Don’t Forget to Take Your Exams

When we put beta exams in market, it is very important that we get a specified minimum number of people taking these exams to ensure adequate psychometric data for analysis which helps to identify troublesome questions and make a better final version of the exam.

Each day, I receive registration statistics that tell me how many people have registered for a specific exam, how many exams have been delivered, are waiting to be delivered or how many people were "no shows".

I'm writing this post to bring up some important points regarding certification beta exams.

1) If you receive an invitation, please only register for the exam if you honestly believe you are qualified to take the exam.  We have been asked to open these to the general public and against my better judgement, we did so.  Unqualified candidates only mess up the statistics and take seats away from qualified candidates.

2) If you register for an exam, please take it.  Again, you are taking a seat away from someone else who could benefit from the exam and provide valid statistics for us.

3) If you take the beta exam, please ensure you leave quality feedback on the exam questions.  To say that a question sucks and leave it at that is completely useless to both you and us.  We cannot do anything with such a comment, other than to laugh at it.  Seriously.

The exam beta process is designed to ensure a quality exam is released in the end, similar to ensuring quality in a software product by beta testing it.  It is a very important part of the process and one that we take very seriously.

If the trend that is current on the SQL Server exams continues, I will be forced to revert back to not opening the exams to the public and instead restrict them to those who are very serious about certifications and the quality of the exam and experience.

Exam 70-451 has 346 total registrations to date with 29 no shows, 25 cancellations and 200 remaining registrations.  This exam beta ends on the 30 of this month.  That means 200 people have 5 days left to take this exam.  I can understand scheduling for the end of a beta period to ensure adequate preparation time, but never the less, I highly doubt I will see 200 more deliveries before the end of the month.


Comments (35)
  1. Georgi says:

    I am one of these 200 remaining "beta testers" of 71-451 and my exam is scheduled for tomorrow. So if nothing unexpected happens, you should see no more than 199 remaining registrations 🙂

    Best regards

  2. Excellent news Georgi,

    Thanks for the post and best of luck!


  3. Sameh Samir says:

    Hi Gerry, I think you are very upset, I understand you point of view and it is clear in your language, but I think threatening candidates that you would restrict the beta exams is not the solution. Instead there other solutions that may work.

    First, I don’t think that the beta exams registration are that much, so some unqualified candidates can take seats away from qualified candidates, and if so you can use a priority system that gives a higher priority to the certified professionals in the beta exam field, and a lower one to other certified professionals and lower one to the public.

    Another solution is not to make the exams totally free, but keep the exam fees near $10 or so to decrease the number of fake registrations, and I don’t think that this amount of money can annoy serious candidates.

    I hope that would help.

  4. Hi Sameh,

    I think you misunderstand my post.  I am not upset nor am I threatening candidates.  I’m merely stating facts and indicating that if candidates want beta exams to remain open to them, they need to honor their registrations.

    What I am implying is that I have heard from some upset candidates who wanted to take the exam but couldn’t because the maximum amount of people were registered.

    Also, the current systems in place do not allow is to prioritize beta registration.  Nor can we charge for beta exams, even at a reduced rate of $10, it would not change the situation at all.

    So, hopefully this clears up my intent and provides a little more insight into the process.


  5. Jonathan Kehayias says:

    I am taking mine tomorrow as well so make it 198.

  6. Music to my ears Jonathan.

    I suspected most were holding out until the last minute to get max prep time.

    It’s what I typically did when I took beta exams.

    Now I’m so busy they come and go before I get a chance to take them.


  7. Martin says:

    Hello Gerry,

    interesting post. I thought there would be more than 346 people taking the beta and I fully understand that you don’t like such a high rate of no-shows. The 71-451 is still listed at the Prometric website, so at least it seems that this time all interested could register.

    I got my first IT certification with a beta exam for Sun (SCJP 5.0) some years ago. They made it public from the beginning, but charged a modest fee (I think it was 30$). But they also offered everyone who passed the exam a free voucher for another exam, so there was another incentive to do it right. Maybe doing something similar would help?

