So I’m in the process of preparing to take my A+ exams (along with one of my employees as kind of a buddy challenge) and my MCSE, as we’re ready to wave goodbye to NetWare. Trying to squeeze both in at once has been a bit of a challenge, so I thought I’d look through my “Recent Pitches” folder for Computer Based Training. The most likely looking candidate was TestOut. After checking out their demos (IE only – they don’t work in Firefox) I was fairly impressed. Their presentation wasn’t going to win an Oscar award anytime soon, but it seemed to cover the material throughly and effectively. They seem to have a perpetual ‘special‘ where you can get 9 certification suites for $2K, which is what I got. Once my order arrived, I took the CDs out of the case and started installing them on my computer. My first shock was that after installing the MSCE and the A+, my (already maxed) hard drive was full – after re-starting on another drive I found the full suite takes up about 15GB of space. I guess that’s not bad considering that each unit has numerous video tutorials, and in hindsight is an indicator that the content is complete. I’ve now slogged through the A+ materials and am working through the materials for MS Exam 70-290. After a couple of hours of watching their video presenters I do have a mild urge to throttle them – although I have felt the same about 1/2 of the classroom instructors I’ve had. What I’m most impressed with is their LabSim software. It basically emulates the base OS you’re working on and lets you complete tasks in them. Their test exams seem a little lightweight, but I guess I won’t be able to say for sure until I hit the testing center.
A few days after starting with TestOut, I got a phone call from the folks at ExamSavers. They had a pitch for their entire
suite (17 vendors) in a “Platinum Edition” offering free lifetime updates for a small fraction of the $3K list price on their website. I negotiated a bit with them on the phone and told them I’d think about it. That’s when the high-pressure sales tactics kicked in. The offer was good for “today only”, and wouldn’t be offered again. I politely declined, but was given an ‘extra day’ to think it over. After reading some mixed reviews I decided to give it a try for two reasons: First, you got a book as training material for each exam – and sometimes I just prefer reading over watching a video. Second, the actual testing part was supposed to be strong, adaptively focusing the tests on sections you did poorly in. Third, the practice tests on audio CD sounded like a great way to sneak in extra prep time during my daily commute. It sounded like a good supplement to the TestOut materials I already had. The only thing I really didn’t like about it was the provision for getting two tests worth of training materials at a time – you have to send a copy of your test results to get the next set of materials. After getting the first test (MS70-290) from them, I’m fairly underwhelmed. The book is OK, the audio CD is just as expected, but the testing software is… lacking.“ It doesn’t seem adaptive to me at all – I kept getting the same questions over and over again – even when I keet answering them correctly.“ In hindsight I wouldn’t purchase it again – and I can see where the people who bought it as their only study resource could be frustrated.
I can see why TestOut has demos and ExamSavers don’t.“ I could also recommend“ TestOut, but because of their demo I don’t need to“ – you can find for yourself.
I received a call from ExamSaver selling the gold/platinum membership and after some consideration I opted to pick up the Platinum; figuring that I could opt out during the evaluation period if I felt reservations.
Well, trial period is winding down and I’m feeling that I might want to pursue the return option. I’m not completely convinced that a lifetime membership is the way to go with these guys. Anyone considering it I would recomend trying an individual product first. I’m sure they’ll offer you a deal again in the future if you feel that you want the lifetime membership.
I don’t have much experience with CBTs, but I’ll agree that the software doesn’t seem all that adaptive. The questions have helped me figure out what I needed to study to some degree. By the same token I kind of know what I don’t know. The explanations vary in quality. I’m afraid that I might be getting good at answering examsaver questions but not necessarily mastering the material.
The books you can always grab on Amazon for a fraction of the retail price, so the book incentive to purchasing a membership is a rtoss-up. Granted future shipping is included with the membreship, but it a big up front commitment.
The ‘Ask an Expert’ support can apparently only be used within the context of questions from the software. Just for kicks I sent them a problem I was having with some code, they told me in no uncertain terms that my question was out of scope. You might do just as well with the internet – without waiting for a response. The response to my question took about 6 hours to reach me. By for the ‘Ask the Expert’ help is the most expensive part of the cost and could be hte most valuable, but if the scope of support is limited to questions from the software I have a hard time justifying the price. In most cases the questions either have sufficient explanations or an explanation is easily accessible online.
I don’t feel that I was mislead at all, maybe a bit unclear about the limits of the ‘ask the expert’ support. I want to like these guys, but the problem with a lifetime membership is that it’s the lifetime of the company offering it and I’m not confident at this point that they wont close their door and leave me hanging.
I’d recommend anyone that is interested start with a software only order and evaluate the training software to see how they feel about it.
I took the 70-315 MS Web Apps C#/VB.NET