Training and Certification

Rubel Khan's Blog

Microsoft Exam Development Process

Posted by Rubel Khan on December 20, 2009

Microsoft Certification exams are carefully developed with input from industry professionals to reflect how Microsoft products are used in organizations throughout the world. The exams are the life-blood of the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) program—computer administered to accurately measure one’s ability to perform specific, market-relevant job tasks. This objective system of measurement is one reason the exams are so respected among employers.

Microsoft Certification exams test the precise skills required to use Microsoft technologies or perform the necessary job functions in areas such as systems engineering, database administration, and solutions development. These rigorous exams go well beyond testing routine knowledge or terminology. After all, on the job, you need to know more than facts. You need to apply your knowledge by analyzing technical solutions, solving problems, and making decisions.

Development phases

To ensure the validity, reliability, and relevance of Microsoft Certification exams, developers create exams in eight phases:

  1. Job analysis: Exam developers break down the tasks performed within a specific job function, and identify the relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities needed when using a specific technology.
  2. Objective domain definition: Tasks are translated into a comprehensive set of more specific and measurable skills and abilities. The resulting list of objectives, or the objective domain, forms the basis for the development of certification.
  3. Blueprint survey: The objective domain is transformed into a blueprint survey, in which technical and job function experts rate the importance of each objective. This helps to determine the appropriate number and types of items to include on the exam. Contributors may be Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCPs) or MCP candidates recruited from within Microsoft or through online forums. Based on contributor input, exam developers prioritize and weigh the objectives.
  4. Item development: Exam developers write the exam items according to the prioritized objectives. Developers review and revise items to ensure that they are:
    • Technically accurate
    • Clear, unambiguous, and relevant
    • Not biased toward any population, subgroup, or culture
    • Not misleading or tricky
    • Testing for useful knowledge rather than obscure or trivial facts

    Items that meet these criteria are included in the alpha item pool.

  5. Alpha review and item revision: A panel of experts reviews each item for technical accuracy. After the items are approved, they undergo a legal review.
  6. Beta exam: The reviewed items are beta-tested. During the beta exam, candidates comment on items. The beta exam allows Microsoft to evaluate the quality of the item in an actual exam situation, and helps ensure that only the best content is included in the live exam.
  7. Item selection and cut-score setting: The results of the beta exam are analyzed to determine which items should be included in the live exam. This analysis focuses on many factors, including item difficulty and reliability. Microsoft works with a panel of experts to review the technical accuracy of questions and to determine the final item pool for the live exam. The panel determines the cut score (minimum passing score) for the exam. This score differs from exam to exam, because it is based on the difficulty of the item pool and the expected performance of the minimally qualified candidate.
  8. Live exam: Prometric, an independent testing company, administers the final certification exam. The exam is available at testing centers worldwide.
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