SharePoint 2013 Core Solutions Exam and the Case Study Format

Be aware, friends: Exam 70-331, Core Solutions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013, uses the case study format. This approach to IT certification testing is likely to shock many test-takers, so I wanted you to know what’s what to assist you in your exam preparation.Tim

How Case Study Exams Work

A case study-based exam consists of a number of “testlets” that each center around a detailed description of a fictional business. The point of the exercise is to have you analyze an organization’s infrastructure and business requirements and make specific suggestions concerning SharePoint 2013 implementation.

Your “suggestions” manifest themselves as a series of 8-12 multiple choice and/or interactive questions that all relate to the case.

Microsoft wants to test not only your theoretical knowledge of SharePoint, but also your ability to apply the technology to real-world situations. This approach makes sense to me, but it is likely to pose big challenges to those who are weak at reading.

Tactical Approaches

It might help you if you think of a case study as simply a series of questions with a reusable stem. In testing parlance, the “stem” is the main body of the exam question. Each question that Microsoft asks deals with a particular part of the case study.

Don’t spend too much time reading the case closely at first. Instead, read through the sections of the case:

  • Background: This provides information regarding the physical and organizational topology of the fictional organization.
  • Business Requirements: This section gives you the “soft,” or procedural goals that the business has with regard to SharePoint.
  • Technical Requirements: This section provides you with the IT-related goals that the business has concerning SharePoint.

Once you know the general flow of the case, you can then approach each related question individually. Remember not to “read anything into” the case. If the case does not mention Exchange Server, for instance, then do not assume that the company has any e-mail or messaging infrastructure in place.

Another pitfall is applying too much of your real-world experience with the product to the exam questions. As strange as this sounds, although Microsoft exams supposedly test your real-world experience, you are required to provide the “Microsoft official answer” to their questions rather than a more realistic response grounded in your practical experience.

Parting Thoughts

I find it interesting to study the politics behind Microsoft certification exams. For the SharePoint 2013 exams, Microsoft hired an instructional design company named GrandMasters to do the work. I’m just speculating here, but I think the case study approach used in these tests may arise out of GrandMasters’ desire to impress Microsoft as opposed to any real desire to test our knowledge of SharePoint.

Unfortunately, the 70-331 is a very difficult exam. This difficulty, in my humble opinion, comes not from the case study format, but from the tremendously picky nature of the questions. This is another reason why I’m disappointed with Microsoft’s decision to hire a dedicated test-making company to write the exams–the content is removed from the real-world concerns that you and I see in our daily practice as systems administrators.

~Tim

[Note: Tim has recently started production on the Microsoft SharePoint Server 2013 series.]