The Anatomy of a Good Item (or Why the Heck Should I Read Those Long, Boring Explanations?)

May 31, 2011 at 9:40 am | Posted in Study hints, Technical Tips | 5 Comments

Here at Transcender, we strive to provide you with a robust product that prepares you for an exam. But doing so is not always as easy as it sounds.

We’re often contacted by customers who complain that they didn’t see any of our questions when they went to take their exams. You’re welcome! While we understand your frustration, we strive every day to build quality, unique content that prepares you to pass your exam without plagiarizing the vendor’s questions. Because of the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) that all test vendors enforce, we cannot copy those exam questions in our products. So you should NOT see the same questions. However, we should provide questions that are similar in depth and composition, meaning that our questions should be as complex as, and structured like, the live certification exam questions.

It follows that if you ONLY read and answer our questions, then, you are missing the most valuable portion of our practice test. Our explanations often go beyond the scope of the question itself. As Content Developers, we spend the majority of our time fine-tuning the explanations. Writing a good practice question is the easy part. Writing a good explanation is MUCH more difficult and a lot more time-consuming.

Because we’ve found that there are rarely two people using our products the same way, I wanted to highlight a question from our A+ Essentials practice test to show you just why you should read those long, boring explanations. Take the following question (click to view the full screen version):

Item text

Now, as you can see, the question itself is very straightforward. However, if you look at the explanation, you will see that there are a few more topics covered. The sentence If a technician pings the loopback address, the technician is checking that TCP/IP is functioning properly on the computer simply answers the question that was provided. The rest of the explanation covers a host of associated concepts that also fall into the test objectives:

  • The sentence To check the connection between the computer and the local router, you need to ping the router by DNS name or IP address covers checking the connection between the computer and the local router.
  • The sentence To check the connection between the computer and the server, you need to ping the server by DNS name or address covers checking the connection between the computer and the server.
  • The sentence To check that TCP/IP is functioning properly on the network, you should ping a remote device by DNS name or IP address covers checking that TCP/IP is functioning properly on the network.
  • The sentence The loopback address for all computers is, regardless of the computer’s IP address covers the loopback address.

So it follows that if you just read and answer the question, you will know the answer to a single question, However, if you thoroughly read and study the explanations provided, you will understand at least 5 different topics. Here is a list of just a few questions that you could answer with the help of this explanation:

  1. What should you do to check the connection between the computer and the local router? Ping the router by DNS name or IP address
  2. What is the purpose of pinging a router by DNS name or IP address? To check the connection between the computer and the local router
  3. What is the loopback address?
  4. What is the address called? The loopback address

As you can see from this small example, our explanations are the most valuable part of our practice test. By ignoring them, our customers are not using the tool we provide to the greatest potential.

While I understand that for many of you, this post has been much longer than you expected (especially with my history of writing mostly much shorter posts.) But it could have been much worse, I could have picked the following explanation to break down for you (click to view full size):

Exhaustively detailed explanation

Just think of the questions that could be pulled from that one!




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  1. I think the explanations are Great! I just wish transcender would create better study guides as well.

    There is big difference between reading the books and learning from transcender exams. I think transcender can and should create better, complete study guides, so that all we really need is the 200-300 page study guide not less(depending upon teh exam) and the exam and explanations.

    This way we don’t have to read a lot of books from so many publishers.

    Furthermore, if transcender could create lab manuals for practicing all the necessary topics using e.g. VMWARE, etc… this would be a great value added to present us with a complete package.

    Hope this happens in the future!


    • What a lead-in to promote our CCNA Lab Simulator product,, which provides exactly what you propose: a hands-on simulated environment for practicing Cisco commands, plus a targeted set of lab exercises that cover the exam objectives.

  2. I have been using Transcenders since 1996 for certification practice test, I have purchased over 15 different practice test over the years and have always found them very helpful.

    However for the PMP I am finding the practice test to be hard and not explain well enough for me to understand.

    • Our explanations in our PMP practice test are designed to explain the correct answer and any incorrect answers. We try to be as thorough as possible. But keep in mind, this is a study tool. If you are reading all the explanations and still having trouble grasping the concepts discussed, it might be time to either take a PMP class or to brush up with another resource, such as Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep.

      We feel that if you are struggling with our practice test, you will probably struggle with the live exam. From experience, we can tell you it is quite hard and comprehensive! With this exam, there is just a large amount of information that you MUST memorize. Rita Mulcahy’s book does a wonderful job in helping in that area.

      We hope this helps a bit. There are just some certification exams that you have to go that extra mile for. PMP is one of them!

  3. […] The GSEC: GIAC exam is $1,249 (or $689 when taken with an associated SANS training course). Our practice exam  formats range from $99 – $119, so we can offer you a cost-effective way to test your chops before sitting the live question bank. (If you’re new to Transcender, welcome! And be sure to review why you should read those long, boring explanations.) […]

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