Review of MCSD Certification Toolkit (Exam 70-483): Programming in C#

You’re really excited about becoming a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD)! How do you proceed to make your venture a success? Having been through several certifications myself, I understand the importance of having a great certification guide to help you overcome some of the less intuitive parts of the examination process. Tiberiu Covaci, Gerry O’Brien, Rod Stephens, and Vincent Varallo have provided such a guide with MCSD Certification Toolkit (Exam 70-483): Programming in C#. Anyone planning to take exam 70-483 will benefit from this book because it presents the exam topics in a highly organized manner.

Let me get one of the gripes out about the book before I discuss all of the good material though. It seems as if every certification guide I’ve ever looked at includes topics such as, “Why Get Certified?” The problem with these topics is that they waste space and bore the reader. The reader already knows why certification is important, so there is no need to discuss the topic. The reasons for getting certified vary, of course, but the vast majority of people can sum it up in one word, money. Certification will open a door to a better job, help the candidate keep an existing job, or move the candidate one step further up the corporate ladder. The topic is unimportant because the only thing the reader wants to know is how to ace the exam (or at least get a passing score). I feel strongly that the authors could have used the space spent in preaching to the choir to provide additional helps and aids. If your tolerance for less useful material is low, then you’ll want to skip directly to page 11 of the book and start reading “How to Study for the Exam Using This Book.”

After you get past Chapter 1, the rest of the book starts to take on a predictable pattern. You read the theory behind each of the topics that the exam will test. Code Labs give you hands on experience putting the theory into practice. My favorite sections are the Real-World Case Scenario, which helps you understand how the theory is actually used to write an application that could exist in the real world. A problem with many certification guides is that they pursue a purely academic course—this book avoids that particular problem and gives you practical knowledge as well.

Each chapter ends with a Chapter Test Questions section that contains a few questions you can use to check what you have absorbed. The questions will typically be useful for one or two uses, so you need to ensure you read the chapter and go through the exercises before you attempt to try the test questions. Otherwise, you won’t really know whether you have absorbed the material. Personally, I found the number of questions a bit small. The authors could have beefed up this section to provide the reader with a better idea of how the exam will appear.

The Cheat Sheet and Review of Key Terms sections provide an outstanding method for refreshing your memory the day before the exam. One of the mistakes I (and probably many others) made in preparing for a certification exam is to study too hard the night before. If you don’t know the material the night before, you most definitely won’t pass the exam because these exams are designed to thwart people who cram. A reminder, an overview of what you should know, is really all you need the night before. Relaxing and getting the rest you need are essential.

I wasn’t quite sure about the Additional Reading and Resources section found in each chapter. This section is helpful, but only if you’re using the book as a reference after the exam, rather than as a means for preparing for the exam. The authors could have possibly skipped this section in favor of providing more questions or other kinds of hands on learning activities (one of my favorite CNE books used puzzles as a learning aid). Then again, having the book as a reference after the example will likely prove useful too—just don’t cloud your mind with too many competing sources of information before the exam. The trick is to keep your mind clear and focused on your objective (passing the exam).

Overall, the text is written in a clear manner and you’ll find that the authors carefully lead you from one topic to the next. Developers who are already familiar with C# application development may find the book a bit boring because it really does cover all the details. The book is more designed for someone who hasn’t programmed using C# in the past. In fact, the authors recommend that more advanced readers simply skim the book and look for areas of weakness, which seems to be a winning strategy.

Of course, the big question is whether a book is worth the price you pay for it. In this case, you’re getting a bargain. The book is well written and will serve the needs of anyone who needs to take the 70-483 exam. Certification usually brings some significant benefit, so anything you spend on materials today will reap financial rewards in the future. Getting a book is also a lot less expensive than taking a course. Using this book will save you money in the long run.