Category Archives: certifications

certifications

Writing Good Test Questions

Over the years I’ve written a lot of test questions for a lot of purposes. Some are for my company to test our employees, some for other companies to test candidates and still others for 3rd parties to do certification exams. If you’ve taken enough exams, I’m sure you’ve seen a question or two of mine. And over the years I’ve developed my own process for writing questions that works pretty well for me.

I’ve also taken a lot of certification exams. And along the way I’ve definitely developed a feeling for what I think are good and what I think are bad questions. I feel for anyone that actually reads the feedback left on most certification exams, although I sincerely doubt anyone actually does. So what are those tips:

  1. Start with an outline. Just like when you’re writing text, know what you want to accomplish ahead of time. Use each question to accomplish a goal from the outline.
  2. Know your audience. Certification testing should have no humor. It’s too bad, but when people fail the test the last thing you want is them punching you in the face and then repeating your humor back to you. It can happen…
  3. Given your audience the test should be passable. If you’re writing a test for desktop administration you likely shouldn’t be asking questions about the structure of a bdb file in an Open Directory database or for specific methods for managing the schema within Active Directory. You may know all that and be awesome, but you’re not taking the test, you’re writing it.
  4. Build questions based on fact rather than opinion. Also keep in mind that different people consider certain things opinion. For example, evolution, things Rush Limbaugh spews and whether or not an Apple computer is better than Windows. To many these are facts and to others they are opinions. Doesn’t matter here, as they don’t belong on a test. Think of Jeremy Piven in PCU. That’s NOT you.
  5. Don’t ask negative questions. Yes, I moved this one below #3 because of the word NOT. Don’t do that. Asking which port is not used on a mail server is better done by either using a matching question that matches each port with the port number or by asking which protocol does a specific function. Maybe a bad example, but this article is about writing tests, not articles… Either way, keep in mind “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.”
  6. Be technically correct. Nothing worse than either not having any correct answers or knowing that the author has no idea what they’re talking about.
  7. With multiple choice questions, it’s best to have one answer. If you have multiple answers you might be jumping around on the outline or simply withholding points from users where not needed. Note that all of the above or none of the above are answers that are multiple answers on their own. I don’t like using those.
  8. Be relevant. If you are writing a test about OS X Server then a question about how Active Directory builds service records for Exchange is definitely misplaced. If you’re writing a question about Solaris and ask how to install an msi en masse via SCCM then that too is pretty darn misplaced. These are egregious examples, but every question should have a point and that point should go into your outline.
  9. Scenario based questions are awesome for technical exams. Yes, if you put someone in a situation with all the relevant facts and you ask them a simple question that gets to the root of whether they know a product then that is probably amongst the best ways to test a skill.
  10. Don’t try and compound multiple questions into one question. If you’re following an outline then each question should match up with an objective. You will only confuse many a test taker with compound questions.
  11. True/False questions are stupid. Yup, I said it, even though I’ve written them in the past. But I won’t write them again in the future. 
  12. Edge cases are irrelevant. Yes, I’m irrelevant. But more to the point if you ask someone a question that came up once in your twenty year career and when it came up no one else in your field had any clue what you were talking about then it’s probably a crappy question that maybe a few people get right by accident.
  13. Trick questions suck. This goes into the edge cases comment. The fact that someone can or cannot see through some weird way to phrase a question isn’t telling you whether they know the product you’re testing on.
  14. Always pose questions in an active voice.
  15. Don’t include a bunch of random facts. For example, if you’re asking a test taker how to use awk, don’t include 10 facts that have nothing to do with what awk is supposed to accomplish. Don’t try to hide what you’re trying to figure out. Put it out there right at the beginning.
  16. But don’t answer the question within the question. It’s easy to give an answer away, but you don’t have to.
  17. If every answer (incorrect and correct) start with the same few words, move those into the question. Looks better, uses less energy because less bits have to be in databases and therefore saves the world from disaster (if you believe in global warming – reread #2 at this point).
  18. Do not use past tense.
  19. Spell out your acronyms. Yes, plenty if not most in many exams should be common knowledge. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it anyway.
  20. All of your answers (incorrect and correct) should be consistent with regards to structure and grammar on a per-question basis. If one has a period they all should. If one has a subject and an adverb then they all should, if one lacks a pronoun at the beginning then they all should, etc.
  21. Don’t ask the same question twice. Sure, you might phrase it differently but if you stick with an outline you won’t end up hitting the same area twice. Unless you’re planning an adaptive testing experience. Then you can hammer in on areas of weakness. But that’s kinda’ rare.
  22. Don’t use really big words that have nothing to do with the subject you’re testing on. Keep in mind that you’re not writing an English test (unless you are), so the objective for the test is to determine if someone has a given skill or understands a concept. By using overly complex grammar and vocabulary you will be testing a skill that maybe you’re not supposed to be testing for.
  23. Don’t have your incorrect choices be too different. They should be within the realm of reason, use real industry terminology and be possible for a different question maybe, but wrong for the question you’re asking. The correct choice should not be absurdly longer or shorter than the incorrect choices either, so structure and appearance actually play into this. I’ve found some test writers will actually have their correct choices always be three or four words or a line longer than incorrect choices. These incorrect choices should also not be extremely different from one another.
  24. Leave your ego out of it. Many of the above items are perhaps derived from this one. Sure, we get it, you have seen some really weird things. And you have great grammar. And you can pick out things that have nothing to do with the topic to find the right answer. And your critical thinking skills are awesome. But don’t put things that have nothing to do with your subject matter on the test because in 99.9% of testing scenarios no one knows who you are…
  25. I’m going to #1. Start with an outline. I know I said don’t repeat yourself, but I’m doing so here. The outline will be your guide. You can be open to alterations to the outline as you write questions. Figure out what you want to ask about before you write your first question. You will be glad you did!

