25 Oct 2014

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Should MVA Jumpstarts cover most/all of an exam?

On a recent comment on one of my blog posts, a reader wrote the following;

Been trough the jumpstart and since my collagues also have been trough them and tried out the exam also. Seems Jumps start is not covering anymore the areas the exam nowadays includes. Seems more and more TFS 2013 related questions are coming in exams.

Hearing what was in the exam from collagues (“best” example was around 15 questions of 48 were not covered by current jumps start at all) I am a bit worried if I should go and try anyhow.

Is there anything of this uncovered area available (I have the current (TFSadmin and TFS instal helps available aleready)? Or plans to have a new jumps starts near time?

Firstly, I have no issue with the comment and my thoughts are not in anyway directed to the person making this comment.  In addition to replying to the comment on the post, I thought I would put a few more thoughts down in a separate post.

The Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA) Jumpstarts in question are approximately 6-7 hours of videos designed to point exam candidates in the right direction in terms of study material. Steven Borg and I recorded three MVA JumpStarts around the May 2013. These three JumpStarts focused on the exams required to gain the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer: Application Lifecycle Management certification.

Microsoft announced that from June 8, 2013 these three exams would “include content covering Visual Studio 2013.” The exam numbers remain the same, just some of the questions will be updated for the latest release of the product. In my opinion much of the examinable content did not really change between versions. Mostly there were just features or capabilities added.

In considering the commenter’s statement that “around 15 questions of 48 were not covered by current jumps start at all”. I could completely accept that and am actually surprised that the JumpStarts covered as much as 66% of the questions. Let’s consider why I am surprised.

  • Both Steven and I sign the exact same Non-Disclosure Agreement that everyone signs when you sit a Microsoft exam. Simply put, we CANNOT divulge any of the exam questions. Everyone is required to sign this NDA prior to taking the exam so things like braindumps should not exist. This is something Steven and I take very seriously.
  • The content that Steven and I presented in the JumpStarts  was taken exclusively from the publically available Microsoft exam preparation pages. We triaged the content and worked out what we could fit into each of the session timeslots. We simply couldn’t cover everything.
  • The brief provided to us by the MVA folk was to deliver online training sessions based around the examinable topics or as much of that as we could in approximately 6 hours.

I would like to put forward my ideas on when you should consider using the JumpStarts versus when formal training might be a better fit for you. Clearly the JumpStarts are free which is great and getting high-quality formal training costs money. That said they don’t offer the same learning outcomes.

When to consider the JumpStarts

If you have skills and knowledge in the topic area, the JumpStarts are perfect for honing your knowledge and showing you where you might need to focus some self-study.

When to consider training options

If you do not already have underpinning knowledge of the topics, 6 hour videos are not going to give you the necessary knowledge. To illustrate this, let’s look at the courses I deliver that cover much of the examinable content in detail.

Exam 70-496 Administering Visual Studio Team Foundation Server

Exam 70-497 Software testing with Visual Studio

Exam 70-498 Delivering Continuous Value with Visual Studio Application Lifecycle Management

As you can see, nine days of focused technical training with hands on labs to reinforce the learning is a very different proposition to watching the JumpStart videos.

Summary

In summary, I don’t believe the JumpStarts should provide a way for candidates to “shortcut” the exam preparation process. If someone was able to simply watch approximately 6 hours of video and pass the exam, I would think this would de-value the exam and certification.

The JumpStarts and/or Exam Cram sessions should simply aim for the following outcomes.

  1. reinforce the content likely to be covered in the exam
  2. help candidates gauge their readiness to take the exam
  3. point candidates towards resources they can use to self-study exam topic further
  4. provide helpful training for those considering or not considering the exam

Also, in my opinion, the exam should compliment a person’s EXISTING knowledge of a topic, not be used exclusively to demonstrate it. While someone might be able to get 900 in the exam, I would also want to be confident that the person had the corresponding experience and underpinning skills to backup the exam result. The JumpStarts should help you focus your existing knowledge and pin point knowledge gaps so you can focus your study.