After seeing James' post about this exam I decided to give it a shot - given the fact that you have a pretty good chance of getting 3 free exam vouchers valid for any other MS test it seemed like a useful way to spend a couple of hours.
The interesting thing about this exam is the interactive lab sections. For a long time in some corners the MS exams have been looked down on for people's ability to pass them without having much experience of the products themselves. This was particularly so back in the NT4 days, although the situation seems to have improved a fair amount with the 2003 track.
Taking this forward MS seems keen to add a more interactive element to the exam, i.e. gearing it more to the use of the product, rather than just theory. This is obviously a good step since it should give the certification more credibility.
Having passed the upgrade for the MCSE 2003 back in March which includes a third on AD 2008, I decided to not spend too much time preparing for it, just a general refresh, so here's how it went. (Obviously I cannot reveal details of the exam, but I can give you a flavour of the experience)
There were two performance labs to complete and then a third section with the standard multiple choice type questions - each section had 60 minutes to complete it.
So I'm all geared to start the first lab and click the launch button to start it. It appears to be connecting to a virtual machine on the Internet, similar to the test labs available on the Technet website, but it fails to connect. So I try again, and again, and again...eventually give up after about the 10th time. I call in the exam moderator, show her the problem and she suggests I continue to the next section and leave comments about the problems.
So I continue to the next section, it warns me I can't go back and then presents the comments screen. I intend to leave some notes, but for some reason the keys I type don't match what appears on the screen! So I give up with that too.
So I'm now on Lab 2, hit start lab, it tries to connect and fails with the same 'lab not available' message as Lab 1. At this point I'm starting to think I've wasted my time, its not going to work, maybe even this machine doesn't have web access. Give it another couple of tries, still nothing. Just about to give up, one more try and it works - the lab begins, hurray! I've never been so pleased to start an exam. :-)
(I guess that's why it's a beta exam)
The lab works as smoothly as you would expect connecting to a VM over the Internet. You are presented with a set of tasks which you can complete in any order during the time limit - this is useful because if you get stuck on one you can just skip it and come back to it later.
The difficulty level ranged from the fairly basic to some where more advanced knowledge would be required, i.e. knowledge of command line tools - overall I felt it was a good mix.
Tip #1: If you get stuck, don't forget although there is no Internet access you do have access to Windows Help. :-)
Once complete, it was then on to the final section which was very familiar to the multiple choice style of exam if you have taken MS exams before.
Funnily enough I felt I did a lot better on the interactive section than the multi-choice questions and this has left me with the opinion that this is definately a good route for the exam style to take since it tests your ability to use the product, rather than just memorising factual information.
Overall, I'm pleased the exams are heading in this direction, they just need to iron out the issues connecting to the labs because you really wouldn't want the experience I had if you were taking the exam for real.