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Microsoft certification exams thread

Old 02-23-04, 02:03 AM
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Microsoft certification exams thread

Since I'll be taking these damn exams over the course of the next year, I've decided to start a thread so that I can keep all of my updates/bitching in one place. Those who've already completed these exams: your advice is welcome and appreciated. Those who are behind me in the process: here's what you have to look forward to!

To recap: I'm planning on taking all twelve exams required to earn three .NET Microsoft certifications: MCSE (Systems Engineer), MCSD (Solution Developer = programming), and MCDBA (Database Administration.) I'm hoping to finish this over the course of a year - which is a pretty tight timeframe, given that I have to schedule my exam prep around a full-time job and part-time master's-degree classes. Yeah, it's going to be an awful year.

===

Today's entry:

I'm starting with the MCSD exams, which (a) should be more interesting (I'd rather learn Visual Studio stuff than network administration any day!) and (b) it should also be more familiar, since I've written oodles of Windows stuff already. So I've started my preparation by picking up Microsoft's MCAD/MCSD exam textbook pack ($150) and the Transcender deluxe pack for MCSD.NET ($500). The Transcender pack only includes sample exams and flash cards, but people swear by them for passing.

I've spent roughly a month preparing for the first exam - 70-316, Developing Windows-Based Applications with Visual C#.NET. - and I've finished the entire textbook, complete with all of the labs. So now I've been taking all of the sample exams - both the Microsoft ones, from a CD-ROM that came with the textbook pack (all of the texts in ebook form, and lots of sample exam questions), and of course the Transcender exams.

And I'm getting tarred! I'm consistently scoring ~50-60% on these exams, while passing is something like 85%.

The problem is that tons of material on the exams is not covered in the textbook - stuff like panel controls, ToolBar controls, XML validation, XML elements and nodes, COM+ components, Authenticode signatures, RegAsm and RegSvr32, and application packaging issues like .MSI vs. .CAB and merge modules. These topics aren't even in the index for the review text! - and yet they're repeatedly covered on the sample exams.

Tonight, I did some research - and found out that the Amazon reviewers hate the Microsoft texts. Everyone's bitching about the inadequacy of the texts. Meanwhile, there's another line of textbooks (Amit Kalani's guides) that has a 4 1/2 stars composite rating...

So I'm headed to Borders tomorrow to buy the Windows one of these other textbooks, and I have to spend two extra weeks (or more) prepping for this exam. Now my tentative plan is to take this exam around March 15th, instead of February 28th... it sucks hugely, but at least I won't be similarly wasting time on the next two exams.

The good news is that these three MCSD exams are supposed to be three of the hardest in the whole series, so it should get easier after these are done.

More in a few weeks...

- David Stein
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Old 02-23-04, 05:19 AM
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You are a far better man than me. Good luck! As for the Microsoft books, most of the network administration stuff is usually in the book however it usually is one sentence in the entire book. With the transcenders I lookup each question to see if I can find the answer in the book 95% of the time I can and like I said it is one sentence.

Last edited by Lateralus; 02-23-04 at 05:22 AM.
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Old 02-23-04, 09:44 AM
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wow. all 3 certs in 1 year??????!!! thats impressive. I'm taking my Net+ March 19th, and then after that I'll be looking at either MCSE, CCNA or some kinda security one. The only sucky thing is I hear about people with MCSEs and CCNAs still being jobless, which makes me wonder what all this is for...

Also, seeing how I'm mainly into CompTia certs since they never expire, don't you have to renew Microsoft and Cisco certs every 3 years? Do you know if they have a shorten, cheaper test(s) for renewers or is it the same full blown test(s). Thanks and good luck!
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Old 02-23-04, 10:48 AM
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Re: Microsoft certification exams thread

Originally posted by sfsdfd
Since I'll be taking these damn exams over the course of the next year, I've decided to start a thread so that I can keep all of my updates/bitching in one place. Those who've already completed these exams: your advice is welcome and appreciated. Those who are behind me in the process: here's what you have to look forward to!

To recap: I'm planning on taking all twelve exams required to earn three .NET Microsoft certifications: MCSE (Systems Engineer), MCSD (Solution Developer = programming), and MCDBA (Database Administration.) I'm hoping to finish this over the course of a year - which is a pretty tight timeframe, given that I have to schedule my exam prep around a full-time job and part-time master's-degree classes. Yeah, it's going to be an awful year.

