Microsoft is set to introduce performance-based testing for its Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Microsoft Certified Systems Architect (MCSA) credentials, company officials announced. New simulations, developed by the company with partners Pearson VUE, Thomson Prometric and APA, are scheduled to roll out next month, said Al Valvano, who manages business and product strategy group for certification and assessment operations at Microsoft Learning.
“We’re trying to use simulation performance-based testing technology to assess and analyze whether a candidate can actually perform the task, rather than just use a series of questions that test domain knowledge,” Valvano said. “Generally, what we’re seeing with the simulation items types that we’ll be introducing with these two exams are that they’re generally comprised of multiple-part tasks. They might have a scenario that sets out a desired end state, and you’d have to walk through various steps in the simulated environment to actually achieve that, just like you would if you were running the operating system in the real world.
“Microsoft continues to be dedicated to providing a robust certification product suite to help organizations, hiring managers and candidates prove competency around Microsoft technology,” he added. “We believe this is a key investment for us moving forward, to continue to raise the bar in testing technology and in terms of providing concrete value to people who set out their valuable time and energy in achieving a Microsoft certification.”
The performance-based test will proceed in a “branching” fashion, not unlike a training simulation, Valvano said. “Basically, how it works is that it’s fairly open-ended, much like you would experience with virtual training, where it’s up to the candidate to work through the problem and implement the solution. What that means is that there may be multiple right ways to accomplish the end state, and the simulation allows for that. It’s not like we’re testing for a specific, prescriptive set of walk-throughs that we would evaluate against, unless, of course, there is only one right way.”
In this system, users can get “wrong” answers, but might not realize it until well after the fact. “You are able to walk down dead ends,” Valvano said. “You would be able to implement something that—if you don’t know the domain of knowledge that you’re trying to test against and you input that—you’re not going to get an error message or warning for. So it really does mimic the environment you would experience as an IT administrator or a system administrator in the real world.”
Although this new modality will be the most advanced product in Microsoft’s certification suite, it won’t be fully replacing other testing methods anytime soon. “We’re driving toward the same set of knowledge that we utilize on the (current) test with different testing technology,” he said. “We’re taking the same exams that you have on the market today, which is comprised of many different types of test items (simple answer, case study, multiple-choice, drag-and-drop), and adding simulation-based items into that same testing experience. Our desire here is to utilize the right technology to test the right kind of knowledge or competency.”
Targeted release dates for the MCSE and MCSA simulations are at the end of March, while a free online demo will be available at the beginning of that month. Valvano added that performance-based testing for other exams are in the works, but could not yet offer comment as to which specific programs would be adding simulations. Stay tuned…
For more information, see http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcpexams/simulations/default.asp.