The Case Study gets its groove back

September 2, 2011 at 8:37 am | Posted in Microsoft, Study hints | 10 Comments
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Vinyl records are making a comeback. Jelly shoes and skinny jeans are showing up in the fashion stores. Case studies are starting to show up in more and more Microsoft exams. What does it all mean, and more importantly, what should you do about it?

Microsoft introduced the case study in their Windows 2000 Server exams. For the past few years we saw a shift toward exams that relied heavily on multiple-choice questions with some interactive items thrown in for interest. In the past few months, though, both you (test candidates) and we (practice test providers) are finding these extended scenario items in certification exams. Case studies were once  isolated to the Microsoft Windows Server exams, but they are now moving to the developer exams. What’s next – SharePoint, SQL Server, Exchange, Hyper-V?

If you haven’t taken a Microsoft exam with a case study before, let me back up and explain what I mean; better yet, take a look at Troy’s overview of testing models in IT exams. What we call a case study is also referred to as a “testlet,” but is not the same as performance-based testing or a simulation. The case study is actually a good way to assess one’s knowledge of a topic.  First, it presents an extended scenario. Typically there will be a lot of background detail – including stuff that isn’t relevant to your answers. It may include supporting graphics, like an Active Directory network diagram. Then there’s a consecutive series of  brief multiple choice questions based on different parts of that scenario.

The case study items that we build into our Transcender practice test products are presented very much like the ones you’ll see on test day. The scenario is divided into several sections and gives relevant (and not so relevant) information about a company. Each section has one or more headings that describe the corresponding paragraph(s). You can view the different paragraphs by clicking on each heading in the left pane. For example, the Overview button in the left pane may have two paragraphs underneath it. One paragraph describes the Background and another describes the Locations. If you click Existing Infrastructure, it will show text describing the company’s network infrastructure. In the case study, you will learn about the needs, existing network, and mechanical or business restrictions.

Multiple choice questions in a case study format differ a little from the multiple choice questions in a traditional Microsoft exam. For example, a typical question in a case study exam may be as short as this one:

How many servers will you need to deploy in the Atlanta site for the company?

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

There is really no way to know the answer unless you read the case study. (Fortunately the format allows you to toggle back and forth between the question and the scenario.) Memorizing the data to answer a question is not enough here. You will have to synthesize all the information, deduce the best option from a series of interlocking conditions (such as the server hardware available, the budget for new equipment, geographic limitations, or security considerations) and apply it to the scenario.

The number of questions in a case study can vary. I have seen as many as 12 and as few as 3 questions on a given case study over the years.  Obviously the more questions on the case study, the longer it will take to complete the case study. The combination of the multiple choice questions and the information in the case study help simulate what an actual test taker may face in his or her job.

Several of my students tell me that they are not fans of a case study exam.  You really need to be able to read and comprehend quickly.  In my time in the classroom I have discovered that not everybody can read quickly, and a lot of people struggled on case study exams even though they knew the material itself well. The case study scenarios tend to be long and contain lots of details. While some of us may be thrown off our game by the fact these items are just different than what we’re expecting, for others, case study exams can pose a more serious issue. If you have a condition that keeps you from being able to read and comprehend lengthy blocks of text, be sure to check with your test center regarding accommodations in advance. There are often options for you, so best to be prepared and don’t get caught off guard on test day.

The best way to prepare is of course know the material, but also to practice with the case study item format. You can master the material by checking with the Skills Measured tab on the Microsoft prep guide of the exam you are taking. If I wanted to find the prep guide for the 70-668 SharePoint exam, I would type the following at the search engine prompt:  “Prep guide 70-668”. You should see a link to the Microsoft Prep Guide. Depending on which exam you are taking, you should study the “best practices” for whatever discipline that you are testing on. Microsoft typically builds the case studies around best practices, because these are supposed to mimic real-world situations where you have to juggle multiple factors.

Remember, there can be more than one case study on your exam. You cannot spend all day on one case study. Depending on the exam, each case study may be individually timed, or you may have a specific time to complete multiple case studies. You will be informed at the start of each section how much time you have been allotted, and how many questions there will be in the section. Watch the clock; you do not want to be panicking during a test.  As a lifeguard once told me, drowning victims are dangerous to rescue because they flail around wildly. Do not drown during a case study exam! Watch your time.

You should be familiar with the case study format before you sit for the exam. If a Microsoft exam is a case study exam, Transcender will offer a practice exam with a similar case study format and a ton of questions. Yes, it is a shameless plug, but you cannot argue with a “Led Zeppelin value” at a “Def Leppard” price.  Click on the link to see a mockup of those code case study items I mentioned earlier.

Face it, folks, the case study is back and vinyl records are now cool again. Seriously, you have to listen to vinyl. It soooo rocks. Case studies are going to be around for a while. They are not going to fade out again like jelly shoes.

Until next time,

–George Monsalvatge


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  1. George!

    I appreciate your articles about microsoft exam. However, don’t you think your time would be best served for your customers by updating the MCITP 2008 to R2 edition of the study guides as you did with the exams a few months ago!

    If not, why is transcender selling this outdated MCITP exam guides?

    Any ideas? Or are we to worry more about microsoft case studies? Woobdidu!


  2. Thanks for your feedback. We have updated the content of the most popular study guides to Windows Server 2008 R2. However our main focus is to ensure our practice test content is updated for the newest content and question types. This is what our customers ask us for most.

  3. […] the case study has been the mainstay of many Microsoft administrator exams, the last developer exam with case studies was from the retired MCSD track: 70-300: Analyzing […]

  4. Hi George,
    Exams already changed, but Case Study is still not present in transcender download for MS exam 70-562, any idea when this will be changed? I’ve got the exam next week ;-)

    • I think you might be referring to the 70-515 (.NET 4) and the code-specific case study ( As of September, when we sat the exam again, we saw none of these item types. As a matter of fact, our customers have reported passing the exam since then, so it is possible that these items were just added. Your lucky day!

      Unfortunately, being so close to the end of year, we will not be updating the 70-515 exam in 2011. But if the case study items are there, they are very likely to be ungraded items. And if they are there, rest assured we will be releasing an update to 70-515 in early 2012.

      • Hi Codeguru,

        I’m really talking about the 70-562 exam that has changed recently (as of October) to include case studies and also ontain all new, refreshed questions. We know, because within our company we have 120+ developers, and exams are attended on a very regular base. Some fail because of this new exam content.
        The current transcenders for 70-562 do not contain any case studies yet.

        • That’s very interesting to hear, Henry. I don’t know if it’s the waning popularity of our 70-562 that has delayed this news of Microsoft sneakiness or what.

          As it is, I am confident our content is enough to pass the exam, but we will work next year to update its presentation in case study format. Thanks for the information!

        • Henry – what country / region are you in?

          • Netherlands

  5. […] they did vanish from the testing scene for a few years, until recently (see George’s post, The Case Study Gets Its Groove Back). Because each case study has its own clock, the trick is not to let them eat into your overall […]

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