===

Today's entry:

I'm starting with the MCSD exams, which (a) should be more interesting (I'd rather learn Visual Studio stuff than network administration any day!) and (b) it should also be more familiar, since I've written oodles of Windows stuff already. So I've started my preparation by picking up Microsoft's MCAD/MCSD exam textbook pack ($150) and the Transcender deluxe pack for MCSD.NET ($500). The Transcender pack only includes sample exams and flash cards, but people swear by them for passing.

I've spent roughly a month preparing for the first exam - 70-316, Developing Windows-Based Applications with Visual C#.NET. - and I've finished the entire textbook, complete with all of the labs. So now I've been taking all of the sample exams - both the Microsoft ones, from a CD-ROM that came with the textbook pack (all of the texts in ebook form, and lots of sample exam questions), and of course the Transcender exams.

And I'm getting tarred! I'm consistently scoring ~50-60% on these exams, while passing is something like 85%.

The problem is that tons of material on the exams is not covered in the textbook - stuff like panel controls, ToolBar controls, XML validation, XML elements and nodes, COM+ components, Authenticode signatures, RegAsm and RegSvr32, and application packaging issues like .MSI vs. .CAB and merge modules. These topics aren't even in the index for the review text! - and yet they're repeatedly covered on the sample exams.

Tonight, I did some research - and found out that the Amazon reviewers hate the Microsoft texts. Everyone's bitching about the inadequacy of the texts. Meanwhile, there's another line of textbooks (Amit Kalani's guides) that has a 4 1/2 stars composite rating...

So I'm headed to Borders tomorrow to buy the Windows one of these other textbooks, and I have to spend two extra weeks (or more) prepping for this exam. Now my tentative plan is to take this exam around March 15th, instead of February 28th... it sucks hugely, but at least I won't be similarly wasting time on the next two exams.

The good news is that these three MCSD exams are supposed to be three of the hardest in the whole series, so it should get easier after these are done.

More in a few weeks...

- David Stein
Microsoft's books are usually the worst in preparing for their tests. For my MCSE i read alt.certification.mcse and a few other newsgroups for people's opinions on the best book. Do a search in google groups for the mcsd newsgroup to find out what the best book is.
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Old 02-23-04, 11:44 AM
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Lateralus: I've read that the MCSE exams are like that, and honestly, I'm fine with that - the bar exam was that way, too. But with the MCSD exams, you actually have subjects that are not covered - at all! - tools that aren't mentioned anywhere. It's not just me, either - Amazon's reviews for these texts are uniformly awful.

kneijst1: Well, a year was my original goal - but given that I won't be taking the first one 'til mid/late March, that will probably slip. As for renewal: Fortunately, I don't have to rely on up-to-date certification for my career as a patent attorney; I just need the credentials on my resume. That said, I'll probably try to keep them current if it's not *too* much work. I can handle an exam a year (twelve, on the other hand...)

al_bundy: Well, I've read probably 15 opinions that the Que MCSD series is really good - average rating, 4 1/2 stars - so I've ordered that. I'll let you know what I think of them. For MCSE, popular opinoin seems to by that Sybex (?) is good.

- David Stein
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Old 02-23-04, 12:47 PM
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i keep telling myself I will do some.. but really havent had the desire or seen the need yet..

I have been moved into a admin position.. so I guess its time for me to get a few of these..
also still considering getting my MBA.. Corrie is working on hers, so Im thinking about taking classes with her..

Im currently doing unix/solaris training, since Im handling a handful of solaris/linux/hpux machines..
I doubt Ill try to do any unix certification for awhile.. just because Im still so new into it..

once I have unix under control.. and have a little extra time.. I think Ill get my server+ (might go ahead and take the a+ exams before then, just because Im pretty sure I can just walk in the door and pass those now, and the company pays for the certs).. then I may go for network+.. and I guess mcse..
and I guess I should work on my ccna as well..

maybe thats why I cant get myself pumped up on the idea.. 1. because i know it wont mean anymore money in my current job. 2. because Im overwelming myself with all the different certs I want to get.
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Old 02-23-04, 01:21 PM
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wow. all 3 certs in 1 year??????!!! thats impressive.
In the period December 2001 to May 2002, I earned all three.

