Sunday, 29 June 2008

Review: uCertify Prep Engine

Having never used a prep engine, or even sat for a Microsoft exam, I really had no idea what to expect from a prep engine. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised. On the whole, I found the uCertify engine to be a natural and rather fun learning tool. I will certainly use it again and thoroughly recommend it to developers looking to speed up their prep time for MS cert Exams.

First Impressions

Very sleek: I didn’t have to waste any time figuring out how the thing works, and what to do. All the main functions are available and clearly visible from the applications start page.

It offers a prescribed learning path which steers you through a number of steps that first identify your weaknesses and then offer a number of different improvement techniques.

All your progress is tracked and may be reviewed at any time.

Getting Started

The first prescribed step is the diagnostic test: I think of it as a reality check. It lets you know exactly where you stand across the subject matter. I was surprised to find I had a couple of holes in my knowledge on subject matter I generally thought I knew very well!

Of course you may take your own path through the engine, you may use any feature at any time from the start page.


Once you’ve identified the areas you need to brush up on, its time to dive in and this is where I thought the uCertify engine really shone: there are a rich set of options to suit many different learning styles:

Exam Objectives: an orderly overview of all the exams objectives – I found this quite useful as a starting point in identifying the areas I needed to focus on.

  1. Interactive Quiz: take this when you think you’re ready. It’s like the practice tests but each question is timed and you can’t go back. This means the result is going to be quite realistic.
  2. Flash Cards: it asks a question, you type your answer; you compare your answer with the correct one. Not multiple choice format so you must type something. Each time you revisit a card, you have both your own typed answer and the provided answer. I used this to record your own notes! Hundreds of these cards are provided (there were 303 for M70-536).
  3. Study Notes: hundreds of notes; each targeting a specific exam objective. Yes, you can also add your own notes at the bottom of every page.
  4. Articles: a collection of relevant articles that provided more in depth understanding of specific areas.
  5. Study Tips: a collection of tips from various sources. Certainly worth browsing.
  6. How-to’s: if you’re going to do some real world practice then this list is worth a scan. It may well contain just what you’re looking for!

Practice Tests

Once you’ve done enough learning (or if you’re keen to get right into it) take a practice test. The M70-536 came with 4 predefined practice tests, a final test, an adaptive test, and you can also create your own custom test at any time to cover any one or more specific sections of your choice.

I did struggle a bit with the wording of some of the questions: the English grammar wasn’t always correct and a few were really ambiguous. It wasn’t until I’d seen the answer that I realised what the question meant. Perhaps this is what the actual exams are like? I couldn’t help wondering if the questions were written by a native English speaker or not.

Practice tests can be taken in learn mode or test mode. Learn mode allows you to get instant feedback for each question (as well as detailed explanations of the correct and incorrect answers). There are a variety of different question formats modelled on the vender exam question format (M70-536 in my case). Most are multiple choice but some are different e.g., some require you to arrange a list of actions into the correct sequence in order to achieve a specific outcome, or e.g., associate each method with its correct type.

The adaptive test changes its difficulty based on how well / badly you’re doing. For me, this kind of material was invaluable because it not only showed me the areas I needed to work on, but honed in on my weak points and forced me to improve them.


If you need to prep for an exam but don’t have heaps of time, this engine will certainly help. The only negative I found was that some of the questions in the practices tests were a bit ambiguous, and some of the wording sounded like it was written by someone who wasn’t a native English speaker. These were the exception though, most were fine. On the whole: a real power pack of intense exam prep tools and material. I will definitely use it again and can highly recommend it to would be cert exam takers.