Microsoft Beta Exams Aren’t Free Any More – and I’m Glad

February 8, 2018 at 4:28 pm | Posted in Microsoft, Vendor news | Leave a comment
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Nothing is truly free in this world; it all costs something in the end. This is even true with Microsoft beta exams, that unspoken perk of the IT industry. It used to be that IT pros could register for and sit a beta exam for free. If you passed the 3+ hour exam, you got the credential and Microsoft got valuable psychometric information, plus written feedback on individual questions. Even if you failed the exam, you got a valuable free preview of the content that would help you study – again, without any cash outlay. The only drawback was waiting weeks for your score report to drop.

Given my career as a trainer, it was important for me to teach the latest classes, and I had to take the corresponding certification exams. I did not want to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket to take a certification test when I could take it for free. Well, a lot of people had the same idea, and that meant it was extremely difficult to grab a seat for a beta exam. It was almost like camping out for U2 tickets in front of the box office.

However, I’ve also noticed a strange trend in the last couple of years. Beta periods have lasted longer and longer instead of selling out immediately. I’ve been able to get a seat in every beta exam I’ve wanted for several months. Does that mean fewer people are interested in taking Microsoft exams?

I-dunno

I’ll come back to that. But apparently Microsoft wasn’t getting the results they needed or wanted from beta seats, so as of late November 2017, they announced that beta exams are no longer free.

The human paradox: we value the things we pay for

While it might seem like a dumb idea to take a product that you’re having a hard time giving away and start charging money for it, this is actually a really sound business principle.  It’s human nature for people to not value something that is free. It turns out that a lot of people registered for beta exams and never showed up at the test center to take the exam.

BenStein

This caused the limited number of test seats to go unused. The folks that ran the test centers were upset because people did not show up. Since the exams were free, the no-show candidates weren’t penalized. The Microsoft  folks did not get their feedback. And I’m sure Microsoft wasn’t happy shouldering the facility costs involved.

Years ago, I worked for a training company that offered free one-day seminars on various technical topics. We had maximum registrations on each class, but on average, only 33% of those registrants would show up for the seminars. But when we started charging $59 for the seminars, 90% of the registrants showed up — and we ended up with the same total number of attendees as we did when the seminars were free.

What hasn’t changed: beta geo-restrictions

To my knowledge, Microsoft still places geo-restrictions on beta exams. In the past, you could not take an exam if  you were located in India, Pakistan, or China. I was told this was due to fear of the exams being pirated. The last beta that I participated in had the geo-restrictions in place, and I believe these geo-restrictions have not changed with the new fee policy.

20160721-SorryChina-04

What has changed: beta exams aren’t free—but they’re still a great deal

Although Microsoft betas aren’t free any more, they are heavily discounted. The beta exams are 80% off the price of the exam. So if the exam fee is normally $165, you will pay $33 to take the exam, which is still a heck of a bargain. And, recognizing that a beta exam isn’t a perfect testing instrument, Microsoft has built a fail-safe into the cost. If you pass, you get credit for the exam. If you fail, the funds that you paid for the beta exam will be applied to the cost of a future exam after the beta exam is scored. Beta exams can be scored from 4 to 12 weeks after the exam was taken. …So, technically, if you don’t pass, then the beta exam is still kind of free. Right?

So, as it turned out, I was winning all those free exam tickets only because Microsoft had to keep them open for longer and longer periods to get enough valid candidates. This change in the beta test policy will help out those candidates who truly want to take a test by ensuring that there will be a spot available. It will help the test centers by ensuring that seats in the center will actually be used. Of course, it will help Microsoft by making sure that the more dedicated and qualified candidates sit for the exam, which will improve their psychometric data.

All in all, I’m fine waving this particular “free” lunch goodbye.

Happy testing,

George Monsalvatge


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