I hope that just reading through these helps you pass your next tests, write tests, etc. Good luck in whatever your endeavors are!

certifications Mac OS X Mac OS X Server Mac Security

New 3rd Party Apple Certification Exams Now Available

After hearing about these new certifications for a good 3 or 4 years, I’m stoked that Tech2000 has now made the new Advanced OS X Certification exams available. Currently, there are three exams:

  • OS X Directory Services Specialist Certification Exam
  • OS X Deployment Specialist Certification Exam
  • OS X Mobile Device and Profile Specialist Certification Exam

These exams are a more modern rendition of what Apple Training would be providing if they still did any courses beyond the OS X Server ACTC. Basically, you can think of it as though the previous Security or Xsan exams were swapped out with Mobile Devices, which makes sense given the changing climate of things.

Now, these are not Apple exams. But I don’t really think it matters too much whether there’s an Apple logo on them or not. At the end of the day if you do this kind of stuff then it’s nice to have a 3rd party option available if you so choose to go down that route!

The Tech2000 site is available at http://www.t2000inc.com/apple/osxcertification.html.

certifications iPhone Mac OS X Mac OS X Server Mac Security Mass Deployment

10.8 ACTC Exams Now Available

The Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC) Exams are now available. Since the brutal murder of the ACSA, the ACTC is now Apple’s highest level of certification. The server is much easier, but somehow many of the questions are a little harder than they were. Overall, I felt the exam was a great gauge of technical know-how, even if there were a couple somewhat esoteric questions. Anyway, click below to open the Apple IT Certification page:

Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 7.45.22 PM

 If you have a 10.7 ACTC then the 10.8 combo updater can be taken. If you qualify for said exam, you should have gotten an email with a special code to use on the IBT Prometric site. If so, you have a single 2 hour, 76 question exam as opposed to two, and you can take them from the comfort of your own home. First, you have to pinky swear not to cheat. To register for an exam, go to training.apple.com/locations.

certifications Mac OS X Mac OS X Server Mac Security Mass Deployment

Apple Pro Training Series for ACTC

Arek Dreyer and Ben Greisler have been at it again. The latest editions of the Apple Training Series books are now out, providing a guide to getting certified with OS X Server. I haven’t gotten mine yet, but I suspect that the book, as with the previous books, will be excellent.

To quote the book description:

The only Apple-certified book on OS X Server on Mountain Lion, this comprehensive reference takes support technicians and ardent Mac users deep inside the server for the latest operating system, covering everything from networking technologies to service administration, customizing users and groups, and more. Aligned to the learning objectives of the Apple Certified Technical Coordinator certification exam, the lessons in this self-paced volume serves as a perfect supplement to Apple’s own training class and a first-rate primer for computer support personnel who need to support and maintain OS X Server on Mountain Lion as part of their jobs. Step-by-step exercises reinforce the concepts taught through practical application. Quizzes summarize and reinforce acquired knowledge. The Newest version of OS X is more business-friendly than ever, making it simple to get a network up and running quickly, and IT professionals will need Server Essentials to integrate Macs into their organizations.