    I’ll take my luck on Monday.


  8. Hi Martin,

    I thought there would be lots more too.  I’m not sure why the numbers are so low.  And yes, there is still room for registrations but those haven’t increased in the past week so I’m not holding my breath. 🙂

    Sun’s idea sounds like a good deal but based on past responses, most people said they would not pay for a beta exam so we’re basing our decision on that really.  it’s worth another look though but I would think a price higher than $30 is still needed to deter the unqualified candidates.  Just my opinion mind you, but I truly believe it.

    best of luck on Monday, I hope you do well.


  9. Shivam says:

    Hi Gerry;

    I hope the 200 people who said they would take the exam manage to do so. I think the reason there are not a lot of people taking the beta is because of the other offers from Microsoft. For example I am sure if you had a look at the number of people going for the exams that are going to be retired in March 2009 or the upgrade exams, I am sure the number would be fairly up. Myself for one have been concentrating on upgrading my certifications to .net 2.0 and doing some of the certifications that are due to expire in which I have always been interested in but never attempted them because of the price.

    One idea to be able to get more qualified candidates to do the exam would be to have a survey or assessment  that would allow you guys to see if the person is qualified to do the beta and also it would deter candidates that are not serious about the exams.

    Good luck for monday.



  10. Lukas Beeler says:

    I didn’t register for 70-451, mostly because i don’t know enough about the topic.

    I’m pretty new to the certification field, passed my MCSE exams in the beginning of 2007. Thanks to the more or less open nature of beta exams, i was able to get all my WS2008 certifications (649,647,646,652) without paying a dime – that was great.

    I never received a personal invitation email, except for the 652 beta – which means without public betas i wouldn’t have been able to take the other exams.

    Now, i understand your point, but paying for a beta exam isn’t something i would do. The current beta situation is acceptable if it is free – double the questions, waiting 4-5 months for the results. That’s okay for something free. But as soon as i pay for something, i expect more.

  11. Ronald Wildenberg says:

    Hi Gerry,

    I would be rather disappointed if the beta exams were closed down again. This year I’ve passed two of them (504 and 562) and I have a third one (433) planned on 10-10.

    However, I could only register for these because I found a promotional code somewhere or because the exam was public. I do not receive beta exam invitations, so taking one will become rather difficult if they’re no longer public.



  12. Chris says:

    Hi Gerry,

    Yesterday, September 25th, I was one of the 200 "bad" people. Today, I’m not … 🙂

    And I think I’m also one for the 71-433. But I always go to my testing, or, if not possible I cancel them (1 time for the new Active Directory test with the new software).

    I understand that you are upset with this situation. But sometimes the time range for the exam is not compatible with holydays or daily workload. And (in France) I cannot pass the exam every day. Testing sessions are open only 3 or 4 days/week. I could be another reason to delay the exam.

    I’m certified since WinNT4.0 and SQL 7.0. Maybe you should target people directly by email regarding their transcripts to be "beta-tester" for a new exam. It will prevent people who don’t care about a technology to take a seat

    It will be a good idea to make another post at the end of testing period and give us the final statistics…




  13. Pedmil says:

    Hi Gerry,

    Here is another ideia.

    A while ago, I took 70-282 exam. I used a voucher from Microsoft. If I passed, then the exam would be free if I flunk, I had to pay for the exam. Fortunelly I got my money back :). Stiil this can be a way for Betas, not having to pay if you just show up. This way, only someone that had some good reasens would not show up.

    The ideia of one voucher for the ones o passed is music for my ears, this would be a very nice ideia ;).

    If you close those public invitatios is very bad news for me. I took 8 Beta exams already, 7 passed 1 tested, and 1 more scheduled. Never got one personal invitation, this was only checking blogs. So, I have doubts about the priority scheme.

  14. Thanks everyone for your comments and suggestions.  I will take them all into consideration and discussions with the internal team.

