Training and Certification

Rubel Khan's Blog

Microsoft’s Virtual Lab Exams: Going Inside the Black Box

Posted by Rubel Khan on June 25, 2009

Microsoft recently announced the release of virtual labs in 83-640. Virtual labs allow you to perform tasks using the software technology rather than performing them in a simulated environment or answering multiple choices questions about how you would solve the specified problem. With virtual labs, you solve the problem by doing something. I found this totally cool video that shows off the virtual lab technology and item type and thought it would be great to share it with you.

Cool, huh? Now, let’s talk a little bit about the experience so you can prepare for these exams.

How do virtual labs work? Virtual labs access virtual machines, which contain the software product (in the case of 83-640, this is Windows Server 2008 Active Directory), over the Internet.

What to expect as a result? Those of you with experience connecting to remote virtual machines know that latency is the nature of the beast; for those of you who haven’t used virtual machines, expect some latency when you take these exams. This means that the mouse may lag behind as you move it across the screen; typing may appear slowly on the screen; screens will take longer to load. We are trying to identify test centers where latency is affecting the candidate’s ability to complete the tasks in the time allotted and will correct these issues to the extent possible. But, we can’t totally remove latency from the exam experience… as I said, it’s the nature of the beast.

Because virtual labs leverage virtual machines, when you schedule an exam you are making a “reservation” on the hosting system. This reservation holds the server space for you to take your exam. As a result, you must start the exam at the time of your reservation. Otherwise, the labs may not be ready for you, or you may lose time because you’ve started late. If the proctor tries to start the exam too early, you will get a “lab not available” warning because the server space is not available yet. We are working to increase the window of time in which candidates can begin these exams, but there will always be limits because there is no such thing as unlimited server space. So, it is a good idea to arrive to these exams on time.

How can you help us improve the user experience? Take a few minutes to complete the survey at the end of exam as well as the survey that you may be invited to complete via email within 48 hours of taking the exam (invite comes from ComScore, our third party survey provider). The first survey focuses on the technological aspects of the virtual lab experience; the second focuses on the effectiveness, appropriateness, and relevance of the exam content. We use feedback from both to drive improvements in our exam process.

So, when will 83-640 be available in your area (because it is a totally awesome way to test real world skills)? Here’s the way roll out works…once enough testing centers in a region have demonstrated that they meet the system requirements to deliver performance-based exams, the region will be considered readied and only the performance-based version of the exam will be available to customers in that region. This means that the test centers in your region may not be delivering the exam yet.

What else do you want to know about these exams? No, I can’t tell you what skills we are testing people on in 83-640 except to say they are skills you use in Active Directory, but I’d love to hear what you’re thinking or wondering about the virtual lab exam experience.

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