The Apple Pro Training Series serves as both a self-paced learning tool and the official curriculum for the OS X Mountain Lion and OS X Server on Mountain Lion certification programs.

The Apple Support Essentials book is out as well (thanks, Mr. White!). Its description is as follows:

The only Apple-certified book on OS X Mountain Lion, this revised best-seller will take you deep inside the latest big-cat operating system–covering everything from installation and configuration, customizing the operating system, supporting applications, setting up peripherals, and more. Whether you’re a support technician or simply an ardent Mac user, you’ll quickly learn and master the new features in OS X Mountain Lion. Following the learning objectives of the Apple Certified Support Professional exam, this self-paced book is a perfect guide for Apple’s training and a first-rate primer for computer support personnel who need to troubleshoot and optimize OS X Mountain Lion as part of their jobs. Step-by-step exercises reinforce the concepts taught through practical application. Chapter review sections and quizzes summarize and reinforce acquired knowledge.

The Apple Pro Training Series serves as both a self-paced learning tool and the official curriculum for OS X Mountain Lion and OS X Mountain Lion Server certification programs.

certifications iPhone Mac OS X Mac OS X Server Mac Security Mass Deployment public speaking

Penn State MacAdmins Back for 2013

Last year, I had a great time at the Penn State MacAdmins conference. There were tons of smart people to mingle with and everyone had plenty to discuss when it came to managing the Mac. There were a lot of people from education but also plenty from companies. The talks were well run and the conference location, the Penn Stater, was awesome. I love how it’s like a big winding maze.

Having gone to school in a town like State College (Athens, GA), I’ve always had a warm spot for cute college towns. And State College is clearly a special place. I’d recommend a trip there to anyone that loves places like Ann Arbor, Norman, Stillwater, Opelika, Corvallis, Blacksburg, Madison, Manhattan (Kansas), Ithaca, Iowa City, Ames, Morgantown, Lafayette (Indiana), Lawrence, Champaign, Logan, College Station and of course, Oxford Mississippi (Ole Miss is a truly special place).

So you’re lucky then, ’cause the Penn State MacAdmins Conference is back for 2013, being held in beautiful State College, PA at Penn State University. The Conference is May 22nd through 24th with a new introductory Boot Camp being held the day before (May 21st) to prep admins for the rest of the conference. And May is one of the best times to visit a place like this. Spring is in the air, kids are getting ready to graduate, the flowers are in bloom and of course, there’s no more snow to be shoveled. A month later and the school would practically be shut down, the town a ghost town.

But in late May, college towns are electric. So don’t just stay at the Penn Stater the whole time, go explore downtown and that Nittany Lion thing – and the spot where Joe Pa’s statue used to be. Take a carriage ride, swing by the Governor’s Pub, have some red meat at Otto’s and of course, perform the underclassmen ritual of throwing up on College Ave! And yes, there’s a College Ave, as there should be. Anyway, the social element of a conference like this is great. Meet those people you tell to RTFM on the ‘ole Enterprise List, the people whose feeds you read and the people whose feeds you deleted  ’cause they talk about college football too much…

The Call for Proposals is now open, so to submit a talk, use http://macadmins.psu.edu/conference/submit-proposals.

This year, there will also be sponsors. To sponsor, see http://macadmins.psu.edu/conference/sponsorships.

Or to attend, see http://macadmins.psu.edu/conference/registration.

To sign up for the conference newsletter, see http://psu.us4.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=acd8b6acc541596a7bdf8e517&id=d37a7e26fd.

And for an example of what you are in store for:

PS – There are 12 teams in the Big 10. While at State College, make sure to remind everyone wearing blue of this fact.

certifications Mac OS X

Apple Certified Associate For OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

Apple has posted the first of the Mountain Lion certifications. Information about the Apple Certified Associate – Mac Integration 10.8 is available at http://training.apple.com/certification/macosx. This certification requires only one exam, 9L0-408, which can be taken online. There’s no word yet on the ACSP or ACTC for 10.8, although I am certain work on them is in progress.