    NOTE: We will NOT be closing the betas to the public anytime soon so you don’t have to worry about that in the near future.


  15. Ooh! Love the statistical breakdown!

    I personally thought 451 was an excellent exam (took it a week or so ago)

    One thing I think which might improve the ability for some people to take exams, if somehow the exams could be ‘shortened’.  Allow me to explain.

    I have a number of testing centers near me which offer testing in the Evenings and Saturdays (We’re talking 4-5 testing centers)

    However, exams which are ‘4’ hours in length for one reason or another are just too long to comply with the evening or weekend hour slots (I think 3 1/2 hours works, definitely 3 hours, and other breakdowns) but once you hit ‘4’ hours, I’m limited to taking my exam M-F, starting at 9am, and going as late as 1PM.

    I have a good rapport with my preferred testing center so I can technically show up at any point (They’re rarely full and I can call ahead) but that is just for me, a number of other qualified folks are unable to find the time (Due to working 8-5) to be able to actually get in anywhere and take an exam.

    I’m not sure if this could help improve or change the ability for more people to test in the future but it sounds like a metric which should be checked (high/low of how long people have taken while actually working on the beta exams, etc)

    Thanks for all of your support in the SQL/DEV space Gerry!


  16. Peter Read says:

    Personally, I haven’t signed up for 451 (or essentially the ‘dev side’ or BI side SQL exams), although I have done the DBA-side ones (which were mostly good, and I left some feedback where I felt they weren’t 😉 )

    Why did I skip the dev stuff…  because I’m not a dev?  sort of.  it’s not a hard line, but it’s something I get involved with less frequently than the mainstream DBA, or knocking up a cluster or whatever.  If I’d had time to prepare well enough, I possibly might have done them still, as I like the product and SQL generally and it gives some impetus to keep my hand in.  So maybe I’m not exactly your prime target, but I’m an MCDBA and can throw out some t-sql when I need to.  

    Where am I going with this?  Well, I guess I’m saying that for myself, and I’d hope for most of us, there’s thought and balancing that goes in to what beta’s we sign up for.  After all, what’s the point in spending 4hrs in an exam room unless you have a reasonable expectation of passing?

    For me at least it’s not about ‘freebies’ so much as a way of forcing myself to stay at the forefront of my field (generally, core server and SQL, but in reality the broader the better so long as I’ve time to treat it properly)

    anyhow rant over 🙂

  17. Hi Gerry,

    I’m pleased to see the Beta’s open to the public: this makes it easier to keep track of the Beta’s. If this initiative should fail and you are forced to close it down, maybe an semi-open opt-in program might be worth a shot. Opt in and you get all the invites, too much no-shows and you’re out.

  18. S.Y. Paul Lai says:

    Again, I think Microsoft should give some rewards for the beta exam takers who passed…  No, no just an exam coupon for another MCP exam.  May be, a Xbox 360, or, a Windows Mobile 6.1 smartphone.

  19. Patrick says:

    People tend to book the test as late as possible for more time to prepare. Please try to arrange the beta exam period ends at least 1 week apart if there are more than 1 beta available at the same time. You will get a more realistic result.

  20. Ann says:

    Great point from Christopher about the 4-hour time slots being difficult to schedule, both for testing centers and for test-takers. I know my boss is happy to let me dash off at 9 am to take a beta exam <i>only so many times</i>. I prefer scheduling exams for 2:30 or 3 pm and getting to work a half-hour early to minimize the impact on my workday.

  21. Hi Ann,

    Certainly 4 hour slots are hard to schedule however, they are a necessity for beta exams.  The reason is that we need to allow for the survey and opening screens of the exam, allow for enough time to cover 125 or more questions, and then provide a 30 minute window at the end for comments.

    Believe it or not, we have had people say that 4 hours is not enough.

    Remember that we need to present every question we have written for these exams.  When you take a regular exam, you typically only receive about 40-45 questions but we have more questions available to create multiple versions of the exam.  The beta is designed to have every question be viewed by the candidates so that we get maximum exposure of the question pool.