It's doable. Whether or not it's worthwhile is another question.
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Old 02-24-04, 07:11 AM
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For the MCSE tests it is on a per test basis as far as the best book. Some tests syngress was good, for other tests another text. The newsgroups were pretty good on this 5 years ago, but I'm not sure now.

I would seriously check out the forum on www.mcsebraindumps.com

Sure they have bd's, but the forum if full of people helping each other with questions and recommendations on how to best study for the test.

I also used transcenders when i got my mcse because the rumor was that they sent people in to take the exam and remember questions. They were so close to the real thing that a lot of the questions were word for word and others very very close. There was another book where the exchange 5.5 test was straight from their practice questions. This is why i have no moral qualms about using braindumps. MS helps these companies write good books when you can just get the same questions for free on the internet. The book is only good for the explanations because no matter what anyone says you can' memorize a few hundred questions and pass the test.
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Old 02-24-04, 08:57 AM
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I started on the MCSE Last year, got 2 exams, and got bored.

Maybe I'll do it again this year.

If you want to learn about stuff then do it as you are doing it.
If you just want the cert and to pass the test, find some troytec stuff
the testking/testkiller 'practise tests' these are in essence the real tests. or at least very similar questions.

What I have found with MS tests is that they want you to tell them the microsoft way to do things.

Whereas in the real world you may be able to accomplish what you were requested to do, in the MS world you need to complete it the way they would like you to do it.

So the obvious answer is not always obvious.

It's nerve racking though when you push that button to see if you passed. I think i got a bit worried about that, I passed server and desktop as I should given I do the stuff every day, but was worried about the more design ones that are needed for mcse.

and at 125 per test a few failures add up pretty quicly
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Old 02-24-04, 09:31 AM
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Good luck sfsdfd!

I passed the two tests that I got for free last year, and they were as tricky, as microsoft could make them, but right now I have no interest in going after any more unless some more free one's come up. I may chase a wireless certification this year.
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Old 02-24-04, 01:44 PM
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It's nerve racking though when you push that button to see if you passed.
True, very true.

I think i got a bit worried about that, I passed server and desktop as I should given I do the stuff every day, but was worried about the more design ones that are needed for mcse.
I squeaked through 70-220 with a margin of 22 points.

and at 125 per test a few failures add up pretty quicly
Not a problem if you don't fail.

If I can do it, anyone here can.

RD

Last edited by DivxGuy; 02-24-04 at 02:18 PM.
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Old 02-27-04, 06:27 PM
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The funny thing about these tests is that I passed all the NT4 tests without ever touching an NT server. Most of the Windows 2000 tests i passed with experience. But I failed the cluster test twice after months of real world experience.
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Old 02-27-04, 06:28 PM
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Originally posted by al_bundy
I failed the cluster test twice after months of real world experience.
Yeah, I've been really surprised by the developing Windows applications material. I've been writing Windows apps in my spare time for a good five or six years now, and I know Visual Studio like the back of my hand. And yet, most of the exam material is new.

- David Stein
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Old 02-28-04, 06:19 PM
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It's not an exam on using Visual Studio; it's an exam on developing Windows apps with a variety of selected Microsoft technologies.

In fact, I'd wager that most professional Windows developers won't have a thorough knowledge of all those subjects. To illustrate, my last employer was a Microsoft shop, and none of our several developers could claim that they were well-versed in every aspect of development covered by the certification exams.
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Old 02-28-04, 11:26 PM
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Originally posted by DivxGuy
It's not an exam on using Visual Studio; it's an exam on developing Windows apps with a variety of selected Microsoft technologies.
Yeah, but what I meant was that I've been using Visual Studio to develop a bunch of Microsoft stuff for a while. I've spent tons of time with DirectX and stuff, for instance (which isn't covered, but you get the idea.)
Originally posted by DivxGuy
In fact, I'd wager that most professional Windows developers won't have a thorough knowledge of all those subjects. To illustrate, my last employer was a Microsoft shop, and none of our several developers could claim that they were well-versed in every aspect of development covered by the certification exams.
Interesting. Yeah, the Windows exam really feels like a survey: they go into a decent amount of detail on a wide range of topics - object-oriented design, forms design, ADO.NET, debugging techniques, assemblies and deployment, security, GDI+, globalization... surely none of the topics receive a thorough treatment.