The current table of certifications is as follows:

The test is relatively simple. I took it this morning and it focused completely on the client in a heterogenous environment. There were questions about AD binding, sharing files between Windows and OS X Mountain Lion clients, securing the OS (Gatekeeper, FileVault 2), Time Machine, Messages and Boot Camp. Overall, a quick one. I think it took me 35 minutes, including paying for the thing, fishing around for my credit card, etc. Good luck!

certifications iPhone

iOS Development Test Now Available

I’ve been involved with Brainbench for some time. There is now a new iOS development test available at http://www.brainbench.com/xml/bb/common/testcenter/taketest.xml?testId=2973.

Also, we’re currently working on a Mountain Lion test and could use some reviewers if anyone is interested.  Let me know if you’d like to be involved with that.

Articles and Books Business certifications Consulting iPhone Mac OS X Mac OS X Server Mac Security Mass Deployment

MacTech Bootcamps Coming To A City Near You!

I’ve been watching the MacTech Conference and then Boot Camps for some time. After hearing of the resounding success of the Conference last summer I was then stoked to hear that the January Boot Camp went extremely well. A MacTech Boot Camp is a regional, single-track seminar designed specifically for consultants and techs. MacTech Conference is a multi-day conference for IT professionals with a focus on enterprise and development whereas the Boot Camps are for consultants and techs focused on home users and small to medium sized businesses. Both are going really well.

Krypted.com is now a media sponsor of MacTech Boot Camps! This means I get discounts to offer my readers! There is a Dallas Boot Camp coming up on April 27th and a Boston Boot Camp on May 18th. You can get a discount ($200 off) by signing up at http://www.mactech.com/bootcamp/special-reg_krypted. There is also one is Los Angeles on July 27th and one in Chicago on August 31st to round out the summer. You can get early bird pricing and a discount for those ($200 off) at http://www.mactech.com/bootcamp/special-reg_krypted.

There’s a lot of information covered in the Boot Camps, with each city hosting about 9 sessions of 45 minutes each. For a list of topics, see http://www.mactech.com/bootcamp/topics. The 2011 curriculum includes:

  • Building Your Brand: Marketing and Business Concerns
  • An Experts Guide to Working with Clients
  • Best practices: Hardware, Software and Network Deployment
  • Troubleshooting Hardware, Software and Network Problems
  • Integrating Mobility into Small Business
  • Windows Concerns in a Mac Office
  • Scripting, Storage and Protecting Oneself: Backing up, Archiving and Restoring Data
  • How to Make Remote Consulting Work for You
  • You Can’t Know Everything: Getting the Support You Need

Certification testing is also available the day before the Boot Camps start through third party testing centers. This lets you get a lot of education out of the way at once (and at a discount) so you can focus on other stuff for the rest of the summer! For more on certification options: http://www.mactech.com/bootcamp/certification.

And let’s not forget that the second MacTech conference is going back to the Los Angeles area, from November 2nd through 4th at the Universal Sheraton! 3 days, meals included lots of very technical, enterprise oriented fun will be had by all!

certifications Mac OS X Mac OS X Server Mac Security Mass Deployment

Snow Leopard Certifications

Apple has released the Snow Leopard certification information and site. To make a long story short, for those who are ACSA inclined, you basically have the Apple Certified Support Professional, which is just one exam based on the Snow 101 course. You then have the Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC), which is the Support Essentials Exam along with the Server Essentials Exam, based on the Snow 201 course.

Now for where the changes come into play. First and foremost security has returned, although it’s been lumped in with mobility, likely to focus the syllabus on settings through managed client (ie – automated FileVaulting). Therefore, I guess the SANS course will no longer be needed (I wrote it following the cancellation of the Apple security course), so this can be a pseudo-announcement that it is going away.

You can take Directory Services, Deployment or Security + Mobility (these are Snow 301, 302 & 303 respectively) in conjunction with the aforementioned Server Essentials Exam and then have an Apple Certified Specialist in that category. If you take all three then you will be an Apple Certified Systems Administrator. Overall, for most, not a lot of changing up in the program, but adding the additional specialist certifications is interesting and similar to how Microsoft added the MCTS which given the number of products Microsoft makes has a lot of potential choices for exams, each with its own unique identifier.

certifications FileMaker

FileMaker 10 Certification

FileMaker has now released their certification track for FileMaker 10. They also now have a book and CD available for learning the software and preparing for the exam.