Wednesday, June 3, 2009


"How many people have taken the Transcender exam?" our instructor asked last night. One or two out of the entire class of fifteen hesitantly raised their hands.

Access to a Transcender testing program was a requirement for this course. For about $70, you get access, for six months, to several practice tests geared to help you prepare for a certification exam--in our case, the CompTIA A+ Essentials certification, the basic cert you need to become a PC technician. Our instructor recommends it as the best exam preparation out there. He is also using the tests as our in-class exams--there are three tests which we'll be taking over the duration of the course, and then for the final we take all three at once. His rationale is that taking the test over and over forces us to learn the material, and that's more important to him than performing well on an exam we haven't seen, especially because the correct answers are accompanied by detailed explanations.

I was a little surprised that no one had taken it yet. I admit, I'd put it off too--partly because the first five questions seemed so daunting. What's the difference between SCSI-1 and SCSI Wide Ultra? Why didn't a text file remain encrypted when you copied it from one drive to another? Every question I encountered seemed only to remind me how little I knew. How could I possibly pass this exam, let alone get a perfect score? But these least two thirds of the class shouldn't be put off by exam anxiety.

So tonight I tried it. First try: got a 56%. Eh. Not bad, considering that I made a lot of guesses, especially in the section about printers (which we haven't gotten to yet). Probably took me half an hour to do a hundred questions. I went back through all the questions and looked not only at the correct answer for each but also the explanation for why it was correct. If you understood something about memory, or the Windows boot process, or hard drives, you could remember what you needed to know about some questions. Others were simply memorization: how many pins on a RIMM module?

Second try: 7.5 minutes, 96%. I'm a fast learner.

Third try: 6 minutes, 100%.

I'm wondering if anyone else in the class is going to try for the fastest perfect exam time, too.

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