Exam Status: Waiting on the other set of study guides (the Amit Kalani texts.) Mentally telling myself never to order from barnesandnoble.com again, since their 2-to-8-day shipping policy is taking the full eight days (not counting an intervening weekend, for 10 days total. )

- David Stein

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Old 06-09-04, 08:11 PM
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So hows it going?
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Old 08-31-04, 05:46 PM
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Originally posted by Lateralus
So hows it going?
Yes, how is it going? I'm going to attempt to start going for an MCSD soon.
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Old 09-01-04, 12:18 AM
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Heh - uh, whoops.

I've realized that twelve exams in one year is simply not compatible with my schedule. I already work 45 hours a week and spend 10 hours a week studying for or attending MCIS classes. There's precious little overlap between the MCIS classes and the MCSD material, and I simply don't know the MCSD stuff yet.

Make no mistake: these exams are difficult and comprehensive. For example, one of the five MCSD exams is called "XML web services," but it should really be called "advanced programming topics including XML web services." Topic list:
  • The entire XML document object model (attributes, schemas and schema transformations, validation, XPath queries, reader and writer classes, conversion to/from a DataSet)
  • XML web services (the web service model, communications channels, serialization/deserialization/SOAP, statefulness issues like SOAP headers, caching options, search (UDDI), discovery (DISCO), descriptions (WSDL), proxies, asynchronous execution, creating and running in Visual Studio)
  • .NET remoting, i.e., a distributed applications model - useful for building apps like [email protected]
  • Windows services, i.e., apps that appear on the "services" pane of your task manager
  • The Component Object Model (COM) - special programming objects that utilize enterprise services, like transactions, object pooling, and just-in-time activation
  • A handful of related topics, like debugging techniques, testing approaches, calling unmanaged code (legacy components), deployment (installation options - surprisingly complicated), security, and of course DataSets/databases/SQL
That's one exam, and in preparing for it, I've covered about 1,500 pages of new material. The MCSD track requires four exams of this scope and one lighter exam.

As a result, I've had to scale back my plans. I am not taking 12 exams in 12 months - I'll be taking 5 exams in 17 months. I have a;,pst completed my studies for two exams (Windows programming and XML web services), and I plan to take one or both exams in two weeks. I'll spend the rest of the academic year (through December 15th) studying ASP.NET programming, and I'll take the final two exams in late January and mid-April, 2005.

It's been extremely rigorous (and not always interesting!) - but I'm really glad to have done this so far. I had no idea that state-of-the-art programming was so advanced, and so complex (because the problems are very difficult.) If I had to do it over again, I would (though I'd set a little more realistic schedule.)

For those of you planning on following this path, I have a few pieces of advice:
  • Investigate the difficulty of this process before you commit to it. Poke around in some of the textbooks at your local Borders. If you don't know programming (either Visual Basic or Visual C++/C#), I seriously recommend spending a long time studying those topics before even considering an MCSD.
  • Don't set a schedule for completing them until you've taken and passed the first one - you really have no idea how quickly you might move through the material until you've done it once. Plan on moving through the material somewhat slowly, and with lots of hands-on practice; it's much more efficient to learn it right the first time.
  • Buy both the Microsoft Press texts (which are thin on detail, but have good sample exams) and the Que texts (which are very comprehensive, but have bad/inaccurate sample exams.) Plan on reading all of both texts before taking the exam. The material overlap is ~ 70%, and you really need to know that extra 30%. Also consider buying the Transcender sample exams, which are very rigorous (and expensive) but really excellent study aides. Finally, plan on doing some outside research on topics that neither text explains well (there are a few.)
I'm eager to learn how the others on this track are faring! Any news, anyone?

- David Stein

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Old 09-01-04, 04:49 AM
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Sounds like a lot of work. Best of luck to you!

I'm happy with my incomplete NT4.0 MCSE...
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Old 09-01-04, 11:03 AM
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The MCSD track requires four exams of this scope and one lighter exam.
I'd never consider 70-229 one of the "lighter" exams.

