How to pass a Microsoft .NET exam (70-536): my personal tips and tricks

Having passed the 70-536 Microsoft exam I felt obliged to write some things worth knowing to all out there who are still doubting to do the exam. The topic of the exam, .NET Framework – Application Development Foundation, is basically a broad overview of all the nuts and bolts which comprises the .NET 3.5 network. In order to pass you need to have at least 700 points (on a total of 1000) by correctly answering to multiple choice questions.

What did I read

If you ever plan on doing this exam: there is one book to rule them all, namely: MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-536): Microsoft® .NET Framework Application Development Foundation, Second edition. This book, by Tony Northrup is a must-have.

At first, certain topics that are an part of the exam, seemed pretty hard. Especially the topics on Security and Configuration/Installation provoked a big ‘what the hell’-sense in me since I’ve never used these topics in any of my own .NET projects. Now, the nice thing is that it’s all pretty straightforward and intuitive. The book focuses on those classes and uses of them that might be needed on the exam. In other words, don’t buy this book if you need a .NET 3.5 overall introduction; the book is clearly written to get you through the exam, period. So even if you’re not familiar with certain .NET aspects, just read and learn. A big part of the motivation in doing this exam was simply to force me in learning new topics.

Having read the book from front to cover, but excluding the do-it-yourself programming projects, I started to solve the handy questions at the end of each chapter. Solving these rapidly showed me where my weak points were. Rereading those chapters helped me a lot (in fact: on the exam, my best scores where in those categories where I felt myself the least comfortable with…*Oh irony, I only got 50% of the points in the first category, i.e. basics of C#/.NET * ).

This whole process of reading the book twice took me about 1 week of reading 2 or 3 hours a day. Don’t try to read it all at once. Some chapters can be pretty confusing at first and thus your brain needs some time-off to process its content (at least my brain did).

Demo questions

Up to this point I had no idea what kind of questions to expect. Several people pointed me to www.measureup.com and www.transcender.com where you can download demo questions of the exam to test yourself. The demo works just like how the final test is done (including the possibility to mark questions for review).

My first run in solving those questions resulted in a big plunge of my motivation. I scored 10/100 on the Transcender test. The questions in the Transcender test were very strange and hard. In fact, 2 or 3 questions on the final exam were identical to those in the Transcender test. In other words: definitely do these tests, just so you know what type of questions are asked.

Did the 10% score resulted in an anxiety attack? Luckily, it didn’t. In fact, after reading the correct answer it was made clear that I had enough knowledge of the .NET framework. I just had to take more time in reading each question and possible answers.

Nasty questions

Expect some very nasty questions; not nasty in that they are extremely difficult to solve, but nasty because you have to read each possible answer 5 times. In one example on encrypting data there were two choices that were, to me, exactly the same. Both showed the same 7 lines of code, that is, until I started checking each code line by line…then word by word.  It was something in the line of this

Answer B

FileStream inFile = new FileStream(inFileName, FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read);
FileStream outFile = new FileStream(outFileName, FileMode.OpenOrCreate, FileAccess.Write);
SymmetricAlgorithm myAlg = new RijndaelManaged();
myAlg.GenerateKey();
byte[] fileData = new byte[inFile.Length];
inFile.Read(fileData, 0, (int)inFile.Length);
ICryptoTransform encryptor = myAlg.CreateEncryptor();
CryptoStream encryptStream =new CryptoStream(outFile, encryptor, CryptoStreamMode.Write);
encryptStream.Write(fileData, 0, fileData.Length);

Answer C

FileStream inFile = new FileStream(inFileName, FileMode.Open, FileAccess.Read);
FileStream outFile = new FileStream(outFileName, FileMode.OpenOrCreate, FileAccess.Write);
SymmetricAlgorithm myAlg = new RijndaelManaged();
myAlg.GenerateKey();
byte[] fileData = new byte[inFile.Length];
inFile.Read(fileData, 0, (int)inFile.Length);
ICryptoTransform encryptor = myAlg.CreateDecryptor();
CryptoStream encryptStream =new CryptoStream(outFile, encryptor, CryptoStreamMode.Write);
encryptStream.Write(fileData, 0, fileData.Length);

Did you see the difference? Yeah, somewhere down the line there’s a call to CreateDecryptor() instead of to CreateEncryptor(). That was the only little difference (answers A and D were not worth rereading anyhow). This question came up early in the test and it got me quite puzzled at first, however it wasn’t the last one of this type. About 40% of all the questions are like this (the kind woman of the test center even warned me beforehand: “You’re going to do a Microsoft exam? Make sure you read each question and answer very thoroughly!”).

Common sense

I solved most of the questions as follows:

  1. I wrote down, for each possible answer, what the main difference was compared to the other 3 answers. There’s 2 types of answers: one which introduces a new part of code (or leaves out) and the other type where the answer is a combination of 2 other answers.
  2. 80% of the time you can easily strike out 2 of the 4 possible answers because they are downright silly, from a programmers point of view. For example 2 questions involving security tried to lure me in doing a StringCompare to see whether a WindowsPrincipal had the correct Role J.
  3. Of the remaining 2 answers usually the less convoluted and/or intuitive answer was the correct one. (I sometimes felt like part of the exam was a way of Microsoft to tell people: “hey look at this, see how easy it is in .NET to do the following!”).
  4. When still in doubt, try to remember the examples that are shown in the handbook (MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-536)).

Don’t solve everything at once

Don’t try to solve all questions in order as they appear. You have enough time to go through all the questions at least 3 times. In my first pass over the 40 questions I only solved those of which I was 99% certain that I answered correctly. Each successive pass I then solved more and more questions.

Take your time

My last piece of advice is to take our time. You’ve got about 2,5 hours to solve 40 questions which is a lot. In fact,  after my second pass I granted myself a 5 minute break in which I stared a bit to the ceiling (you’re not allowed to bring in any food or drinks) and let my mind wander…and worry about whether I’d pass or not J

Good luck to all reading this and planning to do an exam in the future.

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About timdams
C#, .NET, Microsoft, security, .... Read more on : http://timdams.com/

3 Responses to How to pass a Microsoft .NET exam (70-536): my personal tips and tricks

  1. Pieter Van den Bergh says:

    Thanks for the tips, Tim!
    I’m going to do the same exam in a couple of weeks.
    Now I now what to expect :)

  2. Pingback: DotNetShoutout

  3. harry says:

    hello sir, i am harry and i am looking to take the 70-536 exam am very must confused which book to read. please reply me is mcts training kit is sufficient or any other books should i follow…

    please provide me some more sites for demo tests

    thank u.

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