks who are new to IT certification, or for anyone looking to renew an old certification or earn a new one.
In my introduction to this series, I mentioned it's been a long time since I last trained and studied for an IT certification exam. To help me get back into study mode, I spoke to the people at ExamForce and asked if they could set me up with some Windows 7 certification training and exam preparation tools.
Here are the two exams I am preparing for:
Why Windows 7, you may ask? Well, because Win7 is going to be the primary enterprise operating system for at least another year. Windows 8 adoption has slowed to a crawl, and the much-hyped release of Windows 10 will not take place until late 2015. Since no CTO in their right mind is going to adopt Win10 right out of the gate, I expect Win7 to remain viable for several months into 2016 as well. That's why I chose to train for the MCSA: Windows 7 certification exams.
Using ExamForce Audio Courseware
As I have never used any form of audio training product before, I was curious how I would respond to using the ExamForce Audio courseware. I was able to get two ExamForce Audio packages, one for each MCSA: Windows 7 exam.
In each package, there are two sets of audio files. One set contains an audio review of the relevant exam curriculum, and the other set consists of an audio question-and-answer session similar to reviewing practice exam questions. The audio files are in MP3 format, which offers great flexibility for playing them on pretty much any portable audio player, tablet device, or computer.
With narrated audio content in general, there is a desired balance between a voice that's too dynamic (which is annoying) and a voice that drones along (which is tiring and eventually causes unplanned naps). The narrator on the ExamForce Audio content struck a decent balance between these two extremes, although his delivery was a little flat at times. I recognize that it's not easy to make Windows 7 courseware sound exciting or fascinating. With this in mind, I found the narration to be acceptable given the source material.
The big advantage audio courseware offers students is the ability to work in additional studying while pursuing other activities. Going to go run on the treadmill? Put in your earbuds and review practice exam questions. Cooking up some three-alarm chili in the kitchen? Open your tablet, and play a chapter on Windows 7 deployment options.
I found using the ExamForce Audio courseware to be beneficial, although I wouldn't want to rely solely on it to prepare for an exam. As a secondary study tool, it is a very convenient and efficient training method.
Using ExamForce Practice Labs
I am a huge fan of server/desktop virtualization, so I was really looking forward to trying out the ExamForce Practice Labs product. After activating my account online, I was easily able to launch the practice lab software in my browser.
The ExamForce practice lab software offers one or more virtual machines, with an exercise window positioned beside the virtual machine screen. The exercise window contains lessons for the student to work through using one or more of the virtual machines. For example, in one of the labs I had a domain controller and two Windows 7 VMs open at the same time. You can switch between the VMs using a handy navigation sidebar, which is great when working through a lesson that uses multiple machines.
The ExamForce practice labs software was intuitive and easy to use. The speed of the VMs was what I expected from a remote connection (not great), and I was glad I had a large widescreen monitor to keep the full practice lab software interface visible while I worked — a dual-monitor setup would probably do the trick as well.
If you don't have access to the extra hardware and software needed to set up a functional practice lab, a hosted online VM setup is a training solution that's hard to beat. My favorite feature: If you somehow manage to toast a VM while you're tinkering with it, it's a snap to reset the VM and get back to work. The ExamForce practice lab software also tracks your progress through the given exercises, which is a nice bonus.
In my final pre-exam post in this series, I'll discuss using the ExamForce CramMaster exam simulation software. Until next time, happy studying!
(Full disclosure: I have known the ExamForce folks for many years, and contribute industry articles to their website.)