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Last Updated January 22, 2004

Series Review: 
Mike Meyer's Certification Passport Series

Osborne/McGraw Hill steps in to fill the gap left by the now defunct Exam Cram series. 
HomeBook Reviews > Certification
 
Big Shoes to Fill
   A few years ago, a publisher name Coriolis launched a new product called "Exam Cram", which offered experienced administrators a way to efficiently prepare for the exams by intensely focusing each book on just what you needed to pass the test. Each chapter summarized the basics of the topic, highlight exam pitfalls, and offered review questions that were very similar to those on the actual exam. These weren't training guides, but rather review guides designed to be adjuncts to either classroom training, or a complete training curriculum. Despite this fact, the series was so good many people used the Exam Cram series as their only study resource and still passed Microsoft's exams. 

The Exam Cram series wasn't perfect though. Each book in the series was written by a different author which made the quality inconsistent between guides. And the series didn't include any test prep software. Unfortunately, Exam Cram's publisher has gone out of business and there won't be any updates or improvements to the series. And up until now, rival publishers attempts to release their own versions of this format have fallen short. 

There's a new Sheriff in town...
Enter Osborne/McGraw Hill, one of the leading publishers of MCSE study guides (including our favorite MCSE series written by Deb and Tom Shinder). The Passport series uses a format similar to the popular Exam Cram books, but with a light hearted "Travel theme" that breaks up the inherently dry subject matter. The softcover books are in convenient and portable 6x9 format, and range between 350-400 pages each. The chapters are organized by exam objectives as outlined by Microsoft, and follow it closely. The tutorials are concise, well written, and do a good job of getting you up to speed. Surprisingly, the travel theme works well to liven up each chapter without going overboard (no pun intended). 

As expected, every book in the series follows the same format: Each chapter begins with an "Itinerary" of sorts that includes an "ETA" of how long it should take you to complete each chapter based on your experience. Within each chapter you'll find a number of call outs ranging from straightforward Exam Tips to "Local Lingo" boxes that explain technical definitions, "Travel Assistance" boxes that refer to additional resources, and "Travel Advisories" that highlight common pitfalls and misconceptions. There are 8-10 chapters in each book and they include plenty of screenshots and illustrations to accompany the tutorials. Each chapter ends with a "Checkpoint" that provides a quick summary of the key points of the preceding chapters followed by review questions. And every book includes an index for fast reference.

Publishers Price:
$29.99 each
Street Price:
$18.95 Bookpool.com

To ensure the quality of the series, Osborne utilized the skills of veteran trainer and author Mike Meyers as the series editor, and recruited Microsoft Certified Trainers as authors of the individual books. This combination appears to work well for the series, and the overall quality of the content is excellent. The black and white Illustrations and screenshots used within the series are helpful and legible, despite their small size to accommodate the page format. The review questions included at the end of each chapter (and the end of the book) are excellent, and accurately depict many of the questions we've seen on the actual Microsoft exams. Unfortunately it appears their technical editors were asleep at the switch, as there are a number of small errors and inconsistencies throughout the series. However, it's not enough to make a big difference in your studies or likely to impact your exam results. To be fair we have yet to come across a series (including Microsoft) that didn't have its fair share of errata. You can view a list of some of the discovered errors in the series here. Hopefully Osborne/McGraw Hill will get these fixed in the second printing. 

As a bonus, each book in the series comes with a CD-ROM that contains a copy of ExamWeb's exam prep software. The software is rather basic, and the review questions are adequate, but they're filled with annoyingly obvious typos and grammatical errors that are very distracting. For an additional $19.95, you can go to http://www.examweb.com/passport/ and download an upgrade the existing questions, as well another set of review questions. We didn't test the online "upgraded" version. However, if you have the budget, we recommend using a higher quality exam simulator. 

The Acid Test
So how well does this series prepare you for the exam? Quite well, actually. We sent one of our LabMice (an experienced NT 4.0 MCSE and Windows 2000 administrator) into exams 70-210 and 70-215 using this series as his only study reference and he emerged victorious with an 800 and 840 score respectively. (Stay tuned - we intend to keep sending him in for each book in the series) Your results may vary based on your actual product experience, preparation time, and familiarity with the Microsoft exam format, but we couldn't think of a better way to actually test a series.

Overall Impressions
Overall, we really liked this series and think Exam Cram fans will be pleased. The portability and focus on exam objectives make it easy to study anywhere without lugging a huge hardcover tomb around, and they do a great job of preparing you for the actual exams. Just keep in mind that these guides are not designed as a stand alone certification product and should be used with a Microsoft approved training guide, or as a companion to a class. If you have limited experience with Windows 2000, make sure you set up a lab and do the exercises provided in many approved training guides. We would have liked to see a tear away "study sheet" that highlights important last minute material, and perhaps even an electronic version of the book on the CD. We also hope to see an improvement in the quality of the test prep software included with the books. Still, the books are a great value and an excellent study resource. As a plus, the core Windows 2000 exam study guides are available as a boxed set

Sample Chapters Online
If you would like to take the series for a test drive the publisher offers several sample chapters in PDF format on their web site:


Disclaimer:
To ensure that our reviews are impartial, LabMice.net does not recieve direct commissions on book sales. In addition, we do not accept advertising revenue or other compensation from book publishers


  

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