    Thanks to everyone eelse for your comments above to this post as well.  And NO Paul, we will not provide free Xbox consoles etc. for beta participants.

    Just to continue with the stats for exam 71-451, as of 9/30.  I don’t have the final stats yet;

    Total registrations – 369

    Exams Delivered     – 170

    No shows            –  45

    Cancellations       –  40

    For those who took the exam, thank you.


  22. says:

    Hello Gerry,

    In your stats there are still 114 registrations unaccounted for.

    I believe I am one of them. I took the exam yesterday at 12:00 (the LAST slot available in my test center).

    I believe most of the ‘No shows’ are due to last minute difficulties (I had to cancel an exam because of a similar issue at work) and the fact that Prometric does not allow reschedules unless it is done at least 24 hours in advance. I can understand Prometric trying to enforce that for regular exams (and the candidate loses the exam fee). If Prometric waives that restriction for Beta exams, that might help a little.

    Increasing the number of seats allowed for beta exams might help too.

    Now for the big question – Can you tell me if I passed the exam I took yesterday?:-)



  23. Hi Titus,

    Yep, I’m still waiting for the final stats today that will show what happened with the other 113, now that I know you took yours yestereday.  🙂

    What was interesting about the no shows is that after I posted this to my blog, the original post that is, the no shows immediately went up as did cancellations.  Perhaps some were not happy with my straight and honest opinion?

    Also, FYI, we had the cap for this beta set at 600 so there was lots of room in those terms.  I get a lot of people who indicate there are sometimes scheduling issues with the various centers.

    As for you last question, do you ever NOT pass an exam?  🙂


  24. Martin says:

    Well, that was the 451 beta. I’m not very confident (ran out of time and noticed too many questions I did wrong – if this is a good and hard exam probably I should fail) but I hope the stats will be of value to you anyway.

    One problem with the testing environment was, that this time there was no overview screen for the comments. I hat a list of questions I wanted to write some words about and had to press the ‘next’ button a lot of times to get there. Could you please try to bring this screen back?

  25. Marcelo says:


       You told us that the results for the 71-432 BETA exam would be available near oct-2008…  Do you already have the exact date??

  26. Marcelo,

    Sorry to say but I do not have an exact date.


  27. Roberto Fonseca says:

    So Gerry, Could you let us know the last stats for 71-451 and 71-432?

  28. Good question Roberto,

    Gerry, what news about these exams?

  29. Waiting on the final stats from Prometric.

    I will post them once I have them.


  30. Peter Read says:

    Marcelo – hopefully they’re out, mine’s shown up for 432 at least…

  31. ste72 says:

    Hi Gerry,

    I did the 451 one month ago and I was really eager to do 433 also…

    In the test center near my city it’s possible to take prometric exam only on friday morning (and only one person)… As soon as the beta exam was announced I tried to register and there were no seat available… maybe because a 4 hour long exam fill up the whole morning and there were other candidates involved with other exam… in the end the exam last only 3 weeks.

    At the end I had to take a full day vacation and travel 250 km in order to reach another test center (and other 250 km to go back home) and take the exam… and I liked it!

    Please keep on offering beta exam!

    best regards,


  32. Hi ste72.

    That sounds like a very strict policy on exams with the local testing center.  I’m sorry to hear that.

    I am glad to hear you liked the exam and I thank you for your dedication, to travel that distance for an exam.


  33. Jeff says:

    I think 4 hours is typically enough time for these exams, especially if you are familiar with the subject matter.  On the other hand, sometimes 30 minutes isn’t enough time for comments.  Would it be possible to make the amount of comment time flexible, so if you take less than the allotted time for the rest of the exam then you’re able to spend more time on comments?

  34. Hi Jeff, thanks for the comments.

    While I agree it would make it easier and more sense to allow the remaining time on the exam slot for comments, we have approached Prometric about this in the past and I don’t think their current software is capable of offering that option.


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