I have a;,pst completed my studies for two exams (Windows programming and XML web services), and I plan to take one or both exams in two weeks.
I'd recommend taking the exams as quickly as possible once you're finished studying, because the knowledge fades.

I am intrigued by what you've described, but I would want reassurance that I would get a return on the investement in a new MCSD before embarking on one.

A Seattle recruiter told me yesterday that she has numerous positions open, so perhaps I'll get an answer to that question sooner rather than later.

Edit:
Tonight, I did some research - and found out that the Amazon reviewers hate the Microsoft texts. Everyone's bitching about the inadequacy of the texts. Meanwhile, there's another line of textbooks (Amit Kalani's guides) that has a 4 1/2 stars composite rating...
MSDN is an invaluable resource for MCSD studies, and you, being a student, are eligible for the "Academic" priced versions.

The company I am interning for is building a "connected" app, and we haven't bought any books while doing so; everything we've needed so far has been available in MSDN or on the Web.

RD

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Old 09-01-04, 11:59 AM
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How many letters are you going to get after your name? You already have JD.
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Old 09-01-04, 12:31 PM
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Originally posted by DivxGuy
I'd never consider 70-229 one of the "lighter" exams.
You're the second knowledgeable person I know who expressed this view, and it really confuses me.

Having flipped through the text a few times (including a minute ago), I can't see how it could compare with the others:
  • It's one exam based on a 400-page text that, ostensibly, includes everything you need. I compare this with the 1,500-page combined review needed for the other topics.
  • This exam just involves logical analysis - not ultra-picky questions about syntax, like the other questions.
  • Most importantly, this exam covers design topics that are also taught on other exams, like how to structure a distributed application (let's see, you have some web server front ends, a business logic tier, and a database back end...)
You may well be right; I could be underestimating its difficulty. I'll let you know my results next December/January.
Originally posted by DivxGuy
I'd recommend taking the exams as quickly as possible once you're finished studying, because the knowledge fades.
That's my experience - I was regrettably blocked from doing that with the Windows programming exam, and now I have to go back and review a lot before taking the exam.

OTOH, the other guy I know who's taken these exams highly recommends studying all of the material for all of the exams as a set, and then banging out all of the exams in a few months.
Originally posted by DivxGuy
I am intrigued by what you've described, but I would want reassurance that I would get a return on the investement in a new MCSD before embarking on one.
Sure, but I'd be surprised if you found strong negative answers. It's one of the only unquestionable ways of technically distinguishing yourself in the field. And I think you have to keep up with the renewal exams - but that's only about three exams every 3-4 years, so it's not a big deal.
Originally posted by DivxGuy
MSDN is an invaluable resource for MCSD studies, and you, being a student, are eligible for the "Academic" priced versions.
Oh, sure, MSDN is great. But it's a reference guide, not a textbook, and certainly not an MCSD prep guide.

I meant the Microsoft Press textbooks for MCSD prep. They're really bad - they honestly cover only half of the material on the exam. Seriously, the sample exam packed in with the text tests material that's not in the texts.

- David Stein
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Old 09-01-04, 12:32 PM
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Originally posted by ChiTownAbs, Inc.
How many letters are you going to get after your name? You already have JD.
David Stein, J.D., M.C.I.S., M.C.S.D., M.C.S.E., M.C.D.B.A.

I dunno - I think I need to add Ph.D., C.P.A., and D.V.M. ... Just, y'now, for some variety.

- David Stein
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Old 09-01-04, 01:28 PM
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Don't forget MCP and MCAD, just for fun.
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Old 09-01-04, 01:32 PM
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in case you aren't already aware, there is a 25% off code for MS Exams if you register and take the exam through Vue testing between now and December 31, 2004.


ripped from FW:

"New Microsoft exam Discount Code 25% Off
With this code (used as a voucher number in the Pearson VUE registration system) students will receive a 25% DISCOUNT off of every eligible exam registered for and delivered between now and December 31, 2004:

MSUU1C9E2386

This code can be used more than once (unlimited usage in the quarter)!

Fine Print:
Only Valid In US.
Must Be used for Microsoft exams.
exam Must be delivered by VUE. "
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